Monday, June 14, 2010

Animal House: For My Dad

Oh my goodness, what a day today.  It almost made me miss my post for the first time ever!  And I couldn't miss today's.  Why?  Because it's Father's Day this Sunday!  Which means it's time to talk about a favorite film of both my dad and me.  Now, if you're a faithful reader of mine, you already know that my father has been a huge influence in my taste in movies.  So to pick just one film to talk about for Father's Day was a difficult choice.  Do I go lighthearted romantic comedy with "The American President"?  Or more the epitome of male favorites "Die Hard"?  Or do I just stick with science fiction like "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"?  As good as all those films are (which I'll surely talk about eventually), nothing says "my dad" to me more than National Lampoon's "Animal House."

Released on July 28, 1978 (less than a month before I was born, I must add), it is a raunchy comedy about the members of a under-achieving, laid-back, but party-hard college fraternity of misfits, known as the Delta House (aka Delta Tau Chi).  It stars Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, Karen Allen, and of course, the late, great John Belushi.  Directed by John Landis, and written by Chris Miller, Harold Ramis, and Douglas Kenney, it is based on some short stories Miller wrote for National Lampoon magazine about his experiences as a Alpha Delta Phi at Dartmouth College, as well as both Ramis' and Kenney's own college experiences.  Thus we got "Animal House" and the start of National Lampoon's venture into film.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  One - "wow, her tastes keep getting stranger and stranger for a girl."  And two - "you're dad is an over-grown frat boy?!"  No, not at all, the complete opposite.  That's why I love when he tells me stories of his college days.  Many times he has told me how much the Deltas remind him of living in the Crow's Nest at UT Austin.  A member of the ROTC (ironically one of the groups the Deltas torture the most), he and his fellow naval cadets lived together in a frat-like house, and much like Delta House, were a bit rowdy at times.  My favorite story of his is when some of his housemates decided it would be a good idea to build a canon in the dining room...and subsequently blew a 6-foot hole in the ceiling.  To think of my dad with that group just makes me laugh.  Why?  Because that's where my great sense of humor comes from.  I 100% have the humor of my father, that great sense of wit, sarcasm, and all the laugh-at-the-world characteristics that I love so much about myself.  It's not the raunchy parts of "Animal House" that we both love so much.  It's the carefree, sarcastic humor.  I am truly my daddy's little girl, and it's great!

"Animal House" actually had a very small budget, only $2.7 million.  After shopping it around to all the studios, Universal was the only one to bite, and they didn't even have faith in it either.  As producer Matty Simmons said, "They just figured, ‘Screw it, it’s a silly little movie, and we’ll make a couple of bucks if we’re lucky – let them do whatever they want."  Of course the big surprise to Universal came with how many bucks this filmed ended up making.  The film made $121 million at the box office, and has made to date $142 million, making it one of the most profitable movies of all time.  It was even selected to join the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2001 for its "cultural significance."

Except for the grand finale parade sequence and the road trip, the rest of "Animal House" takes place entirely on the fake Faber College campus.  Originally, the production wanted to film it all at the University of Missouri but when the president of school read the script, he turned them down.  After much searching, the production finally found a "yes" at the University of Oregon.  This only happened because Oregon's president, unable to understand scripts, had passed on a previous filming request, "The Graduate."  Determined not to make the same mistake twice, he agreed to this filming.  However, he only gave them 30 days to film, which meant a grueling 6-day workweek for the cast and crew.  (They finished with two days to spare.)

Landis had the Deltas come up first, so that they could bond before filming.  Then a week later he had the Omegas come up (the Deltas' main rivals), and purposely kept the two groups apart as much as possible.  Many of the two groups even pestered each during off-hours to keep the animosity going.  The only one not to participate with this was Belushi.  Not only was he flying back and forth between Oregon and New York every week, to do "Saturday Night Live," but also Landis knew of his substance problems and wanted to make sure he stayed clean during filming.  Belushi was okay with this because he knew this film was a big step for him, his feature film debut.  He did not want to screw it up.  Originally, the producers were hoping Belushi would have been joined by more of his "SNL" castmates, like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd (the part of D-Day was written for Aykroyd specifically), but unfortunately they all had prior commitments.

Belushi is not the only one to have a feature film debut with "Animal House."  So did Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, and Kevin Bacon.  In fact, it was Allen's and Bacon's first appearance, period.  And look how far they've come.  Bacon has made so many films that the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game was created.  And Allen, of course, became the best love interest Indiana Jones ever had in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

So, be sure to have some fun with your pappa this Sunday, whether it be watching a silly, ridiculous, hilarious movie like "Animal House" or whatever your father loves to do.  The main thing - have fun.  Have a great week, everyone.  And Dad, I love you!

(Post-tidbit:  The three writers, Ramis, Kenny, and Miller, were all new to writing screenplays at the time so they ended up writing a 110-page treatment, a synopsis of the script, for the producers to shop around Hollywood.  The average treatment is only 15 pages long.)

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a great thing to be on good terms with your dad like me and the author. I do love to listen the unversity stories of my dad. That's so cool. And you make youd dad completly plunge into his past that blows good memeries. And Animal House helps us to get it. I think this is a great movie and it deserves a good award!!!!