To mark the occasion of UW Cinematheque’s 35mm presentation of Martha Coolidge’s “Valley Girl” (1983) on April 22, Hanna Kohn, C Nelson-Lifson, Lewis Peterson, and Grant Phipps talk about its production, legacy, and Nicolas Cage.
Welcome back to a Tone Madison podcast, our first of 2022. I’m Grant Phipps, Film Editor and contributor.
Last month Hanna Kohn, C Nelson-Lifson, Lewis Peterson, and I sat down after hours at Four Star Video Rental on West Gilman Street to sing the praises of the 1983 film, Valley Girl, ahead of its 35mm presentation at 4070 Vilas Hall on Friday, April 22, at 7 p.m.
This screening is part of UW Cinematheque’s “Age Of Cage” series that’s celebrating the great Nicolas Cage as well as Keith Phipps’ newest book on the actor that shares that Age Of Cage name with the subtitle, “Four Decades Of Hollywood Through One Singular Career.”
Besides a cameo in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982), Cage’s first official starring role was in Valley Girl, and so we thought that’d be a suitable place to delve into his career and place as a Hollywood actor. He started when he was just 17 years old. But, as you’ll hear, we also get into a lot of other interesting trivia and notes on the production of Martha Coolidge’s film, which was intended, at the time, anyway, to merely be a cheap riff or cash-in on the surprise hit song of the same name, “Valley Girl,” by Frank and Moon Zappa. In its completed or final cut, it’s really a defining film of the 1980s for so many reasons that we cover in the next 50 minutes.
or a bit more on Nic Cage and this UW campus series, you can find Lewis Peterson’s lively review of the very outlandish Vampire’s Kiss (1988) on our site from a couple weeks ago (April 5 to be exact). That film had a 35mm screening during the Wisconsin Film Festival earlier this month.
If you’re not already a Tone Madison sustainer, please consider making a one-time or recurring donation. Thanks so much. Now let’s get on with the show. [A full transcript follows.]
Grant Phipps: Hello I’m Grant Phipps, film editor for Tone Madison. Thank you for joining us once again for another edition of the Four Star Podcast. We all have Nic Cage Fever today. Or Cage Rage, maybe…but I don’t know, maybe that sounds worse, also. [laughs] And that’s why we’re talking about his first official performance as Nicolas Cage rather than Nicolas Coppola in Martha Coolidge’s 1983 film Valley Girl. This is all in anticipation of the UW Cinematheque “Age of Cage” series, which technically began during the Wisconsin Film Festival on Sunday, April 10, with a screening of Vampire’s Kiss and an appearance and Q&A by Keith Phipps, who also wrote a book on Cage that shares the title with the UW Cinematheque series that starts on Friday, April 22, at 7 p.m. with this very film.
However, we’re recording this conversation prior to all that, and the first film being presented as I mentioned is Valley Girl. This coming-of-age romantic comedy about being a teenager (and parent) in SoCal in the early 1980s. In short, the film is sort of a then-modern take on Romeo & Juliet before Leo [DiCaprio] and Claire Danes did that the following decade. Which I guess is a bit of hyperbole, but this film is about a popular high school student, Julie, portrayed by Deborah Foreman, from the San Fernando Valley, who falls for a punker boy from Hollywood—”Hollyweird” as Loryn (E.G. Daily) calls it in the film. The boy is named Randy, who is portrayed by the aforementioned Cage. But things are complicated when Julie’s cliquey friends disapprove of Randy, especially Julie’s best friend Stacey, portrayed by Heidi Holicker, who calls Randy and his bud Fred “juvenile delinquents.” And so she and Julie’s other friends pressure her to reunite with her old boyfriend Tommy, portrayed by Michael Bowen, who she’s seen breaking up with at the mall in the very first scene of the film. So, hopefully that sets us up decently for this conversation today. I’ll let everyone introduce themselves before we get started.
Hanna Kohn: Hello I’m Hanna Kohn, and I’m a Tone contributor. I’m also a DJ, and I’m, like, so totally excited to talk about this movie.
Lewis Peterson: Hello my name is Lewis Peterson. I’m the owner of Four Star Video and a Tone contributor, and I should’ve come up with better slang—I’m chuffed?
[GP and HK laugh]
LP: I don’t think they say that in this movie, but that’s an ’80s thing, right?
C Nelson-Lifson: Hi, I’m C Nelson-Lifson, and I love to rock.
HK: Excellent. So, had you all seen this movie before? Or was this your first or fifth or seventh time watching it in preparation for this podcast?
GP: This was my first time actually watching this.
HK: Whoa, what’d you think?
GP: I really enjoyed the film. As I put in my notes, I think it’s kind of impossible to escape the John Hughes comparisons, but this film was made before he even directed his first feature. I think it’s a year before Sixteen Candles. Is that right?
GP: Which is in 1984, so…uh, yeah. Hughes is not a director I tend to see that favorably, but I guess he has his merits. But I enjoyed this more than pretty much anything that he did in the ’80s.
HK: What about you, C?
CNL: I think I saw this for the first time maybe 10 years ago when I was going through a New Wave and Power Pop phase, so I was really excited about all of the music in this movie.
HK: ‘Cause the soundtrack is kickin’. [laughs] Lewis, what about you?
LP: This was my second viewing of it. I probably saw it for the first time maybe five years ago? And I will say I feel like there’s a lot of it that I just didn’t recall that clearly. And I think I enjoyed it quite a bit more on the second viewing.
HK: Yeah, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie at this point, but it’s like a feel-good movie for me, for sure. And it’s also interesting, ’cause Grant, I saw in your notes, compare it to Say Anything (1989), specifically, which I had recently just watched for the first time.
GP: Oh yeah? Okay.
HK: Yeah, and it—you had talked about the boombox scene in Say Anything. That scene was not my favorite of the whole movie, but I feel like music plays a part in both of the movies—Say Anything and Valley Girl—in a way that’s really cool. And I like both of them a lot.
GP: Yeah, I think—and I watched Say Anything probably like 11 or 12 years ago—and I think I was just, you know—I wanted to know what the film was about. With the iconic shot of John Cusack with the boombox over his head. [laughs] This film doesn’t quite have that one perfect shot to pitch to audiences, but I know it’s—it has a lot of other things that I think are maybe more appealing under the surface.
HK: Absolutely. And I feel like it’s I think more real than Say Anything in the sense that a lot of it was filmed really quickly and with not [much] of a budget. And I think that comes through with—I mean, the musical choices [of Modern English’s] “I’ll Melt With You” or “I Melt With You” being like the big standout song at the time from the movie. Um, yeah, which is a good song. I guess Martha Coolidge heard it on the radio and needed to know what it was, and so she asked her friend to sing it over the phone to figure it out. And she immediately knew that it had to be montage scene with Julie and Randy kind of like falling in love for the movie. So, she saw it in her head, which I think is really cool, because I’m always really interested in directors thinking about music critically for their movies or like having it be a really—something that hits close to their heart rather than just a song slapped in that like fits with the time, so…
GP: Yeah, I was watching the Blu-ray special features on the Shout! Factory edition [that] I think was released in 2018, and Coolidge was in conversation with a couple of the actors, and Coolidge talked about Michael Papale pitching her this music. I guess he was kind of the [music] supervisor, the brains behind a lot of the music choices, but I guess she maybe had ultimate discretion in where to put things and when to put—yeah.
HK: Right. I think also in the special feature commentary that she did on the DVD that I watched, [she] talks about going to clubs in LA at the time and being familiar with the music that was going on and being very much, like, in it. Which I think is cool. Because The Plimsouls being in the house band for the club that they go to, too, feels very realistic to like a club. Even though I wasn’t there, but it feels realistic. [laughs] And I think it’s really good so, yeah. Anybody else have any thoughts about soundtrack stuff that really like—maybe specifics that hit for them in terms of like a song or a choice that felt really good in the movie?
GP: C, you said you were going through a New Wave and Power Pop phase. Do you want to expand more on that and how this film fits into the equation?
CNL: Oh yeah, well, I forgot that Sparks was in this movie in the party scene. And I think it’s really fun watching all the Valley kids dance like dorks to “Angst in My Pants.” And I think Randy calls—what does he call it? Like “electronic music” he calls it like “dorky electronic music” or something.
GP: Yeah, that sounds right.
CNL: I also think it’s funny that he’s supposed to be like a punk, but I don’t think there’s any Punk music. It’s mostly like New Wave and Power Pop, which, like now, in the present, those seem more similar than dissimilar. But in ’83 they were very different.
HK: For sure. I know in the director’s commentary she—Martha Coolidge talks about how she wanted X to be the band, like the house band, but it didn’t work out because they were worried. I think they were worried about their music like offending—They didn’t want their fans in The Valley to be offended. Because the music was kind of set up with The Plimsouls being like the “punk” representation, and then Josie Cotton is kind of like The Valley representation on the other side. Which, I know C, you really like Josie Cotton, seems like. Yeah? [laughs] Any notes about that music in the movie?
CNL: Besides that it’s great? Um, I’d also like to talk about Josie Cotton’s outfit at the end. I think that her skirt is really on-brand, because the songs that are in this movie are off her—I think it’s her first record—called Convertible Music (1982). She’s in a convertible on the front, it’s very on-brand.
HK: And there’s a lot of driving in this movie. Obviously, they’re in LA and it’s—yeah. Her whole performance and look is amazing. And she has like a few songs in it, too, which is cool so—
GP: Yeah, I like the fact that this film lets the songs kind of play out. It’s not just like, you know, sort of finding something that syncs up with like 10 seconds of footage. I think almost the entirety of [The Plimsouls’] “A Million Miles Away” plays out on a couple separate occasions, right? And then we hear “I Melt With You” a couple times as well.
GP: Which is such like a—it’s such a catchy sort of—I think it has a lot of universal appeal.
HK: I remember the first time I heard it was in an M&M’s commercial, and I was like, “This is really good.” [laughs] But it was in an M&M’s commercial.
GP: [laughs] What year was that?
HK: I don’t know. I’ve tried to look it up. Like I’ve tried to find the commercial, and I couldn’t find it. But that was the first time I heard it, and then a friend put it on a—burned it to a CD for me. And then when I saw it in this movie, it kind of took on a new meaning, because at that point it was pretty played out. Like, it was in an M&M’s commercial [laughs]. [Transcriber’s note: It was actually a Hershey’s commercial.] Lewis, did you have something to say?
LP: Oh, I guess I was maybe going to kind of elaborate on something that C said and also something that Grant said, which is that I think there’s actually—The second Sparks song that also plays almost in its entirety, which is “Eaten By The Monster Of Love.” It plays in that kind of strange scene that doesn’t really have much to do with the main characters where the kid [Skip] is maybe going to hook up with the stepmom [Beth Brent], and it’s leaving it ambiguous. Um, but it also—I think even in that same commentary, [Coolidge] kind of talks about how, you know, they almost developed that scene because of the song. But it’s also just funny to think about Sparks as like this preppy band especially with you know—Sparks kind of had a banner year in 2021 and is maybe more popular than ever. Uh, so it’s just funny to hear them pop up.
GP: Well they had a—if you wanted to mention that they had music throughout the film Annette (2021) by Leos Carax and the documentary that Edgar Wright directed. They were released within like the same month almost. Right?
LP: Yeah, I think so.
GP: It’s like within the same month, yeah.
LP: Month or two months, but yeah.
CNL: I think that there were multiple songs that play more than once. I think the whole vibe of the soundtrack is: so nice, we’ll play it twice.
HK: Yeah, and I think in part that was due to the fact that the movie was put together and shot really quickly. But I don’t think the songs are sacrificed. And, if anything, I think it—and maybe Martha Coolidge talks about this in her commentary—but those teen songs that you just listen to over and over again. That’s kind of like how the teenage years form as music being really important or specific anthems. And it’s interesting, too, I just thought of the—in terms of the soundtrack, I have a cassette in front of me that I bought online a few years ago for the movie. It’s the soundtrack but there’s not songs—and this happens in the end credits, too, where there are songs that are credited for the movie that weren’t actually in the movie. Like, specifically…I’m trying to think of which ones from here. Oh, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Culture Club is credited in the end credits and it wasn’t in the movie. And it’s on this soundtrack, too, which is interesting. Because the soundtrack is really good even with the songs that didn’t make it in. Um, so yeah, the vision is very complete for that.
LP: Well, and I guess another thing is that there’s a song that’s not on the soundtrack [and] that’s not in the movie that I somehow convinced myself was in this movie, which is the Frank Zappa song “Valley Girl.” Frank Zappa and Moon Unit Zappa. Which is maybe kind of like the origin of the national Valley Girl craze that indirectly led to this movie happening.
HK: Yeah and I think it’s—well, it’s interesting, too, because that song is on this soundtrack that I have in front of me, but it’s not in the soundtrack credits either, which is really strange. But I guess, for the movie in using the name and kind of the artistic credit, Zappa was not into the idea of the movie being called that [Valley Girl], and actually I think tried to sue them to change the name.
GP: Yeah, I think he sued for $100,000 or something for trying to sort of twist the meaning of the song. Because the song I think—I mean it was popular, but it’s not like a—it’s satire, obviously.
HK: Right, he’s never performed it live, I also was reading. Like, it’s not like a—his greatest achievement.
GP: Yeah, I know a little bit of the origins behind the song. I was just, I think— because Zappa was notoriously away from his family just because he was rigorously composing and performing that it was a way for Moon to spend time with him. And he never intended it for it to be this—to become this craze, obviously. He was kind of a curmudgeonly person [laughs] both in and out of music, but yeah.
HK: C, do you want to talk about Frank Zappa at all? Since you’re uh—
GP: Yeah, you’re wearing a—wearing an FZ shirt right now!
CNL: Um, I don’t have a lot to say about Frank Zappa except for the fact that my father kind of looks like him. And I made a deal that if I quit smoking cigarettes, my dad would grow the goatee.
HK: Right on.
GP: How is that going?
CNL: Oh, it took. I quit.
GP: Oh, okay.
CNL: Thank you.
CNL: He shaved it, though. He doesn’t have the goatee anymore.
GP: Oh, okay.
LP: Yeah, because wasn’t “Valley Girl” like Zappa’s only chart hit, also?
CNL & GP: Yeah.
LP: Like completely unintentionally?
HK: Yeah, I mean I hadn’t heard it before I listened to this soundtrack, and I didn’t even realize that it was him because it’s not credited on this soundtrack that I have either.
GP [examining cassette J-card]: Yeah, I’m looking for his name.
HK: Which is strange. Yeah, it’s not there. I just looked again before we started. But it fits really well with the movie. Like, there’s even a part where Moon Unit is talking about—excuse me—like a leather teddy or something in the song. And there’s a scene where they’re having a sleepover—Julie and her friends—where she kind of tries on this lace little thing over her clothes and then they’re trying on Mom’s lingerie, and like they’re kind of just dressing up. She’s like, “Do you think Randy will like me in this?” And her friend is like, “Yeah, if it was made of leather.” Which I felt like really fit pretty perfectly from that, so I was like confused listening to the soundtrack and yeah, all that—
GP: Yeah, there’s the “are you into S&M?” line. Yeah, “like a leather teddy,” yeah.
HK: Yeah, and I think that’s the subtext of a lot of the stuff that Julie’s friends are talking about with her is that like, you know, “This guy likes rough sex, and he’s from Hollywood, and he’s like wearing a leather jacket, and all this stuff. Like, it’s scary. It’s bad. We don’t want you to do that, because that image isn’t good.” But maybe they’re also just kind of worried about her getting hurt, because it’s like this tough guy kind of exterior and the lifestyle. Um, but that’s not what their relationship is about at all. It’s actually quite sweet and nice.
GP: Yeah, it’s more about just the divide between The Valley and Hollywood, you know. He’s not from there, and [Julie’s friends] are afraid that if she gets sucked into this world that she won’t associate with them or relate to them anymore. So, a lot of the tension in the film is not actually between—excuse me—Nicolas Cage’s character, Randy, and Deborah Foreman’s character Julie, but it’s between um, Julie’s friends, friend group, or clique, and Randy. It’s also Tommy in there, but that’s a whole other thing.
HK: Right, and fuck Tommy. Can I go on the record?
GP: [laughs] Yeah. Fuck that guy.
HK: Like just looking at him every time with the popped collar. It just, like, is so irritating. Every time I watch, it gets more irritating to see him on screen. I almost just like, “Oooh, I hate that guy.” But like you—it’s made so that you do hate him.
LP: See, every time I look at him I just think of his character from Kill Bill which is like the rapist from the hospital when [The Bride]’s in the coma. And it’s like, okay, that’s like who Tommy grows up to be is this—
LP: Tarantino character.
HK: Ew. I put this in my notes, too, but he just looks like Tim Heidecker playing like a character to me. [laughs]
HK: And it’s like, I just—I don’t know. I like Tim Heidecker.
GP: Little thinner, maybe. Little younger.
HK: Yeah, the other thing with Tommy is like, I think [sighs]—Martha Coolidge talks about this in her commentary, too, but like jumping to when Julie and [Tommy] get back together at the diner, and he’s asking about, “Are you going to eat those fries?” He takes her fries, and she’s just sitting there. Deborah Foreman gives this like really good look that’s just like, “What am I doing?” You know, she knows it’s wrong, but she’s doing it anyway. And yeah, she had just been bombarded by her friends. This has never happened to me, but I feel like it’s a classic. Even like the positioning of the camera and like the booth, I feel like I’ve seen this scene before in another movie. I can’t even think of it. But it’s in a lot of teen movies where all the friends sit down with them and they’re like, “Okay, cool. So, like, that’s gonna happen?” And they’re like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll change everything.” And then the [boyfriend of the] person that they’re talking about walks in. So, [Julie]’s friends set her up to like get back with him. And I was going to pose a question to the group if—how you guys feel about um, Julie’s friends in general. She has [laughs] three best friends that she’s with throughout the movie. [laughs at C pointing their thumb down] C’s giving a thumbs down. Do you want to talk about that?
CNL: Yeah, I think they suck. They’re not supportive. They’re a bunch of prudes. And they’re not like, “Hey, you seem to like this guy. What’s his deal? Should we get to meet him?” They’re like, “Hey, you should be with Tommy, because of…you know. Think about Tommy and his position and like prom court or whatever.” And it’s very uncomfortable.
GP: There’s a little more dimension to Loryn’s character, who’s played by E.G. Daily, I think. Especially that uncomfortable scene where Tommy is attempting to seduce her in the bedroom.
HK: Well, he gets her in the bedroom.
HK: You know? I mean like I think—
GP: But she’s silent—kind of more silent than she should be. I think she’s threatened by Tommy because of that incident.
HK: Yeah, I think hearing Martha Coolidge’s commentary on this scene—she said it was one of her favorite scenes in the movie, which kind.of struck a chord with me, because I was wondering like, “Huh.” But I think it was like the real teenage hours of showing the cruddy thing of Loryn choosing to sleep with her best friend’s boyfriend at the time, pretty much. I mean even though they were kind of broken up. And I think it shows, you know. The flirting in the hallway is really kind of gross to watch, because he’s giving all these lines, and then she decides to go into this bedroom with him. And that’s the first scene—and I was wanting to talk about this—Martha Coolidge, she had to have four bare chests, women’s chests in the the movie, per the executive producers’ requirement because they kind of wanted it to be—I can’t think of the word of kind of film. But—
GP: Like a sex comedy almost? Like a—in the interview on the—the 2018 interview, they mention the popularity of Porky’s (1981), which I’ve never seen and don’t have any interest in seeing. But that was like a wave of films—even like Revenge Of The Nerds (1984)—isn’t that in a similar vein? Despite the title, you know, it’s not an appropriate film, really. [laughs]
GP: It’s just—yeah.
HK: I think, yeah, basically just having some smut in it to draw audience attention’s into—there’s going to be like, you know, naked women.
GP: That’s the word. Smut. That’s better than “sex.”
HK: Naked women—
GP: Smut comedy.
HK: You know, whatever, but [Coolidge] had to do it. And so two of the shots are E.G. Daily in that bedroom scene because they cut away, and she’s wearing this really cool red jumpsuit. And it’s kind of like just—it’s almost funny to see how she’s like unfurled in it. But then it’s this like really kind of painful moment to watch where Tommy’s leaving, because he’s basically like gotten her—to get hot and heavy with her. And like, you know, they’re making out and stuff and her top is off and then um, basically he’s like, “That wasn’t really good of you to do, to make out with your [best friend’s boyfriend]. And then he’s like being all mean to her and then walks out. Then she’s like, “Just get out of here. Like, lleave.” And she says it after he closes the door, and it’s just painful to watch, because you feel bad for her even though you know she made the choice to do it. Anyway, yeah. I think it’s a good teenage moment to add to the film, because watching a lot of it feels like you’re watching a adults doing stuff when you know that they’re in school, because there’s not a lot of scenes at school other than when they’re doing the driving school thing. And there’s like one scene where Julie’s opening up her books. But, yeah.
CNL: I feel like, kind of like what you [Grant] said, where there’s a lot of depth with her character, because she kind of has a lot of “talk” but maybe not a lot of “walk” where she talks about hooking up with a lot of guys. And the rest of her friends are like, “Is that real? Does she really hook up with these guys?” And I feel like in that scene, we—there’s an implication that maybe she doesn’t get around as much as she says. [Loryn]’s like “Hey, Tommy, does this mean we’re gonna go steady?” and he’s like “No!” And that’s really upsetting.
HK: Yeah, I agree. I think it is also worth noting that E.G. Daily is really cool. [laughs] Um, like in this movie, it’s pretty crazy to see her and then like, you know—I didn’t realize watching, I was like, “That’s Tommy Pickles!” [laughs] or the voice of [Tommy Pickles].
GP: Oh, yeah.
HK: And also a side note of like, I’ve started following her on TikTok, and she’s always talking in the Tommy Pickles voice. She’s like—
GP: From Rugrats.
HK: From Rugrats, Yeah, yeah. [laughs] Sorry, I didn’t say.
GP: Universally known Tommy Pickles. It’s like Spongebob, almost.
HK: I mean Tommy Pickles is a household name. Yeah, everybody knows about Tommy, but not the bad Tommy in this movie. [laughs]
HK: I wanted to also ask and touch on thoughts on costuming in the movie. What did you all think about you know the representation and that movie being that it, what, 1983—
GP: I feel like we have to shift the conversation to Nicolas Cage, because that’s—
HK: Well, can we just touch on the costumes real quick? ‘Cause—
GP: Well, his costume is also pretty, uh, pretty striking.
GP: But I guess I can’t comment too much on it, but the aforementioned segment—the conversation on the Blu-ray—I keep going back to that. Sorry, it’s just, like, my crutch. [laughs] But Heidi Holicker, who plays Stacey—she was actually showing some of the hand-painted clothing that’s in the film. She wears like this cut dress that has like, typical like—what would you call it—uh, not like Pollack design, but—
HK: Paint splatter?
GP: Yeah, kind of like a splatter design, and she still has it, you know. That was like—the conversation was recorded five years ago, so I’m assuming she still has it. Yeah, so that adds to, I think, to some authenticity to the production rather than just, you know, having a bunch of people on hand providing things. There’s a genuine article, sort of literally.
HK: Yeah, literally. ‘Cause a lot of the clothing was just from people that were working on the movie. Also, people working on the movie for free just threw all their clothes in a pile, and they were just like, “Let’s do it.” So yeah, what did you all think about the costumes, Lewis?
LP: I mean, I thought the costumes were cool, like especially—I think this is maybe the only time I’ve ever seen Nic Cage with dyed hair in any capacity. And yeah, his friend, Fred—I kept thinking it was Gerritt Graham from Phantom Of The Paradise (1974), but I think he was too young. He just has a similar facial shape [as actor Cameron Dye]. Then you know, I guess the preppier Valley Girl characters—there’s a lot of like polo shirts that maybe was just kind of a perennial thing for rich kids. That’s the rich kid look: polo shirt and khakis.
GP: If you belong to a country club you have to—or your family does—you have to wear that at least once a week. [laughs]
HK: C, did you have any thoughts about the costumes?
CNL: Mostly just the costumes—I feel like the costumes in the party scene are really iconic. When Randy and Fred show up with their cute little matching red and black leather outfits, and then everyone at the party is wearing bright colors, like jewel tones, or like a lot of beige, khaki neutrals and pastels. So they, Randy and Fred, stand out even more.
LP: Oh, and the pink tuxedo from the prom scene. I forgot about that.
CNL: That’s the only time that Tommy looks good.
[LP & GP laugh]
CNL: —is in the pink tux.
GP: Yeah, I agree.
CNL: ‘Cause that’s a cool look.
HK: Okay, fine
HK: Um, something I noticed this time watching it that I hadn’t before was Julie’s Woody Woodpecker pin at the mall, in like the opening scene where she’s wearing like a Woody Woodpecker—a striped shirt with like a big Woody—almost like [a] figure or doll that’s pinned on to her shirt. And then an American flag pin, which then I realized later—Nicolas Cage is wearing at the party on his vest.
GP: The flag pin?
HK: The flag pin, yeah. So, it’s like the same flag pin, which I thought was kind of like foreshadowing that they’re gonna get together which I thought was really cute.
GP: Yeah, I noticed that, too, and I was like, “Why is he wearing that?” [laughs]
HK: ‘Cause he’s just different. Um, but I think—
GP: Yeah, I missed the Woody Woodpecker, but yeah, that’s a great eye. I mean, if you’ve seen this multiple times, it’s not surprising, but still a very cool observation.
HK: I mean, yeah, it’s just that the pin existed. I was just like “That looks cute,” but I guess maybe it is time to start talking about Nicolas Cage. Because he is a big part of this movie, and also it’s his first big role. So, Lewis, do you have any notes about it since we know that you are a Cage fan?
LP: Oh, I mean, I am a huge fan of Nicolas Cage, I mean, yeah, it’s interesting that this is his first leading role. I mean, I think he was like in the background at Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
LP: And there’s another commentary anecdote about how Nicolas Cage came to be involved in this movie. And I’m gonna kind of steal from your notes, Hanna—sorry—about, you know, people auditioning and all [their] head shots and Martha Coolidge being like, “I’m sick of seeing all these pretty boys! Show me something like this!” And it was Nicolas Cage.
[HK & GP laugh]
LP: But also, apparently, she had a prior relationship with Francis Ford Coppola, and, you know, kind of worked as a production assistant. And he came in as Nicolas Cage. She had no idea they were related. I think there’s even a thing where she said like, “Oh, yeah, let me call Francis. He’s like my family,” which is like—and I think he apparently gave a strange look, ‘cause it’s like, “Oh, well, that guy is literally my uncle.” And then that’s when they finally find out that he’s a Coppola, which I think he was kind of trying to break away [from]—not have accusations of nepotism. I think by this point, you know, almost forty years later, I think he’s carved out his own niche. I guess maybe I’ll throw in my anecdote now about like my personal journey to Nicolas Cage or how I became a fan of him, because I personally think he’s the best actor working today. Certainly like a unique performance style that I—honestly, when I was a teenager, never really paid attention to him. In my early 20s, I was living in Washington, and I had a friend who was a projectionist at the local theater, the Olympia Film Society. It was around the time that Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009) had come out. I remember seeing the trailer for that and being like, “Why did Werner Herzog direct this stupid-looking movie?” And then my friend Andrew Ebright, he was like, “No, this movie is really good.” He actually—we probably watched it at least half a dozen times, maybe more. Like, after the theater had closed, he had the keys, and he was just like, “Hey, do you want to come watch Bad Lieutenant at midnight to 2 a.m.?” And that really sold me on [Cage] as a performer. I still would say that’s maybe the performance the most I’ve ever seen anyone be themselves. It’s totally unhinged, and kind of evil, but that’s Nic Cage. But somehow still endearing, despite being kind of evil. So, that’s my tangent about Nic Cage. Also, this is part of a series, as Grant mentioned, of screenings both at the Film Festival and UW Cinematheque. And I think you actually maybe even missed The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent (2022), his new movie where he plays himself—
GP: Oh yeah, I’m sorry.
LP: That’s also playing at the [Wisconsin] Film Festival.
GP: Vampire’s Kiss just supersedes everything, ’cause that’s the most extreme that I’ve seen Nic Cage. But I’m not—I wouldn’t call myself an expert, by any means. My first—I mean I must have seen him in something prior to Adaptation, the Spike Jonze film, written by Charlie Kaufman. But that’s kind of like my first vivid memory of seeing like a great Nic Cage performance. That was probably in—I was working at a video store in high school, I think, at the time when I saw that.
HK: I remember when I was in high school, a lot of people were watching the YouTube video “Nic Cage Losing His Shit,” and it was just a compilation of his roles where he starts yelling. And it’s set to that Requiem For A Dream music or whatever.
GP: Kronos Quartet? [sings the melody] Ha, yeah.
HK: Yes. And I remember seeing it and being like—kind of felt like a Chuck Norris kinda thing, where everyone was obsessed with this person just for being over-the-top, and I didn’t really get hooked in. But this movie really hooks me in, as well as his role in Moonstruck, which I think is really excellent as well. I like him in romantic comedies a lot. C, do you have any thoughts about Nicolas Cage?
CNL: I just think he’s cool. I do feel that he is our era’s Vincent Price.
GP: I wonder if that’s mentioned in Keith Phipps’ book [Transcriber’s note: it’s unfortunately not]—like something similar to that? [laughs] The book isn’t technically out yet, I think it comes out next week, technically. We’re recording this in mid-to-late March. The book is out around the 30th of March.
LP: I feel like my question/response to that is, what’s Nicolas Cage’s equivalent of Witchfinder General (1968)? I don’t know if there’s an easy answer for that.
GP: [laughs] The Wicker Man (2006), because it’s also Folk Horror, but it’s remake Folk Horror.
LP: Okay, I guess I can accept that. [laughs]
GP: [laughs] Well, it’s definitely not a definitive answer. So yeah, I would defer to you, I think.
LP: Now I’m trying to think about it, actually.
CNL: We’ll report back.
GP: He starred in like—isn’t there like an extremely prolific period when he was in debt in the 2000s. Does that sound right?
GP: I don’t know if you have anything else to say about that. That’s why he was starring in a lot of these direct-to-video titles, many of which I don’t even know about.
CNL: I think he did not decline any request for all these direct-to-video movies because he was in debt.
LP: There was actually, I guess a recent-to-us interview that came out in GQ magazine as a promotion for The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent where he basically—like the headline that’s going around is, “I did all these VOD movies, but I never phoned it in.” But yeah, I think he was basically in debt for a decade. And, apparently, as of 2022, is now finally out of debt. He doesn’t own a bunch of castles and ridiculous real estate [GP laughs] and other items like dinosaur skulls and Action Comics #1. That’s all behind him. But he was apparently millions of dollars in debt. You know, some of the movies from that era are pretty good. Willy’s Wonderland (2021), that’s a movie where he does not speak at all, but he’s the lead character. That was a pretty good one. Mandy, that was, I would say, a really good one.
GP: I think I’m the only person who doesn’t like that movie. [laughs] I’ve talked to like twenty people, and everyone loves Mandy except me. I think it’s just a waste of time. I mean, he has a couple standout moments, for sure, I can’t deny him, but the film is just like—flaccid.
[GP, LP, and HK laugh]
LP: Personally, seeing it—
GP: But it is!
LP: I mean, they showed it at UW Cinematheque. Just hearing that King Crimson song on the really nice sound system, that already sold me on the movie. And I’m partial to him, and [I] like to see him do well. So, I dunno. Yeah, Nicolas Cage. But it’s interesting ’cause—I mean, Hanna kinda alluded to it that he almost kinda became a meme. He maybe inadvertently fed into it with the “I won’t turn down any role, almost.” I personally feel kind of conflicted about that, because I feel like he’s a genuinely great performer that maybe made some poor personal decisions, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great performer, still.
HK: I mean, I think, also, to add to that, the kind of text of Hollywood stars and people that are in the limelight that are actors and around acting is—there’s a lot more to follow with everybody, and we’re really invested in their lives and seeing them unfold. We’ve seen the story play out where we almost want them to do bad. If he can make a comeback, and that makes you happy, Lewis, that’s great, and so what? Like, let him flop. He was in a flop era, now he’s not. Like, good for him. And I think it’s cool, too, because—yeah. I think more actors should act in “bad” movies, because literally, why not? It’s kind of fun to see people just doing roles because [of] money, and you can say for whatever reason.
GP: Well, his story really starts with this film. And Lewis eloquently kinda detailed his not wanting to be associated with the Coppola family name, and making a name for himself as Cage. Do you know why he chose “Cage?” Is there like a lore behind that?
LP: So, the explanation I always heard is that it was from Luke Cage, Power Man, the Marvel Comics character from the ’70s. Actually, in that GQ interview that I mentioned earlier, there was another tidbit about that I had never heard before—that it was also alluding to John Cage, the composer. So it’s kind of like a dual reference.
GP: [laughs] There’s a highbrow-lowbrow, yeah. And Nicolas Cage reflects both.
HK: Yeah, I think another thing that just reminded me of—highbrow-lowbrow—I thought of his hair.
GP: In this movie? Or just in general?
HK: Yeah, well, in general. But in this movie, specifically, there was a little bit of a commentary about his chest hair. Because the first time we see him in the movie he is not wearing a shirt, which is pretty big. And he was 17. I think maybe he turned 18 while they were filming this movie, and he was one of the youngest members of the cast, but apparently he looked too old, so he shaved. He did this without direction—shaved his chest hair into a triangle shape. Which has become iconic since then. You can see it in the first moments on the beach, and I think it looks good. [laughs] It’s interesting that he, as a 17-year-old, looked as he did. He looks very chiseled and kind of gruff and older. Which I think plays well with Deborah Foreman’s character, Julie. It’s a good contrast.
LP: Another thing about his look that I think he maybe—once he got a little bit of money in his pocket, fixed it, but he has kind of a gap in his teeth in this movie, which—
HK: It looks cute.
LP: Yeah, it disappeared later on. But I think it really fits with the role of Randy, also.
HK: Yeah. And I mean, from Martha Coolidge’s commentary on the movie and how she talked about working with him, it seemed like he was a natural. You know, he really added a lot. Especially with the shower scene where he’s hiding in the shower at the house party, and he’s just kind of doing these goofy faces. If you had any actor or person play like waiting and anticipation, they might choose to play it a bunch of different ways, but he chose to do it in this kind of goofy-guy way. Which is cute. And then another note about his acting and improvisation: I guess the breakup scene where’s walking away from Julie’s front door, and says like “Fuck you” basically, and then says like “fer sure” and he kinda adds the Valley Girl affect onto it. I think it’s really funny, and that was like him improving—
GP: It’s “Fuck you! Fer sure, like totally!”
HK: Yeah, which—it’s great.
GP: Yeah, in a conversation on the Blu-Ray—not the one from 2018. I think it’s from like 2003, so it’s like the 20th anniversary of Valley Girl, Nic Cage talks about how he really admires Martha Coolidge, her directing style. I think he cites one specific scene where he’s sleeping in the sleeping bag outside Julie’s window, and Coolidge’s direction was to “look determined, not desperate”, to paraphrase. Something like that. And he remembers that, to that day, and probably still does now.
GP: Very formative film for him, obviously, because it’s his first real role other than like playing like a fast food cook in [the background in] Fast Times At Ridgemont High a year prior.
HK: Yeah, and I think—the interesting thing that just reminded me of talking about Coolidge as a director, if we can pivot a little bit, is that I was reading an article about her. Someone called her kind of a “lost auteur.” And I think they compared her to Penelope Spheeris and some other women directors of that time. The qualities that she brings out, and also from the fact that she did steep herself in the culture and was actually going out and doing these things, really comes out in the movie. And I know hearing her talk about, specifically, the club scene. That felt really relatable to me, too, kind of just her yelling. Specifically, with sound, she was really careful to make it so that they were like yelling when they did their takes so that the music could be added. And it was kind of drowned out and almost inaudible at certain parts. And I just think those textures and things where she made sure to make it actually feel real, really comes through. And I appreciate it a lot watching it. And then I think another thing, additionally, is that she added the scene to the script. The original script, she added the scene [where] they break up, and I think one other scene. I can’t remember it now. It’s escaping me. Does anyone else remember? Scenes that she added to the movie?
GP: No, sorry.
LP: I think, definitely the breakup scene where he’s at her door. Isn’t it also when they get back together right after that?
HK: I think it’s when they fall in love. I just saw my notes, and it’s when they fall in love, and they break up. So, she added those points, because I think she was really concerned about the presentation of the wanting in the movie, which really comes across. And I think [that’s] what makes it a good teenage movie but also a good movie to just re-watch many times, because you can really feel the tension and chemistry between the two leads. And it’s really brilliant, I think. [laughs]
LP: I mean, I guess this is maybe general to the point of being a little bit dumb, but I feel like this almost—it’s really better than I think anyone who was financing it expected it to be, or almost better than it had any right to be. That it’s kind of like, “Okay, we’re gonna greenlight this movie to cash in on this ephemeral craze of like, everyone liking this ‘Valley Girl’ song this week. So, like, whatever. Give her, whatever it was.” Maybe it wasn’t $200,000, but I feel like it was not very much money, and I think there’s also a thing from the commentary where they screened it, and they [executive producers] said, “Oh, you made a real movie.”
GP: Yeah, that’s exactly what she says. It was just part of the merchandising, like there was a list of all the merchandising—Valley Girl merchandising. I think there’s an official coloring book that Zappa approved of [HK laughs] in the end. I can’t remember more about that, but that’s kind of funny.
HK: I remember the number for the budget, in terms of all of the set design and costuming. Like, the prom scene, doing all the set decorations, was like $3,000. And they spent like $500 on the prom scene alone, which was like a lot. And the person who was doing the dressing had actually worked a little bit on Apocalypse Now (1979) as well. Delia Marya Javier, I think. They credit her name different on IMDb [as Marya Delia Javier] than they do—
HK: [Coolidge] talks about her, she calls her Delia in the commentary. But she’s, like—that’s really putting in a lot of work. Doing a lot with very little money. Yeah, they call it “guerilla style,” too, at some point.
LP: Also, total tangent, just ’cause you mentioned Apocalypse Now, is I realized no one [has] talked about Julie’s parents, which are two great characters.
GP: Very lovable.
LP: Lovable characters. Played by character actors, Frederic Forest [and] Colleen Camp. Which, apparently, they had a scene together in the movie Apocalypse Now, which is how this related to what you were just saying. [laughs] Apparently, their original scene was cut. I guess Colleen Camp in Apocalypse Now was like a Playboy Playmate in that scene. But also just like their characters—you know, it’s just funny to think about this stereotype, the “Valley Girl,” the materialistic child of the ’80s, and her parents are kinda like these hippies. They’re just like, “Well, you really gotta think about it, and decide for yourself. And like, have some alfalfa sprouts.” And they’re just like—all their scenes are just really hilarious.
GP: Yeah, they don’t want to punish Julie because of bad karma, I think that’s her mother [Colleen Camp]’s line. But yeah, I found that they’re really endearing characters. While they’re supposed to be sort of stereotypes, the hippie stereotype, I think they avoid that, because they’re not overused in the film. And they seem like characters who would be written for a period series today that’s set in the ’80s rather than—so it’s like they’re ahead of their time or something. There’s like an inexplicable quality that I can’t quite nail down, but they’re just great to watch when they’re on screen.
HK: I think I agree with her parents being like a great feature of the movie. Specifically, when her dad is giving Julie advice about what to do with Randy and like [potentially] breaking up with him. She’s like clutching a little pillow, and he’s doing what looks like macramé while he’s giving advice. It’s really great, ’cause he’s not really telling her what to do and just kind of being like, “Follow your heart. Back in my day, we didn’t judge people. We just did what we did.” And I think there’s this level of like relating to the parents and being like, “Well, maybe they’re right just being so free-loving and into health foods and just in their own weird hippie-dippy world” versus like these kind of preppy teens who they’re kind of bringing into this world [and] are concerned with collars and looking a certain way. ‘Cause it seems like Julie has a good head on her shoulders, but she feels, like any good teen should, a little bit of peer pressure. It’s a cool confrontation that it’s happening at the same time as her having really strong feelings about this guy that popped into her life, and really deciding how she should do things. Um, yeah. I think Julie’s character is pretty relatable to me, and I think of Deborah Foreman’s, just like smiling or you know like, facial features and acting I can relate to, and her kind of quiet desperation of being around her friends or—we talked about that breakup, or get-together, get-back-together scene with Tommy and her just looking at the camera, and you can just feel the dread.
HK: We’re 49 minutes into the podcast. Does anybody need to say anything like so totally important right now, to add?
LP: I guess I was maybe just gonna add just about Martha Coolidge’s later career. ‘Cause I feel like this almost kind of like her sneak-attack movie. “Okay, you gave me this puff-piece movie.” Almost. But, you know, she never really made a huge name, but like—I’m looking at the box for Real Genius (1985), which was her follow up to this. Honestly, re-watching Valley Girl was my motivation to finally watch Real Genius, which I think is a movie that, honestly, I always kinda got it mixed up with Revenge Of The Nerds, but also think it’s much better than Revenge Of The Nerds or Porky’s or any of the other like movies that they would maybe be lumped in with.
GP: Smut comedies. Whatever I said earlier.
GP: Hanna said smut. I just like that word.
HK: Smut’s a good word.
LP: I guess the other one that I can remember off the top of my head, which I haven’t seen [but] would like to is Rambling Rose (1991) with Laura Dern. But I think [Coolidge] is one of those directors that, when the 21st century hit, she started directing TV more, if I’m not mistaken.
HK: Yeah, she did. She directed some Sex And The City (2002) episodes, actually, too. Which I thought was interesting.
LP: Makes sense.
HK: And I think it’s also interesting for her as a director—just to comment, too—she took acting classes and was wanting to get super involved in knowing all the facets, which I feel like not all directors really choose to go that hard and get in front of the camera. Kinda crazy. C, do you have anything else to add?
CNL: I think that the moral of the story is if you are hot enough, you can hide in a shower and be really creepy, and you’ll get the girl.
CNL: Well, I guess the moral is also be really tall and have cool chest hair, also.
GP: Why are you passing [the recorder] to me— [laughs]
HK: I’m passing it to you, because we’re all adding our last little bits.
GP: Hiding in showers? It’s not something I’ve ever done.
HK: Just to tack on a little.
CNL: Don’t start.
LP: Informal poll: has anyone ever hid in a shower before? I don’t think I have.
CNL: I check every single shower every time I enter a bathroom.
HK: You know, I’ve never hidden in a shower, but I’m thinking of Maddy hiding in Euphoria, if you all have seen that.
CNL: Wouldn’t happen if I was there. Because I would look.
HK: She was hiding, and it’s kind of a meme. It is a meme now of her hiding in the shower and trying not to make any sounds as, you know, she doesn’t want to get caught.
GP: It’s like hiding in a bathroom stall or something. Like perched on the toilet or something.
LP: Valley Girl is casting a longer shadow than it knows. C, I have to ask you, is it because of this movie that you check the showers?
CNL: No, no. It’s because of—it’s first because of Psycho (1960), which doesn’t make sense because it’s on the outside of the shower. But I was in fifth grade when I saw that, and it did a number on me. And then secondly, because of Sin City (2005). And then ever since…
GP: I can’t recall the exact scene you’re mentioning, but I did watch that the year it came out.
CNL: Sin City? It’s Benecio Del Toro is hiding in a shower. And that’s all I need to be freaked out.
HK: Grant, do you have any final thoughts?
GP: I should probably just say—provide like a reason to go see this screening. I mean, I don’t think this has had any—well, the 40th anniversary would be next year, right? So it may see like a theatrical presentation at some point, maybe at a chain theater, but I think if you’re interested in seeing this, you go for the performances and Nic Cage, and you’re held there in your seat by the soundtrack, which is, sort of what we first started discussing, because it’s so prominent and iconic, to use that word.
HK: Totally iconic. A few quick things to say. Number one, listen to the soundtrack if you’re curious about the movie. You’ll get a lot of insight, and maybe you’ll want to watch it. Number two, shout-out Christie from my work, because she was talking to me about seeing this movie in 1983 just for something to do. And I think maybe if you’re considering watching it, just go see it for something to do. Go out to the movies. Why not? And the third thing, I feel like this movie—it doesn’t matter if you’re like from Hollywood or from The Valley, I think everybody maybe has this tension set up in their lives where they think of “otherizing” things or people, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Just look hot and have fun.
GP: Any final thoughts, Lewis?
LP: No, I think that’s a pretty good summary. Byeee.
GP: Thank you.
CNL: I have a final thought.
CNL: I think that if you haven’t seen live music in two years, you can go to this screening and pretend you’re in a dark club with bisexual lighting.
HK: Thanks for joining. This has been the Tone Madison and Four Star podcast. We’ll see you next time.
GP: Thank you.
Once again, thank you for listening to this Tone Madison podcast, our first of 2022, for the occasion of UW Cinematheque’s April 22 presentation of Martha Coolidge’s Valley Girl from 1983. The 35mm screening at 4070 Vilas Hall is free and open to the public, with doors at 6:30 p.m. and the show starting at 7.
If you enjoyed this conversation, please share it with a friend and consider making a donation to Tone Madison at tonemadison.com/donate. However you’re able to help is much appreciated.
This segment was produced by me, Grant Phipps, along with Hanna Kohn, C Nelson-Lifson, and Lewis Peterson with audio editing done by Sarah Jennings Evans. For this spring 2022 edition of the Four Star podcast, this is Grant Phipps signing off. Thank you.
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