Movie Matters – E03 – Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

[00:00:00] JC: Welcome to Just Curious Media. This is Movie Matters, and I’m Jason Connell. Today I am talking about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the 1982 comedy-drama written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Amy Heckerling. It’s 7.2 rating on IMDb, and it’s 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Now the concept for the movie actually started back in 1979 when Cameron Crowe returned to high school at age 22 to observe, to infiltrate and to write a book about the high school experience. He registered under an assumed name with the cooperation of the principal who is the only one that knew the secret, and two years later he created a hit book entitled Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a True Story by Cameron Crowe.

Now, Crowe did change the names of the school and students, but the screenplay he would go on to write were loosely based on the events and characters in this book. Of course, Crowe would go on to write, direct such films as Say Anything, Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous in which he won an Oscar for best screenplay, but he wasn’t directing films just yet. So David Lynch was originally offered the chance to direct, but he turned it down saying it was a funny script, but not really his thing. I can’t imagine what this film would look like in Lynch’s hands – A very different film indeed. 

First time director, Amy Heckerling, was hired, and it was the perfect choice. She was able to find the right adult tone of the film. Thus, not making it yet another Porky’s type film, and of course she would later go on to direct films such as National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking and Clueless. It’s no surprise she was able to make Fast Times such a hit. 

Now a huge part of the success was due to the casting of the film. I mean, who could have guessed there would be three future Oscar winners in it with Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, and Nicholas Cage. Now, Cage was officially credited as Nicholas Coppola, because of course his uncle was a legendary director, Francis Ford Coppola. 

Anyway, Sean Penn truly steals the show with his infamous portrayal of stoner surfer, Jeff Spicoli. Penn did a lot of improvising, and on his own brought this character to life Now at the heart of the film, you’ve got a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, and she’s fantastic as Stacey, the naïve, good-hearted, love-hungry teen. The film has another 80s darling in it, which is Phoebe Cates, who played Stacey’s best friend, Linda, and she would be in the film’s most iconic scene in which she gets out of the pool, takes off a red bikini top while the classic Cars track, Moving in Stereo, plays. This scene would be parotid for years to come, including a scene in Christmas vacation and would go on to be voted top nude scene of all time by Mr. Skin. 

As for Forest Whitaker, he’s only in a few scenes, but he absolutely shines as All-American defensive football player, Charles Jefferson, who single-handedly destroys rival school, Lincoln. The other Oscar winner, Nicholas Cage, was only an extra in the film. But just a year later, he would be one of the leads in Valley Girl. He was also only 17 at the time and not permitted to take on a larger role and which was considered. 

Here’re a few fun facts. When Damone gives Rat his 5 point plan, he says, “When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.” However, the Led Zeppelin track that plays in Rat’s car is Kashmir, which is on Physical Graffiti. Now, according to Heckerling, no one ever gets to the right to Led Zeppelin’s music. But due to the fact that Cameron Crowe had been a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, which is portrayed in his autobiographical film, Almost Famous, Led Zeppelin granted them the rights to Kashmir, just not Led Zeppelin IV. 

There are some other gems on the soundtrack, which include I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme) which shocked me to find out that it was performed by Jimmy Buffett, and of course, Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Brown, which is really the loss of innocence track throughout the film. It’s basically played every single time Stacey has sex in the film.

On that note, the MPAA originally granted the movie in X-rating due to the love scene between Stacey and Damone, which featured full frontal male nudity. Heckerling asked the board why they can show naked girls, but not naked guys. They said because the male organ is aggressive, and because the picture was the first major study film in some time to be given an X-rating. Universal agreed to edit the scene, allowing the MPAA to reissue the movie as an R. 

Now, the only good thing to come from that was the ability for younger audiences to see the film and help to make the cult classic it is today.

I highly recommend watching this movie for the first time, or to revisit it, and please feel free to tell me what you think.

You can contact me directly through our Instagram, which is Movie__Matters. 

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So without further ado, please enjoy Fast Times at Ridgemont High


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