I once, at a panel, heard San Francisco Chronicle writer Neva Chonin say one of the smartest things I've ever heard about pop culture: She was talking about music, and how the most amazing thing about it was that it could give you a different perception of time -- that when you heard a song you loved, it took you back to all the times you'd experienced it, and gave you a chance to experience time in a non-linear fashion. So it is with movies, and for me, Red Dawn. Red Dawn came out in 1984. I was 15; Reagan-era Cold War anxieties had me twitchy (or, rather, twitchier), and my membership in The Royal Canadian Air Cadets -- teen-age Boy Scouts with planes and the occasional trip to the rifle range -- gave me a social context of like-minded youth. There was a Cold War, but what if it went hot? What would that be like?
And then Red Dawn came out. Forget that to anyone with a shred of logic in their capacities, the film was laughable -- The Soviets would send crack paratroopers to capture the heartland? What resource were they hoping to seize, flatness? -- when you're 15, your critical faculties are, at best, minimally developed. Red Dawn had a bunch of every-kids -- Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and more -- dealing with the arrival of the Red Menace. The film had action; it had suspense; it had gritty (or, at least, gritty by the standards of a 15-year-old) questions of wartime justice and tactics. It had hissable villains, too -- swarthy, stoic Cubans (led by Ron 'Superfly' O'Neal, which I wouldn't fully appreciate for years) and pallid, vampire-like Russkie bastards. It was, in short, perfect.
Times have changed; politics have changed; most cruelly of all, Charlie Sheen has changed. And yet, when I stumble across Red Dawn on cable -- where it will live forever -- I'm drawn in magnetically, fighting and struggling alongside the Wolverines and Powers Boothe, hooked by a premise so iron-strong and idiotic that it shoves me over every plot hole, every logic fault and every snag in John Milus' dialogue. Watching Red Dawn in the here-and-now, my 'adult' mind may recoil, but my heart -- and that skinny, dorky 15-year old, terrified of Nuclear War -- is enraptured by the power of cheap drama and cheap heroics that, God help me, still work on some level.