11 October 2010


Who could resist that awesome cover?

United States - 1978
Director - Lyman Dayton
Dayton Video, 1981, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

Oh, the romantic stoicism of the Western frontier. It was the birthplace of a myth of manhood and intrepid destiny that defined a nation and a culture. It came to symbolize a coming of age, both national and personal which has permeated our self image for over 150 years. It is the idea of individual perseverance and the role of physical labor and tradition which has been seen as the bedrock of traditional American morality, and to which director Dayton has returned time and again in his narratives. In Rivals he drops that legendary trope directly into the swirling materialistic void of disco-age modern urban high-school.

When the patriarch of a Wyoming sheep ranching family dies, his family returns to the mother’s home city. The story from here on is concerned almost exclusively with Adam (co-producer Stewart Peterson) the eldest son and cipher of the idealized American West myth. His arrival in Los Angeles initiates a profound clash of cultural values, and the question of the nature and definition of historical progress as it plays out in the juvenile hijinks of 3rd period science class. Director Dayton knows that every piece of thought provoking cinema should build a tension between possibility and probability, between myth and reality. If it is to be called a “film” rather than just a “flick”, a movie has to develop a dichotomy between what we want, and what we can realistically have. It must mix the viewers own internal conflict with that of the protagonist; a conflict between his desire to be liked and his desire to do good works.

Rivals is precisely one such film. Adam is a cleansing angel, stepped from the pages of a storybook to remind us that we modern slobs lost our way. The faith and honesty of a simpler, more tactile way of life mythologized in the rural West and from which we have strayed, is our only possible salvation. Justifiably singled out by his morally inferior peers as the “new kid” and a hick to boot, Adam must prove himself superior to the vindictive and vain behavior of the local cool guy, Clyde “Clutch” Turner.

Yes, it sounds as if someone accidentally switched the names on these two characters, but it must be recalled that Adam is an emissary of the Eden that is a Wyoming sheep ranch and as such he represents a more “pure”, pre-corrupt state of humanity. He is mythologized ideal (and blonde!) subsumed in the seething cauldron of venality that is the Los Angeles public education system. The question however is, will Adam retain his rugged but gentle stoicism after being locked in an outhouse and bleated at derisively by Clutch and his boneheaded sidekicks Gimper and Sludge?

Despite an overwhelmingly compelling set of characteristics, Adam is at a disadvantage. In addition to his smokin’ custom Dodge Van, Clutch has Brooke (Dana Kimmell, Friday the 13th III), his girlfriend, and Brooke has the barely restrained force of girly-parts and popularity on her side. Can we really expect a person, even a personified myth such as Adam to resist such a deadly combination of temptations. Let’s be realistic here, no matter how much we pine and mutter longingly about the gritty immediacy of morality and “truth” in the murky distance of history, perfection is simply a self-deluding fantasy. Even a myth needs a girlfriend, and disco dancing is just sooooo much fuuun!

Man, you're just way too humble farmer dude, I can't resist! For blowing up my custom van and putting me in my place, I'll let you have my girlfriend.

This alternate VHS box art comes courtesy of my friend Michael at Cinema du Meep. Thanks for sharing!


Cinema Du Meep said...

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I never thought I would ever see a review of Rivals. This picture is one of my favorites, I'm so bizarrely drawn to it. I even own 3 different VHS versions, 2 of which have unique and hilarious art work. I am so in love with your review! Thank you!


The Goodkind said...

You bet. That's why I'm here, to resurrect lost videos. How bout hooking me up with some of that alternate artwork? I'd love to post it, with credit to you of course. And please, e-mail me about the Kotto project, I want you to participate.

Cinema Du Meep said...