Film and TV

Tasty Waves and Cool Buzzes: 30 Years of Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This week marks 30 years since the world met Jeff Spicoli, Mr. Hand, Mike Damone, the Hamilton siblings and the chest of Linda Barrett. The Cameron Crowe-penned, Amy Heckerling-directed summer teen flick has become a classic comedy, dealing with teen pregnancy, masturbation, fast-food malaise and the epidemic of stoned surfers in Southern California.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High hit theaters on August 13, 1982, entering an already busy summer youth movie field dominated by Tron, Friday the 13th Part 3, Zapped!, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Last American Virgin. Blade Runner was in there somewhere too.

Fast Times would end up grossing around $27 million -- not too shabby in a year filled mostly with sci-fi -- and it would become a staple on most comedic best-of lists, not to mention introducing Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Forest Whitaker and Phoebe Cates to the world. Spicoli acolyte Anthony Edwards would star in Revenge of the Nerds just two years later.

The notoriously stern Penn recently looked back at Fast Times on the Tavis Smiley Show, giving insight into his Spicoli character. The film was "the beginning of a long and lucky run" for Penn, who only had Taps and some low-level TV work under his belt at the time. A decade later, he would be a major dramatic actor in Hollywood, a million miles from the stoner who only cared for tasty waves and a cool buzz.

Fast Times also dealt with teen issues like sex and drugs in a frank and comfortable manner, thanks to screenwriter Crowe, who was only a few years out of his own awkward -- albeit charmed -- teenage experience, and a director like Heckerling who didn't shy away or want to sugarcoat the hell out of teendom. She grabbed youth culture by the balls again 13 years later with Clueless.

Masturbation wasn't mentioned in such a direct way either until Judge Reinhold's fantasy sequence with a nude Phoebe Cates and a swimming pool. Did it popularize jerking off? No, but it probably made parents scarily more aware of your bathroom visits. The scene still gets mentioned on most every iconic nude scene list, and made Cates a heartthrob for most American men and boys.

(Wait, how have I never written one of those for Art Attack?)

Cates had a decent career in the late '80s and '90s (Drop Dead Fred!) as a good-girl type, but she largely walked away from Hollywood to raise a family with husband Kevin Kline.

Reinhold's role as a hapless serial wage slave is one of his best, and he's still under-appreciated. I mean, Vice Versa is a classic.

The subject of teen pregnancy was already a part of the national discussion -- SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN -- but it was star Jennifer Jason Leigh actually visiting an abortion clinic instead of toughing out a pregnancy that bothered some people. The movie couldn't have ended with Damone and Stacy in a hospital cooing over a newborn.

Actor Robert Romanus stuck mainly to TV work after Fast Times, with the occasional film role. The character he played, Damone, is still one of the most reviled -- yet depressingly realistic -- in film history.

Sadly, Mr. Vargas, played by Vincent Schiavelli, died in 2005, and his film wife Mrs. Vargas, Lana Clarkson, died in 2003 at the hand of infamous music producer Phil Spector. Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 in Clarkson's death.

Spicoli's classroom nemesis, Mr. Hand, played by Ray Walston, died on January 1, 2011. By the time Walston joined the Fast Times cast, he had a vast TV and film career behind him, including a starring role on My Favorite Martian.

Every few years someone comes up with a dream cast for a modern remake of Fast Times, the last one including Emma Stone as Stacy and Michael Cera as her brother Brad. Selena Gomez is even mentioned when it comes to Cates's role, which would be a surefire way to piss off Justin Bieber fans and Disney creeps alike.

I mean, come on, how can you improve or re-create the magic of Walston's Mr. Hand or Spicoli? Michael Keaton would make a grand Mr. Hand, though.

Thankfully, no remake has ever been done, though revisiting the characters in 2012 would be kind of fun. Maybe Spicoli could own a marijuana dispensary or a board shop, and Brad could own a fleet of food trucks, while Damone makes his living scalping concert tickets on Craigslist.

As for Linda Barrett, I think we all know that she would be the most popular mom with all the young men in her neighborhood.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty