An Artistic Consideration of Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night” (1980)

NOTE: I’m on a brief break (fear not, returning next week!), so this is a slightly edited post from last year, which seems to fit well with November’s theme.

When you get to a certain age (say, 30), it becomes time to make a difficult decision: you can either continue to embrace the new and trendy in pop culture, or you can firmly dig your feet in and grumpily insist that what “the kids today,” some of whom might be a whole decade or so younger than you, are into isn’t nearly as good as what you enjoyed in your youth.

Once we were rendered a casualty in the war for relevance between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, members of Generation X became especially skilled in kidding ourselves into believing that our pre-smartphones and Wikipedia childhoods were somehow better, more pure than today. This is true. It was an innocent time where kids could ride their bicycles without helmets, and only occasionally die of massive head injuries after an accident (social Darwinism, amirite?), when gay teens would suffer in silence until they got old enough to run away from their shitty small towns, never to be heard from again, and when men could be abusive drunks to their families, and as long as he was supporting them financially it was no one else’s business.

It was also a time when men could extol the romantic and sexual virtues of teenage girls without anyone looking at them askance.

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“The Amy Fisher Story” (1993)

And so, we wrap things up with the most memorable movie in this trilogy of tastelessness, The Amy Fisher Story. Memorable not just because of who was tapped for the leading role, it presents the interesting (and probably mostly true) theory that everyone involved in the “Long Island Lolita” case was a craven opportunist, all but tripping over each other to get a piece of the action. Told from the third party perspective of a newspaper reporter, not one single character comes off well, and even the audience is left feeling a little dirty and ashamed for watching it.

In this version, Amy Fisher is played by Drew Barrymore, in what could reasonably be described as “stunt casting.” Barrymore, younger than Fisher but somehow looking and acting at least a decade older (the distractingly bad wig she wears doesn’t help), was in the middle of her post-rehab “comeback,” still mostly taking roles meant to prove to audiences that she wasn’t cute little Gertie in E.T. anymore. A great example of how Hollywood is a healthy and happy place for young women (or really just women in general) is the fact that The Amy Fisher Story was the second movie in less than a year in which Barrymore, not even eighteen yet, was cast as a murderous teen sexpot who has a steamy affair with a man far too old for her. While comparing The Amy Fisher Story to Poison Ivy is similar to comparing a boil to a sebaceous cyst, The Amy Fisher Story manages to come out slightly ahead.

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“Casualties of Love: the Long Island Lolita Story” (1993)

It’s said that there are three sides to every story–yours, mine, and the truth. Sometimes, as with the  three TV movies recounting the Amy Fisher-Joey Buttafuoco scandal, those sides are so far removed from each other that one is unsure if they’re even about the same incident. Particularly in comparing Casualties of Love: the Long Island Lolita Story to last week’s Lethal Lolita, the only things the two have in common are the characters’ names, and the setting. Beyond that, despite both of them professing to be the real true story, they vary so wildly in tone and “facts” that the viewer ends up feeling a little gaslit. Did Joey put Amy up to shooting his wife? Was Amy a prostitute of her own volition? Had Joey committed statutory rape? Is blue red? Is the tortoise a shoe? When’s lunch?

Lethal Lolita may have given Amy Fisher the opportunity to tell her side of the story first, but Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco were allowed their rebuttal just a week later. And oh boy, it’s some premium processed cheese food. Though there was never a point in the proceedings when Joey didn’t come off as at least a little shady (and certainly opportunistic), by the time Casualties of Love aired public opinion had turned against him enough that his participation in a movie in which he’s portrayed as a put upon blue collar mook whose only crime was being nice to a crazy, slutty teenager was, if not outright gross, certainly ill-timed and inappropriate.

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“Lethal Lolita” (1992)

Only 90s kids will remember when we as a collective society became obsessed with, in equal parts revulsion and titillation, the story of a high school student who, evidently distraught over her affair with a man twice her age, shot and almost killed his wife. The student was Amy Fisher, and her lover was the improbably named Joey Buttafuoco. In probably the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) example of the pre-internet obsession with taking sad, sordid tales of sex and/or violence and turning them into inescapable news stories, it was a situation that started out as merely unpleasant and eventually became something so irredeemably gross that to read about it left you wishing you could remove your eyes and boil them.

While Buttafuoco at first denied the affair and claimed that he had no idea why Fisher would shoot his wife, eventually he admitted that, whoops, he had been sleeping with her after all, starting when she was sixteen. Spending a few months in jail for statutory rape neither shamed nor humbled him, however, and it became quickly apparent that Buttafuoco kind of liked being a minor celebrity, and was all too happy to capitalize on his wife’s brutal attack to keep that fame train a-rollin’. He did interviews with Howard Stern, and courted near constant media attention, becoming both a punchline on Late Night With David Letterman, and a sort of folk hero for other middle aged schlubs whose fondest fantasy was that an unremarkable looking teenage girl might one day cast an eye in their direction too.

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