This week's movie is the 1984 sci-fi/comedy/drama Nothing Lasts Forever!
Nothing Lasts Forever might just be the most obscure movie I've covered so far--the whys and hows of that we'll get to in a moment.
Looking at the title card, it might be confusing that I said this is film is from 1984, when it clearly looks like something from the 1930s. Well, writer/director Tom Schiller (who was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live) had something very, very specific in mind with this film. I mean, check out this eccentric cast:
Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Mort Sahl, Imogene Coca, Sam Jaffee, and Eddie Fisher? Really? That's who's in this movie?
Yes, all those famous faces are in this movie, as well as a few more, not to mention the star, Zach Galligan, pre-Gremlins. Galligan plays Adam Beckett, who we first see is a concert pianist. But he is soon revealed to be a fraud--it's a player-piano--and the crowd rebels, booing him off-stage. Beckett, a very Candide-like figure, dreams of being an artist, and is shuffled from person to person.
The world of Nothing Lasts Forever is imposing and authoritarian; Adam gets thrown from office to office, a pawn in and endless and imposing (yet still shabby) bureaucratic system. At one point, to prove he can be an artist, Adam is forced into Peep Show-esque booth where he undergoes a weird, real-time test of his drawing abilities, in front of a nude model. 3...2...1...Draw!
Adam ends up not being an artist (he's not good enough!), and finds himself working in the subway, under the auspices of genial but authoritative boss Buck Heller (Dan Aykroyd):
Much of the film is made up of pieces of stock footage, clips from other movies, in a sort of grab-bag approach. Amazingly, it all hangs together visually, while the story--and Adam himself--meanders from place to place, character to character.
He meets a beautiful woman, Mara (the wonderfully named Apollonia van Ravenstein) and he has an affair with her. She talks of Art, Life, and other huge topics, and encounter all manner of hipsters, including one played by the director himself:
Later, there's a funny and prescient gag where Mara raves about Battleship Potemkin, but Adam is flummoxed by her insistence on watching the movie on a tiny, portable TV screen:
Adam meets a tramp, who shows him that all of the world are under a group of tramps' control(!). They take to him (with the film switching to color in the process) and reveal the truth of the world, and follow-up by suggesting he take a trip to the moon to spread the word of peace and meet his True Love.
The trips to the moon are run like a mundane bus route, with the bus conductor played by Bill Murray:
The bus is filled entirely with older, retired people (including Larry "Bud" Melman), and Murray's character (named Ted Brueghel) wonders how such a young person like Adam got aboard.
The moon looks like a 1940s movie backlot, and features hula girls welcoming the tourists:
Adam meets Eloy (Lauren Tom), whom he realizes is his true love, and tries to spend time with her--much to Ted's displeasure. In the meantime, Adam talks to one of the tourists, played by the great Imogene Coco, who tells Adam that old people routinely visit the moon, but are implanted with chips in their necks so when they come home and tell their relatives about the moon, it comes out as "Miami", so no one's the wiser.
Eventually Adam and Eloy get together, and declare true love. Eloy knows the the forces in control don't want them to be together, so they have to enjoy the moment--after all, nothing lasts forever. Soon, Ted's goons grab Adam and knock him out, and he awakes back on Earth (and back in black and white).
Adam ends up back at the concert hall, but this time he's not a fake, and delivers a bravura performance. As he plays, Eloy arrives (via a carriage driven by Reservoir Dogs' Laurence Tierney!) and sits in the balcony. As Adam receives his applause, he sees Eloy, and they smile.
Also smiling are the tramps outside, and as the music swells, the film ends:
Okay, of course, as my "review" indicates, Nothing Lasts Forever is a supremely weird movie, filled with all manner of bizarre concepts and characters. I can only imagine what Warner Bros. thought when they got the finished film and saw it for the first time.
Despite the presence of Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray--who were about to be at the apex of their box-office popularity, thanks to Ghostbusters--Nothing Lasts Forever was shelved, and essentially never released. It has also never even made it home video, supposedly because of rights issues', since the film uses so much footage cribbed from other sources (that sounds a bit bogus to me, since even in 1984 there was a nascent home video market). Nothing Lasts Forever does appear at film festivals every so often, and apparently Bill Murray himself asked for NLF to be included when there was a retrospective of his films a few years ago.
As a movie, Nothing Lasts Forever is bewildering, and at times frustrating in its stubborn insistence on being difficult to understand. Its a bit hipper than thou occasionally, yet Schiller's general aura of cheeriness shows through, despite all the weirdness. It's of course great to see Aykroyd and Murray in another film together (though, sadly, they share no scenes), and it's kind of startling to see Murray play a sort of heavy, an ever-so-slight nod to his later, more dramatic work.
For all of is flaws, Nothing Lasts Forever deserves to be released; its an interesting movie and would probably find a following with Bill Murray fans, SNL fans, and people who love the work of Terry Gilliam (ironically enough, Gilliam's film, Brazil, which shares a thematic similarity with Nothing Lasts Forever, would also suffer at the hands of movie studio meddling).
One final comment about the film: I had never heard of this movie until I read an offhand mention of it in the book Saturday Night, which was about the creation of SNL. It mentioned Murray and Aykroyd being in it, and that it wasn't released. This was pre-internet, so I could get no further news on the film, which drove me crazy. I was a huge fan of all things SNL back then, and the idea that there was a movie with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd out there that I hadn't seen was frustrating, to say the least.
One night around 1988 or 1989, Bill Murray appeared on Larry King's CNN show, and they took calls. I love(d) Murray, so I placed a call. Amazingly enough, I got through to the show, and some producer asked me what question I had. I breathlessly said I was going to ask about this movie called Nothing Lasts Forever that Mr. Murray and Dan Aykroyd were in, what happened to it, etc. I thought that would be an interesting question, not one that Bill would have been expecting, a nice break from all the same PR crap stars have to peddle when pushing a movie--plus I finally would learn more about the movie! My logic was unassailable.
The producer shot back with "Well, if it's a movie no one has seen, then no one will know what you're talking about" and hung up. I was crestfallen! To get so close!!
But I didn't give up--I called back, again and again, as the hour wound down. Amazingly, I got through again, and was asked what was my question. I made up some BS thing that I thought they would want to hear (something about Scrooged or Ghostbusters 2, whichever movie he was there promoting), and they said okay, you'll be on in a few minutes. I was going to get to talk to Bill Murray!!
Unfortunately, the callers before me kept talking, taking longer and longer. I eyed the clock, knowing 10pm was approaching. Finally a voice came on and said "You're next" and I practically hyperventilated. But it was not to be--the last caller went on long, Larry and Bill kept talking, and the show ended with me never getting the chance to ask my question.
Some wounds don't heal.