Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 31, 2014
A young man with artistic ambitions but no actual talent flees Manhattan in the not-too-distant future and hops a shuttle to the moon in search of true love.
Cast: Zach Galligan (Adam Beckett), Apollonia van Ravenstein (Mara Hoffmeier), Lauren Tom (Eloy), Sam Jaffe (Father Knickerbocker), Paul Rogers (Hugo), Bill Murray (Ted Breughel), Dan Aykroyd (Buck Heller), Imogene Coca (Daisy Schackman0), Anita Ellis (Aunt), Mort Sahl (Uncle), Jan Triska (Architect), Eddie Fisher (Himself), Avon Long (Steward), Calvert DeForest, King Donovan (Passengers), Lawrence Tierney (Carriage Driver), Walt Gorney (Stage Manager), Tom Schiller (Mara’s friend), Raynor Scheine (Hillbilly) Marc Alderman (Lifewalk 5000 Conceptual Artist). Director/writer: Tom Schiller. Cinematography: Fred Schuler. Music: Howard Shore.
Color/B&W, 82 min.
Showtime: Saturday, January 3, 11pm (PST), 2am (EST).
Bill Murray isn’t the star of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (1984), the one and only feature film (to date!) directed by SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE‘s Tom Schiller, but he is the star of its resurrection. If you’re of a certain age, you will remember, and I hope fondly, the Schiller’s Reels that would run on SNL between sketches. “La Dolce Gilda” was a smart send-up of Federico Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA (1960) — Fellini loved it — and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” a now eerily ironic trip through the Not Ready for Prime Time Players Cemetery, where sole series survivor John Belushi dances on the graves of Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and SNL apostate Chevy Chase. It was obvious back then that Schiller was too hip for the room, his stuff flying over the heads of SNL fans who were more into the sophomoric excesses of ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and CADDYSHACK (1980) than canny allusions to Depression-era Hollywood films, Renaissance art, and German Expressionism.
Not surprisingly, when Schiller answered the call from Hollywood it wasn’t person-to-person but via the Lorne Michaels party line. The creator of SNL (then in its seventh season), Michaels had just signed a five picture deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at the rollout of his pet production company, Broadway Video. (Billeted in the historic Brill Building, Michaels also put the comedy team of Al Franken and Tom Davis on a project, a proposed spoof of George Orwell’s 1984 to be titled 1985). NOTHING LASTS FOREVER got underway in April 1982 but Belushi was already in his grave, for real. Riding high on the success of STRIPES (1981), Murray contributed a cameo, as did Dan Aykroyd (in a bit of a career slump post-NEIGHBORS, his final partnering with Belushi, and prior to his comic comeback with TRADING PLACES and GHOSTBUSTERS and disarmingly winning supporting roles in DRIVING MISS DAISY and MY GIRL); Schiller cast his movie with a mindblowing melange of old-and-new-timers, among them a pre-GREMLINS (1984) Zach Galligan and a pre-THE JOY LUCK CLUB/FRIENDS/FUTURAMA/KING OF THE HILL Lauren Tom and such industry veterans as Mort Sahl, Imogene Coca (whose next film was NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION), GUNGA DIN‘s Sam Jaffee (sans nappy), former movie tough guy Lawrence Tierney (hard up for paying work between ARTHUR and RESERVOIR DOGS), crooner Eddie Fisher, and King Donovan (this was the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS‘ last film role), as well as novelty acts Calvert DeForest (aka Larry “Bud” Melman, David Letterman’s amorphous amanuensis), pure castile soap magnate Emmanuel Bronner, and British stage actor Paul Rogers (then starring as “Sir” in the original Broadway run of THE DRESSER). Plus! Plus! Plus! Crazy Ralph from FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and FRIDAY THE 13TH PT,. 2 (1981)! (Even after name-checking all these people I have to admit my favorite line in the whole movie comes courtesy of Broadway hoofer Avon Long, who passed away in February 1984 after playing a bit in TRADING PLACES.) If you’re not thinking “Wow” or “Holy Gee” or “Man oh Mantan Morleand,” then just stop reading here and go watch GAME OF THRONES or do whatever hipsters do nowadays, live tweet about SXSW or something.
By Tom Schiller’s own account, the making of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER was happy and exciting, with the filmmaker riffing on art that inspired and compelled him and thinking about what was in the cards for all of us. The movie is certainly prescient about — among other things — branding, that noxious practice of declaring what something is before it’s anything in the hopes that it will be. Zach Galligan’s hapless Adam Beckett (wait for it) isn’t to be demonized for his lack of talent but rather lauded for not putting up with the artifice, for making his own mediocre way. The movie shares a kind of crooked kinship with Martin Scorsese’s THE KING OF COMEDY (1982), as well as a cinematographer in Fred Schuler (the Munich-born former camera operator had learned his craft on the sets of ACROSS 110TH STREET, JAWS, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, ANNIE HALL, and THE DEERHUNTER before breaking out on his own as a DP with John Cassavetes’ GLORIA in 1980), with both protagonists managing to find a level of happiness in their blessed ordinariness. Schiller was making the movie not by agenda but out of his gut, Grandma Mosesing his way by instinct.
“It’s not one film,” Schiller told writer Jenny Jediny for the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You in 2010, “it’s all the films I saw growing up watching late night television when I was eleven or twelve. Trip to the moon movies, every Fellini movie I ever saw, and the spirit of all those bad sci-fi movies from the 50s, and also American studio films of the 40s and 50s.” NOTHING LASTS FOREVER also seems to share a bloodline with that great wee-small-hours variety show NIGHT FLIGHT; common to both is a compulsion to work out the problems of the present day in the chintzy crucible of pop culture. Schiller’s tack was anti-glitz, anti-importance; he even cast Zach Galligan over Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, and Matthew Modine because he wanted an unknown in the part. The participation of their of those rising stars would have given NOTHING LASTS FOREVER a better leg up with the Metro brass but after a disappointing preview in Seattle the studio shelfed the film, which was not even finished. Failing even to fix some flaws in editing (a duplicate scene, for example), the studio remaindered the film to video and pawned it off on Europe. Tom Schiller never made another feature and went back to working on SNL while directing commercials and episodic TV. Though there was interest from the Cannes Film Festival to show NOTHING LASTS FOREVER in conjunction with its Director’s Fortnight but MGM said no.
Over the course of the last thirty years, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER has been less lost than lost cause. You could see the thing. New York’s Museum of the Moving Image staged a day of “SchillerVision” back in March of 1992, exhibiting Schiller’s short subjects and capping the event with a screening of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. But re-consideration and renewed interest is down to Bill Murray, who insisted that a print of the film be made available for a retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2004. Since then, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER has played festivals (the St. Louis International Film Festival, the Olympia Film Festival in Washington state) and rep dates (The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Cinefamily in West Hollywood, the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa in New York). Big names like Richard Corliss and Richard Brody and several other people not named Richard hopped up on the soap box to plead the movie’s case and some good Samaritan even uploaded it in its entirety to YouTube and then Warner Bros. (who inherited the property from MGM) pulled the plug and…
By now I hope you appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Though the good people at the Warner Archives would love to get the go-ahead to put NOTHING LASTS FOREVER onto DVD, who knows how long it will take the lawyers to work out the details. For now, the film is showing this Saturday on TCM Underground, so set your recording devices accordingly.
Following NOTHING LASTS FOREVER in the “overnight” slot is another dystopian Manhattan classic, John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). Memorable among Carpenter’s rogue’s gallery of supporting players is wrestler Ox Baker, the Great Heart Puncher, whom we lost this past October at the age of 80.
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