Bright Lights Film Journal

Now More than Ever: MY BODYGUARD (1980)

The year: 1980, the place: Bridgewater, NJ – Somerville Circle Cinema. The film: MY BODYGUARD. The 1970s: Over. We had just moved from PA, where I was king of the world, to NJ where I was scared shitless. I was skittish, a sensitive artistic stricken with low affect tolerance. I was only 12 or early 13, too young to put into words the existential dread I was feeling.

As we walked into the dim theater, a coming attraction for this film was playing:

When a Stranger Calls

The combination of this WHEN A STRANGER CALLS promo and MY BODYGUARD made me so paranoid about bullies and slow, unstoppable killers in my new school in NJ, that it didn’t matter if almost no one picked on me. I saw them pick on others, and figured I was next – the world was a cold, hard place, and the only time I was safe was when my mom or dad were within screaming distance. As Henry Hill would say, “these were the bad times.”

That’s not to knock MY BODYGUARD, but I also can’t help but wonder why, why did this film have to paint the world in such a grim light? The film chronicles the abuses suffered by Clifford, a new kid in school (Chris Makepeace) at the hands of Moody (Matt Dillon). The early scenes of bullying are terrifying in their casual sadism. The school is quickly established as a hostile place with no help or rational means of protection in sight. Clifford turns to a big (6’4″) outcast named Linderman played by Adam Baldwin (no relation to ‘the‘ Baldwins). Clifford and Linderman have a rocky friendship, and it all leads to a big double fight as Moody hires his own thug enforcer.

One line my brother and I remembered from this movie is towards the end when the bad guy bodyguard takes Cliff’s bike, noting “your bike – it’s Moody’s now.” With the accent on Moody’s. We’d say that to each other all the time while stealing various items from each others’ rooms. I can’t remember much else about the film, though I saw it numerous times… just that it was kind of grimy in the style of the inner city 1970s cinema, and it made me afraid of my own shadow.

Thanks to a few tormented souls who committed suicide over the issue (suicide and mass murder being practically the only tool kids have to get parents to acknowledge the widespread bullying problem as something beyond mere ‘kid’s stuff’), bullying has gained national attention and parental hysteria. It’s typical of the forest for the trees overreaction that, for example, in the fight below, the fat kid is the one standing up for himself, and the one currently being held on criminal charges, for daring to resist his daily torment.
Bullied Bro Bounces Back

If the fights that make up the climax of MY BODYGUARD were real and captured on video, there’s no doubt that all four of the participants would be suspended and or arrested for assault. In the end it’s not as if kids are getting justice or their bullying is being stopped, it’s more like the parental and press hysteria makes it all worse – now even if someone is beating the shit out of you, if you just sit there and take it, and that’s on the internet, you’re a wimp, if you fight back, you’re a felon. Good work, adults!

Being a teenager is a terrifying, depressing uncertain time. If adults want to start micro-managing it, they need to do it right from the get-go – monitor the internet and set up cameras and prosecute bullies as if they’re adults. Extorting lunch money should be a felony, like it would be for the mafia. Instead they wait until the kids solve the problem themselves, by ‘standing up’ and fighting back and then they slam the lid down. These parents aren’t fighting bullies, they’re fighting ‘standing up’ and in the process leaving kids with almost no alternatives except taking out the whole damned school, and going out in a blaze of glory. Do parents really want to be seen as the uptight, ineffectual liberal administration in a DIRTY HARRY movie? That’s what they are, they’re John Vernon (left).

I managed to make it through high school without being bullied, but I was so scared of it happening I avoided all human contact until my senior year. I still haven’t seen WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and all the slasher movies that followed kept me anxious and afraid of the quiet and the dark. And this was 1980, y’all.

I’ll close with a chunk of a piece on masculinity and MY BODYGUARD from the cutting and refreshingly un-PC Whiskey’s Place:

Once upon a time (1980) there was a little film called “My Bodyguard” with Chris Makepeace and Adam Baldwin. The latter certainly not lacking in masculine presence (…) or independence or authority. Or, perfect comic timing.

It is a measure of how feminized Hollywood has become, that Adam Baldwin is the anchor of the TV show “Chuck” (and it took Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” to revive his career) instead of the movie star he should have been (check out his performance in “Full Metal Jacket.”) That Damien Lewis is back in England acting on the stage, instead of making movies as the lead.

Why is this important? Because people get their ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, masculine and feminine, from movies and TV. With the collapse of religious attendance, highly mobile and fractured families, there is nothing else. A common culture that tells people, through stories, on how to behave, is how societies survive.

Right now, women attending movies have a flawed idea of masculinity. Men are either slobby idiots, gender-less nothings, or hunky-tragic bad boys who will be indeed, “all about them.” Instead of messy, independent, stubborn, funny, flippant, often atagonistic, but capable of enormous efforts and suffering to protect the innocent or helpless, and do what is right. That message has been lost in the fear that a deeply feminized (and gay) Hollywood has produced with androgynous leading men and girl-woman leading ladies.

Young men have if anything, a worse time, being given false messages about what women like (androgyny) instead of what (most) women crave: masculine guys, not super-macho chest beaters, but men who are in fact men, not genderless clones, or pretty boy nothings, devoted entirely to some woman, under her control. This only guarantees for most, bitter failure when it must be avoided, and a pattern of resenting any and all cultural messages on the principle of being lied to the first time.

America, Hollywood, and the movies does not HAVE to be like this. As recently as 1980, a little youth film could be made about standing up for one’s self, and what is right. Even if it means a fight is in the offing. (read full piece here)

Damn right, Whiskey! It means a fight is in the offing, one that the Vernons are determined to prevent, lest a real man rise from the Ceras and Cruises, to smite the falseness and free the funk! Chuck Pahlaniuk was right! Come on, men! Let’s don our masks and ride…. to freedom! (and check out ‘Masculinity in Crisis!’ the second issue of Acidemic, still sooo relevant). And remember, next time don’t just punch the bully, smash the camera!