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John G. Avildsen (#110 of 2)

Summer of ‘84 Waxing on Nostalgia: The Karate Kid

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Summer of ’84—Waxing on Nostalgia: The Karate Kid
Summer of ’84—Waxing on Nostalgia: The Karate Kid

I. On the Move

One of the oddest elements of The Karate Kid, a quintessential “go for it!” rouser with a script reportedly taught in screenwriting classes as a model of structure, is its first few minutes are the polar opposite of beginning with a bang. Instead, the picture opens with a simple overhead shot of a shitty car loaded up for a long trip. Without any close-ups, we are left in the distance watching a cluster of people wave their hands and hearing New Joisey accents saying goodbye, followed by a leisurely montage of unspectacular vistas as the car wheezes westward.

Looking back, I think this humdrum opening struck a chord in a way of which I wasn’t fully cognizant at the time. In the summer of 1984, my parents and I returned temporarily to our home in Phoenix, AZ after I completed the eighth grade down in Tucson, where my father had found employment. Tucson was only a two-hour drive away, but it might as well have been on Mars. I hated my new school, I hated living in strange quarters, and I hated moving from place to place. By the time I saw The Karate Kid, I was fully prepared to identify with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), its stringbean teenage protagonist, from the moment his journey from Jersey ends in California and he glances out of the car at his new digs—a dilapidated apartment complex—in disgust. When his relentlessly upbeat mother chirps, “This is it—the end of the line!” Daniel takes the words right out of my mouth: “You’re telling me.”

Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

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Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown
Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

Author’s Note: Since the Steadicam discussion seems to be flowering into something more than an argument about a piece of equipment, rather than change the subject with a totally different post, I’ll stay the course. What follows is reprint of an article I wrote about the history and aesthetics of the Steadicam, built around an interview with the device’s creator, Garrett Brown. It was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue of Film Festival Reporter magazine, which is edited by my friend Scott Bayer, a journalist and filmmaker.

Garrett Brown might be the most influential filmmaker that the moviegoing public hasn’t heard of. Throughout his long career, the 62-year old Philadelphian has been a mostly behind-the-scenes presence in the industry, working as cinematographer, cameraman, inventor and teacher. Yet his impact has been as profound as that of any auteur, star or studio executive, thanks to his greatest invention: the Steadicam, a combination camera and body harness that merged the improvisational freedom of the handheld shot with the elegance of the dolly, and expanded the frontiers of cinema.

In the 30 years since the camera made its debut in director Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biography Bound for Glory—in a still-dazzling shot that began atop a high crane, drifted to earth and then wove through a camp full of migrant workers—the Steadicam has become a star player in some of the most visually and dramatically memorable sequences of the past three decades, sequences that advance the narrative while subtly commenting on the meaning and uses of movie language.