Innocent Critters Squashed on the Highway of Life!
September 10, 2014 7:27 AM   Subscribe

In 1980, Kevin Reynolds was attending USC film school; his 30-minute short Proof was an affectionate nod to his undergrad years at Baylor University back in Texas. It caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who offered to produce a full-length version. That film, Fandango, has had an impressive impact – it introduced Reynolds to longtime collaborator Kevin Costner, it spawned one Hollywood marriage, and it has drawn an impassioned fanbase.

Set at the University of Texas in 1971, Fandango concerns five college roommates on one final road trip after they graduate, before they all scatter to their diverse fates – Gardner Barnes (Kevin Costner) plans to slip off to dodge the draft in Mexico, while nerdy Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson) is to report to Parris Island to fulfill his ROTC scholarship. Gentle giant Dorman (Chuck Bush) is bound for a seminary, and Ken Waggener (Sam Robards) is adrift and having second thoughts about calling off an engagement - and as for Lester (Brian Cesak), no one knows his plans as he is unconscious for nearly the entire film. Reynolds’ original Proof is recreated midway through the film, when Hicks is pressured into taking a skydiving class from stoned-out pilot Truman Sparks (Marvin J. McIntyre).

McIntyre was actually part of the original cast for Proof – and ironically, Kevin Costner auditioned for the short but was passed up. Dorman proved to be unusually hard to cast, and it wasn’t until the team was on location in Texas that Reynolds discovered Chuck Bush by chance when both happened to stop into the same 7-11. Costner’s stint in the full-length version is his first starring role, and is also the beginning of his partnership with Reynolds; the two Kevins went on to work together on Dances With Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Waterworld. After a creative “divorce,” the pair recently reunited for a miniseries about the Hatfields and McCoys. Model Suzy Amis also made her acting debut in the film, as Ken Waggener’s fiancée, and ended up with her own partnership – she and Robards sparked a romance on set and were married a year later.

Judd Nelson’s turn in The Breakfast Club, released the same year, proved a bigger launch to his career; as for Brian Cesak, who had little to do in the film, he is now a chiropractor in Texas. Chuck Bush came to prefer life behind the camera, and is now a filmmaker, video game producer, and entertainment entrepreneur in his native Louisiana, although he says he still gets fans of the film stopping him to ask, “Are you Dorman?”

Spielberg was ultimately a bit disappointed in the film, and it suffered from a lackluster marketing effort and a limited release. Most critics found it a bit uneven, but remarked that it was an impressive directorial debut; Quentin Tarantino has raved that the film is ”one of the best directorial debuts in the history of cinema. I saw Fandango five times at the movie theater and it only played for a fucking week.” The film ultimately drew a fanbase through television and cable screening, and fans maintain an active site where they collaborate on meetups, pilgrimages to filming locations, and sharing copies of the “unofficial” soundtrack, which includes 70’s hits from the likes of Elton John and Cream to the moody jazz of Pat Metheney and Keith Jarrett. The fans are planning one last "fandango" in 2015, to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary.

Reynolds' original short is online in three parts - 1 2 3; you can compare it to the scenes from the full-length version here - 1 2 3

Other clips of interest:

Original Trailer.

The group's attempt to hop a train without abandoning their car.

The closing scenes, recently featured in this AskMe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos (26 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
And now the personal statement -

This is one of my all-time favorite films, and I was inspired to make this after seeing jenh526's AskMe. It's kinda wild to think that this film was sort of the granddaddy of Dances With Wolves and Waterworld.

This was on HBO on heavy rotation when my family first got cable in the late 80's, and my father and I both bonded over watching this repeatedly; we both dug the soundtrack first ("Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", Cream's "Badge", Blind Faith), and the plot, which from that trailer looks like a raucous Animal-House-On-Wheels kind of thing; the trailer belies a really cool plot. My father has been periodically trying to persuade me to write a sequel to the film for the past 25 years, largely because he thinks that somebody should.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was involved in planning and performing the music for my brother's wedding a few years ago, along with a couple of other friends of ours. My biggest contribution to the planning was insisting that we play Pat Metheney's "It's For You" as part of the set, specifically because of its connection to Fandango.

It took me a while to give the movie a chance, though I had exactly two people (one being my brother) try to push it on me since my college years in the late 90s. I finally watched it a little over 10 years ago and was completely blown away. There are strongly nostalgic parts that hit me on an emotional level (and I didn't even really like college that much), but I have to say that there are few scenes in movies that make me want to jump for joy like the moment following the line, "There's only one human being who can do it on time..."

(One small correction: Kevin Reynolds didn't work on Dances With Wolves, that was all Costner. Or at least Reynolds isn't credited, though he likely did have some influence...)
posted by doctornecessiter at 7:50 AM on September 10, 2014

My sources say that Reynolds was a behind-the-scenes adviser to Costner during Dances With Wolves. So yeah, uncredited, but very much present.

there are few scenes in movies that make me want to jump for joy like the moment following the line, "There's only one human being who can do it on time..."

"Boooooooorn to be Wiii-iii-iiiiiiiild....."

I actually tried sending in the train-towing-the-car scene to The Mythbusters for testing once. No one bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I actually tried sending in the train-towing-the-car scene to The Mythbusters for testing once. No one bit.

I would love to see that. I imagine that in reality the outcome would land somewhere in between the characters' intended result and what ends up happening. That is, I doubt the bumper would rip off as cleanly as it does, I bet there'd be some jerky movement, but surely something would have to give in an unpleasant way.

The placement of "How are we gonna stop?" is pure comedic gold.
posted by doctornecessiter at 8:03 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doctor: take a look at the very opening scene of the first clip from Proof. Is it me, or is that exactly like the shot where there's the throwaway voiceover about getting food at Chata Ortega?

"We could see The Donkey Lady!"
"We could get diseases."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on September 10, 2014

"She looks fast, Truman!" "Yeah, it's the stripes."

I love, love, love this movie. Great post!
posted by juliplease at 8:15 AM on September 10, 2014

I liked this movie so much that I was stupidly excited about whatever Kevin Reynolds was in the process of directing for years. Fortunately, he disabused me of that excitement.

That being said, Prince of Thieves does have one of Alan Rickman's best performances.

There's a moment in Prince of Thieves when the Moorish character played by Morgan Freeman gives Robin Hood a telescope, and Robin Hood responds with amazement. In Dances With Wolves, Costner acts out exactly the same scene, except in this case he is giving the telescope to Graham Greene, if I remember right. So, if anything, at least Reynolds (who was an uncredited second unit director on Dances) has charted the movement of the telescope across the centuries and across cultures.
posted by maxsparber at 8:21 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I actually waited through Dances with Wolves and Waterworld and Wyatt Earp and, well, most of Kevin Costner's career for him to get over his "I need to play serious important characters" phase, so he could get back to being Gardner-Barnes types again because he does them so well. I think Tin Cup was where he started reverting to form.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on September 10, 2014

Costner is in dire need of a comeback, and I can tell he's trying...He's just whiffing it by attaching himself to crap like 3 Days to Kill and Draft Day.

Gardner Barnes and his character in Silverado were so great, and so unlike the stonefaced serious sticks-in-the-mud that he's played almost exclusively since. Hitch your pony to some better script-carts, Kevin. You have chops! You can do it!

On the opposite end of the "had a good career in movies after Fandango" spectrum, a few years back I was pleasantly surprised to see Chuck Bush in the terrible, terrible horror movie Terror in the Swamp. It came out the same year as Fandango, but oddly enough it has not enjoyed the same level of cult success. Maybe because instead of being about grasping onto the last lingering straws of youth in the face of impending adulthood, it's about a killer mutant nutria stalking through a Louisiana swamp. Both are equally relevant to my interests, personally, so I'm not sure where the disconnect lies.
posted by doctornecessiter at 8:41 AM on September 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Unpopular opinion time, but I really like Kevin Costner. He's not a great actor (though he's a good one) but in the right role, he's a fantastic movie star. If this movie isn't proof enough, watch A Perfect World. He's amazing in that.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:47 AM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

He's basically Gary Cooper with a better sense of humor.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:52 AM on September 10, 2014

Loved this movie, and I love recommending it to people who probably haven't seen it yet.

Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who's a smokejumper. He said that during training, on the day they were about to do their very first practice parachute jumps, the instructors wheeled a TV and VCR into the room and cued up....the skydiving scene.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kevin Costner can be very effective in movies. Not the same as acting, but when it works, it works.

Excellent roundup!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:27 AM on September 10, 2014

Those closing scenes are doubly effective for me. I have so much emotional connection to those songs by Pat Metheny (Travels is still in heavy rotation in my queue). Putting images to them (especially sentimental ones like this) is almost too much.
posted by sutt at 9:55 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy shit, I wish I'd found these for the FPP -

A series of videos from 2010, with Chuck Bush visiting various filming locations and giving commentary and telling on-location stories.

The building used for exterior shots of the Groovers' frat house; inside was the bathroom where the guys discuss how to entertain some girls they've picked up.

The gas station where they drop off the Cadilac after its run-in with the train.

The parachute school.

Chata Ortega's.

The "Dom" Rock.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

This brings me back to my childhood like no other movie....

When I was in elementary school in the early 80's, I was a cub scout (or was it Webelo', I forget) who was pretty active with my grade school friends. This was in Odessa, Texas a couple of hours North of where Fandango was shot. One weekend our scout master scheduled a trip to Big Bend for a bunch of hiking, camping, etc. I remember being so excited about this particular trip because we would be going through Alpine where I was born and where my grandparent's still lived. On the drive down to Alpine, the state police had set up a roadblock on one of the highways. We sat there for what seemed like hours, and eventually my scout master asked the DPS officer who blocking traffic what what going on.

"Oh, they are filming some movie and need the roads to be empty."

So we asked if anyone famous was in the movie, and the DPS guy said "No." and that he had been following this film crew for several weeks. We asked what the name of the movie was, and he honestly didn't know.

After a while we see a film truck down the road pulling a flatbed with a chevy on it and a bunch of filming equipment, and we were all amazed that this was going on in the middle of nowhere right before our big adventure into Big Bend. I don't remember seeing any of the actors on the flatbed, but just seeing the filming equipment left a lasting impression.

Now, my dad did not go on this trip because he was under chemotherapy at home. When I returned from the trip I excitedly told my dad about the movie experience. Years later when I saw Fandango for the first time on HBO, I immediately recognized the car from the flatbed. I felt like I had a special connection to this movie.

As my dad got worse through the years and he was confined to the house, I saw Fandango with him at least a dozen times. Every time the scene at sonic came on my dad would always tell me that's where he hung out when he was in high school. They filmed alot of the in town sequences in Alpine, and it was always fun to recognize places that I had seen all my childhood.

All that said... I love this movie and it will always remind me of the good times with my dad.
posted by Benway at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Spielberg was ultimately a bit disappointed in the film

I've read that before, but I've never heard any more details about it -- other than the IMDb trivia pointing out that he took his name off it prior to its release. I wonder what was wrong with it, in Spielberg's opinion. My guess is that it ended up being too "schmaltzy" for his expectations? I mean, Proof is pure comedy-action, so maybe Spielberg wasn't into the quieter, contemplative aspects of the full-length movie. But to the point of taking your name off it...That's harsh.
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:50 AM on September 10, 2014

I wonder what was wrong with it, in Spielberg's opinion. My guess is that it ended up being too "schmaltzy" for his expectations? I mean, Proof is pure comedy-action, so maybe Spielberg wasn't into the quieter, contemplative aspects of the full-length movie.

That was my own sense, actually. If you look at the trailer, it pitches it as this sort of zany collegiate-hijinks comedy, more like Proof; it doesn't touch on the quieter bits at all.

I'm trying to remember whether Spielberg's name was supposed to be attached to the film to begin with; it was an Amblin Entertainment release, and they did leave that part in the credits, anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on September 10, 2014

Yeah, I think he may have wanted another anarchic comedic adventure a la 1941, or more to my own taste Used Cars. Although I'm not sure why, since while they were both "successful" those movies didn't exactly set the box office on fire. But at least they both had Spielberg's name clearly visible in the credits.

In closing, everyone needs to go watch Used Cars right now (after watching Fandango twice, of course).
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:23 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just found this - an interview with Reynolds from 2009, where he discusses the film and touches on how it was initially this raucous coming-of-age comedy, and then Spielberg offered to do it and so now he suddenly had to expand it and was just as surprised that this is what came out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:34 AM on September 10, 2014

Hey Empress,

Thanks so much for this! I have to admit that it was another MeFi post that made me start looking at these old clips. It made me think of the give me three chili dogs and a malt Sonic scene.

I lived for many years near El Paso. I went on a little road trip once to see the San Elizario town square, where the wedding scene was filmed. Didn't look nearly the same, but I did recognize the church. Someday I'm going to go visit the other locations... maybe when I retire!
posted by jenh526 at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2014

To this day I respond to things with, "Naw, it's so neat!" in Elizabeth Daily's Texas accent.
posted by Legomancer at 11:55 AM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Full Film.
posted by hoodrich at 12:19 PM on September 10, 2014

Thanks for the post, I loved watching this film on cable in the 80's. I'll be interested as to my take on it now...
posted by djseafood at 3:43 PM on September 10, 2014

FYI the AskMe that kicked this post off is about the final dance, the "Fandango" that Costner asks for.

I didn't know that a Texas Fandango was a thing, different from a regular Fandango--but what do you know:
Dance halls draw their roots from folk dancing parties and, in Texas, that means the "fandango," a term used during the Spanish colonial period to describe a celebration organized by the Hispanic community complete with music, dancing, eating, gambling, and drinking. Sometimes fandangos were held in the streets and other times in temporary dance halls called "fandango" houses.
More discussion of the dancing and general background here, including a link to Pat Metheny's "It's for You," the music played during the final dance.

Also--listing of all the music from Fandango and albums it comes from.
posted by flug at 11:42 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also--listing of all the music from Fandango and albums it comes from.

"Badge" should come FIRST, though. :-( It's what's playing when Gardner's throwing darts in the first scene.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 AM on September 11, 2014

« Older A Lovely Night   |   Sept 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments