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Splendid '70s Silliness Inhabits 'Animal House'

November 12, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

These days, American cinema seems to have lost even the ability to evoke nostalgia for other, perhaps better, times. Such is the conclusion you might draw when watching the Collector's Edition of "National Lampoon's Animal House," released on DVD by Universal.

An endearing homage to early '60s college life, a time when getting your bachelor's degree still meant being initiated into the dionysiac rituals of sex and drunkenness, "Animal House" will, paradoxically, awaken more nostalgia about the time it was made than about the era it portrays.

Released in 1978, the film belongs to a moment when American filmmakers concentrated more on having fun than anything else, since their careers didn't depend on first-weekend box-office receipts. This carefree spirit is present in all aspects of the film, from the abandon with which it exposes naked female flesh to the utter failure of some of its comedic skits. As director John Landis states during an illuminating, 45-minute-long documentary on the making of the film, "The level of sophistication of the gags rise and fall [throughout the picture]." To put it mildly.

The documentary is a real treat. You get to see actor Stephen Furst revealing that he got his part because he put his picture and resume on every pizza box when he worked delivering pies in Hollywood. And life imitated art when an after-hours frat party turned into a real beating for some of the actors.

But both documentary and movie belong to John Belushi; you get a real feel for the innate sense of comedy the late actor had. Even when the geekiest of characters in "Animal House" manages to secure a date for some possible sexual frolicking, Belushi's Bluto remains alone, smashing beer cans against his sturdy forehead. A boisterous but melancholy party animal, Bluto is a character much more complex than what this silly romp would have you believe.

Laserdisc Releases

"The Little Mermaid" (1989, Image). The CAV edition of the movie that gave new life to Disney animation is enriched with an original documentary, character designs and conceptual art.

DVD Releases

"Bull Durham" (1988, Image). Director Ron Shelton provides an audio commentary for the DVD release of his strangely amoral comedy about sex and baseball.

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You can reach Ernesto Lechner at LechnerE@aol.com

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