When a Beastie Boy Starred in the Best Youth Culture Film of the Late 80s [Rewind]
Posted 2019/04/07 0
When I heard that Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys) was going to be starring in a movie, even though I wasn’t the biggest Beasties fan, this was a film I had to see. So my brother and I went to the one movie theater in Orange County, Ca where Lost Angels was playing. The theater was filled with seats (only three of them had humans in them) and the movie proceeded to play on the screen. (Later, another friend would tell me he went to the same theater and there were six people in the audience). To be honest, aside from Horovitz channeling an even more aloof James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Lost Angels wasn’t some monumental viewing experience for me. However, it’s themes of alienated youth, cultural appropriation, and the lengths a young person would go just to belong were poignant, hard hitting and, frankly, unforgettable.
Lost Angels was a low budget endeavor even by 1988 standards. Made for a pittance ($1.2 million dollars) it is unclear what this movie made at the box office. Whatever it made, it doesn’t seem like it was very much. Also, this movie came out before the Beastie Boys would release “Pauls Boutique.” That album was a game changer for them in that it really helped The Beastie Boys shed the “Fight for Your Right”/jock philosophy that had been hovering over the band. Lost Angels tells the sad story of Tim Doolan (Horovitz). Idolizing a brother Andy (Don Bloomfield) who doesn’t care about him, longing for a family who sees him a nuisance, Tim inadvertently gets in a lot of trouble. He is shipped off to a rehab facility and (in a true indictment of how broken the insurance system is because many of the knocks against it from over 30 years ago still apply) actually finds a doctor and some patients he can connect with. Longing for the outside world and for a girl (Amy Locane) he thinks cares about him, Tim leaves the facility and sees just how fake his façade of brotherly bonds, familial bonds, and relationship bonds truly are.
Lost Angles truly showcases so many missed opportunities. The most glaring one is that Adam Horovitz could’ve been a movie star. Maybe he wouldn’t have been Tom Cruise, but he could’ve been another Sean Penn. This film also foreshadowed (or maybe it just shined a light on) youth culture’s fascination appropriating cultures different than their own. Lost Angels showed that rehab facilities are your best friend, until, of course, that insurance money stops coming in. The film would also look at Special Education without ever uttering the word. Lastly, Lost Angels is easily in the top 5 of the best Youth Culture films to come out of the go go 80s. It may have come in and out of theaters with barely a whimper, but given a chance, Lost Angels is a movie that stays with you long after the final credits have rolled.
Lost Angels could’ve been the beginning of King Ad-Rock’s acting career.
Alright, this may sound like a little farcical but Adam Horovitz is exceptional in the role of Tim Doolan. He moves through the picture like a lost puppy in search of a home. Any home. Yet, there is a believability in his performance. Adam Horovitz always exuded cool in the Beastie Boys. His ability to convey that while still being vulnerable in this film is a very impressive feat. Considering that Lost Angels was basically his first film is something to consider. Add to this that he essentially carries the movie and that is why it seems like Adam Horovotz (had he wanted to) could’ve had a more pronounced acting career. After Lost Angels the biggest film he did was probably Roadside Prophets. He did other films but Horovitz didn’t seem to “go for it” in the way that one needs to to really have a strong career. Maybe he was too prideful? It could’ve also been a function of time. The Beastie Boys are cultural icons. Having a career as an A-List independent actor probably wasn’t as important as what he was doing in his day job. However, had Horovitz been so inclined, there’s every reason to believe he would’ve been able to be in films that, potentially, could’ve been as important as the work he did in The Beastie Boys. As an aside, the casting of Donald Sutherland as Dr. Loftis is a pretty special tip of the hat to the film Ordinary People. That film, like Lost Angels, dealt with different but similar family dysfunction and it helps give Lost Angels, and the performance of Adam Horovitz, even more gravitas.
Lost Angels foreshadowed modern cultural appropriation in suburbia.
In 1989, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” was still a big deal. However it wasn’t as in the cultural mainstream as it would eventually become. I bring this up because in Lost Angels, Tim Doolan was a part of an all-white gang called Dead At Birth. What was fascinating about them, aside from their preppy look, was the fact that they all had Latino nicknames. This was made even more interesting by the fact that they went out of their way to cause trouble with the very Mexican gangs they imitated. The reality is that when Dead at Birth confront real gangs, they oftentimes come up short. It’s one thing to be the kings of their suburban milieu, but once they get outside of that we see just how much a façade the world they live in is. Set in Los Angeles (much of the film was shot in Camarillo, Ca) the movie has an authentic Los Angeles vibe. It goes back and forth between the suburbs and barrios with equal aplomb. It’s this ability to show how much Dead At Birth has (and how much they desire the culture of another group) that seamlessly mixes itself throughout the film. At one time Tim is questioned by Dr. Loftis (Donald Sutherland) about why he and his friends appropriate another culture, and Tim doesn’t answer the question because he doesn’t have an answer. There’s no explanation because Tim doesn’t understand it. It just plays into the longing that his character has to belong somewhere. After 1989 hip-hop culture would explode in the 90s. Today the music is de rigueur among youths of all backgrounds. It is a rite of passage. With that exposure comes the natural desire to want to emulate this thing that is so mysterious, foreign and cool. However, Lost Angels showed this years ago and it’s stunning how the vision it depicted of youth culture has come to pass.
Lost Angels showcased the broken health care system.
The residents of the rehab facility in Lost Angels sadly know too much about their situation. They know they messed up (most likely because they got caught) and have been sent to this facility to get the help they need. Unfortunately, for many of the young people there, it doesn’t go much further than that. Many of them are repeat visitors. They know that their stay in the facility is solely dependent on how good or bad their parent’s insurance coverage is. Once the insurance companies stop paying the patients are suddenly okay to leave the facility. This is a sad fact and it’s brought to light by Dr. Loftis (Sutherland) in a harangue against fellow colleague, Dr. Farmer (a particularly swarmy John C. McGinley). His diatribe is so poignant and so on the money that it really comes off as indictment of today’s health care system. Loftis laments that doctor’s used to have more time. Then things changed and the windows of recovery got smaller and smaller. They are truly predicated on the amount of coverage the insurance allots. Lost Angels came out in 1988. Sadly, the situation in the Health Care industry seems to be even worse now. I am not saying that people shouldn’t have to pay for at least a portion of their care. However, there has a to be a way for people to get the care they need and not go into complete financial ruin in the process. Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive? We want people with neurological issues to focus on getting better, not on how they’re going to survive once they get themselves in a better frame of mind. Lost Angels showed the world something that I don’t think had ever been on screen before. It gave us a world of parents who didn’t want to parent, kids who had to raise themselves, and a society that tells them one thing and then clearly does another. In a world in which young people need guidance and have none, is it any surprise that these “angels” would be lost?
Lost Angels showed viewers a different side of the special needs world.
When viewers think of people with special needs they often think of special needs they can see. As somebody who works in that field, this is something that I work with on a daily basis. Point blank, society doesn’t seem to think of “at risk” youth as having special needs. The world sees characters like the ones in Lost Angels and, frankly, they wonder what the problem is. After all, to look at the characters of Tim, Cheryl (Amy Locane), Carlo (David Herman) and the rest, one can’t immediately tell that they have any needs at all. It is only when we go deeper with these characters do we realize their level of need. Truthfully, this is one very subtle facet of Lost Angels that they have done better than a lot of films. The biggest difference is that the characters in this movie can express their discontent. When Dr. Loftis doesn’t go to bat for Tim, he can speak and physically act out in a way that everybody understands. When somebody who is even more impacted with their special needs does this, oftentimes they are seen as “having a behavior.” As they often can’t readily express why they are so upset, it is up to family members, aids and others to figure what the antecedent is. If you think I am wrong about these characters having “special needs,” I defy you to explain the actions of Merilee (Nina Siemasko). She spends the majority of the movie not saying a word. She’s given to running naked through the facility. Yet, in Tim she sees a kindred spirit. Tim is who Dr. Loftis has help him when Merilee suffers a family tragedy. One can see Merilee has special needs. They are easily identifiable. However, as we watch the movie we see that her and Tim aren’t really that different at all. Lost Angels ultimately shows that we’re all one bad moment away from being “at risk”.
Lost Angels is one of the top 5 best youth culture films of the 1980s.
As I have mentioned before, Lost Angels is a largely forgotten film. This isn’t surprising. It’s very hard to compete with The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the other films in the John Hughes oeuvre. Let’s not forget that this is also the decade that brought us Stand By Me, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish and a host of other films that created the gold started by which all “youth movies” would be judged. The reality is that as great as those movies are, Lost Angles seems to go a lot further in how in it deals with teenage alienation. Before you start decrying me for not respecting the institutions that these films represent, understand that I truly love those movies. Films like Suburbia, Class of 1984 and The Karate Kid helped shape me as a moviegoer. They had a hand in how I viewed the world and they helped me create a value-system. My comments about Lost Angels being better (on an emotional level) than most of those films isn’t an indictment of them. Rather it is a testament to just how strong a movie Lost Angels is. Aside from 1979’s Over the Edge had there ever been a film that showed the Baby Boomer’s effect on their children? Lost Angels shows us parents as types. They don’t want to be parents, they want to have kids, but the two ideas are completely different. For these parents the party never stopped. As a result they have children who don’t appreciate or value much of anything. Why would a character like Tim Doolan care about school or his future? He doesn’t understand why any of it matters. So he looks for family in a bunch of surrogates similar to himself, all of whom ultimately let him down at the moment he needs them most. This is what makes it so heart-wrenching when his half brother Andy doesn’t come through for him. Tim knows that he shouldn’t have depended on him but he couldn’t help it. Lost Angels ability to merge tragedy with hope is what ultimately gives viewers faith that Tim will indeed find what he’s looking for. This idea sets Lost Angels apart and it’s what makes it one of the five best youth culture films of the eighties.