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An interview with a
By Susan Makuch
< 'COLLEGE IS the best time of
,.. your life ... You'll look back
on those years forever ... Your college
friendships will last a lifetime... "
Sounds familiar, doesn't it...Parents
and older siblings continually deluge
college-bound relatives and friends
with their faded recollections of a
mythical bohemian lifestyle.
Depressing as the thought may be (is
this really as good as it gets?) these
folks seem to believe it.
Why then is the long-term influence of
the college experience so seldom a
literary or theatrical theme? Surely
such sentiments rise above family bar-
beques or phonecalls to relatives.
'As if to fill an obvious void (perhaps
inhabited by The Return of the
Seacaucus Seven), University alumnus
Lawrence Kasdan's latest film The Big
Chill embraces this very issue.
The story centers around seven
University of Michigan alumni who are
reunited at the funeral of their friend
and former housemate.
One of Hollywood's most successful
screenwriters - he counts Return of
the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, and
Raiders of the Lost Ark, among his
credits - Kasdan chose in The Big Chill
to use his experiences at the University
as a springboard into a story about
"It's definitely from my life,"
Kasdan said in a recent telephone in-
terview. "Things (in The Big Chill) are
very similar to what my friends are
going through. The story is about things
we (students of the 1960s) are seeing
right now - insecurities about life and
Kasdan, a student at the University
from 1966 to 1972, chronicles the fears
and shocks he observed - and felt - as
the baby boom generation took to the
"It really has to do with all the things
that were happening to all my friends
and to me, sort of, as we entered the
world. I think that my experiences at
Michigan, during a very exciting and
turbulent time, led me to a lot of false
assumptions about the way the world
"When I entered the world, when I
started working in advertising, there
was a kind of a value shock - things
didn't go exactly the way you thought
"For other generations it might not
have been so shocking because they
didn't have such high expectations. But
for the baby boomers, we did. We sort
of thought whatever we wanted to do,
we could do. Things would always go
our way. It turned out not to be the case.
It took a lot of adjusting."
Kasdan says the people in The Big
Chill, his friends left over from his
University years, are very real. "I'm
still very close to my college friends -
they're the best friends I have. They're
ttill very important to me," he said.
The Big Chill was intended to be true
to their lives, and I think it is," he ad-
Kasdan both wrote (along with Bar-
bara Benedek) and directed The Big
Chill, which played a special Ann Arbor
opening Tuesday night. As a story, the
film departs sharply from the hit ad-
venture moves (Empire, Raiders,
andJedi) he wrote earlier.
Kasdan says he was compelled to
write The Big Chill, and thought he was
the only person who could direct it.
"It sort of imposed itself on me," he
said. "It was not a script that other
people could necessarily understand; it
was written only for me - it would
never have been made without me."
Kasdan made his directorial debut
with the 1981 release of Body Heat, a
hypnotic investigation into sexual ob-
session. Critics praised the film as
spellbinding and one of the most
engrossing motion pictures produced in
"I wanted to make a neurotic film,"
Kasdan says of Body Heat. "I wanted to
capture the intensity of their relation-
ship, and that was based largely on
Once Body Heat hit the screens,
Kasdan's worries about screenwriting
and directing as full-time careers
dissolved into memories.
But at one time those fears were very
real. Kasdan remembered that in his
University days he felt he'd never see
fame as a writer/director, even though
he "always wanted to direct movies."
While at the University, Kasdan
majored in English. Never quite
cognating his academic pursuits with
his writing, he went on to get a graduate
degree in education in hopes of
becoming an English teacher.
A native of West Virginia, Kasdan
said he came to the University because
of the Hopwood writing awards. "I
didn't have the money to go to school
and I heard that Arthur Miller got
through school on Hopwood awards, so
I thought I might as well try."
Money from the Hopwood awards did
help out some: Kasdan won three
awards, one each for short fiction,
drama, and a screenplay.
He even made a short film during
those years, but it was a "terrible
movie," he recalls.
"It was something like...I can't even
remember the name of it. Something
like 'Those who can, do - Those who
can't, teach' and it was about a
professor and a student," he said. "It
was technically dreadful. I think it was
supposed to be a comedy, but I don't
remember it being very funny."
After graduation, he continued to
write undeterred, although with a
family to support (Kasdan married his
college sweetheart; they now have two
sons) he knew he had to start making
some money as his screenplays were
He took a job as a copywriter at an
advertising agency, a job he remem-
bers with some bitterness.
"I was miserable," he said. "Those
were five painful years. I would come
home at night, play with my son for a
while, and then work on my screen-
It was a struggle, but the experience
produced a screenplay called The
Kasdan: The best years?
The script became his first movie
sale, and Kasdan says it gave him the
incentive - and financial means - to
quit the advertising business forever.
Continental Divide quickly followed
The Bodyguard, which was never
produced. "Continental Divide was the
first time I had a big sale, and I knew I
could stay out of advertising for good,"
he said. "With Continental Divide it
was clear I could make a good living
As it turned out, a couple of film-
makers got a sneak peek at Continental
Divide before it was produced. The
filmmakers, George Lucas and Steven
Spielberg, liked what they saw.
Lucas hired Kasdan to work on one of
the largest-grossing films of all time,
The Empire Strikes Back.
A little number called Raiders of the
Lost Ark, a Spielberg-Lucas combo,
was the next Kasdan project.
Although he is listed as one of three
writers of that film, Kasdan wrote the
screenplay himself. "George (Lucas),
Steven (Spielberg) and I sat around for
two weeks and talked about what we
wanted the story to be all about. After
that I went off for six months and wrote
the screenplay," he said. "It was a
The critics, of course, loved both
Empire and Raiders. It was when Con-
tinental Divide was finally produced
that Kasdan tasted his first bit of
vinegar from the critics.
"You're always going to get half the
critics," he said, "it doesn't mean
much. Sometimes you get more - with
Body Heat I got a lot more (praise) -
it's just sort of irrelevant about the
Continental Divide, directed by
Michael Apted and starring John
Belushi in his first serious role, was a
film Kasdan says "didn't work for me."
The movie was panned by critics for
"It would have had a very different
tone if I had directed it," Kasdan said.
"It would have been cast much dif-
ferently...A much lighter, more
That movie, however, seems to be
undergoing a revival on cable
television, a fact that leads Kasdan to
speculate the film was not promoted or
sold correctly in the first place.
Of course, Return of the Jedi speaks
Riding the wave of his latest suc-
cesses, positive reviews of The Big Chill
are becoming more numerous as the
film gains momentum.
Kasdan also remains closely tied to
the University: He and his wife set up a
scholarship fund for students who want
to make creative writing their life's
work, and he plans to teach a screen-
writing seminar in late October.
Kasdan says he has good memories of
his years in Ann Arbor, but he stopped
short of calling them the best years of
his life. "It was a great time - it was
six very exciting years for me...it was a
time when we lived very vividly," he
One has to wonder what Kasdan will
tell his younger friends about college..
The Big Chill provides at least a clue.
Michigan Community Theater
8 p.m., Tuesday, October 4 and
Wednesday, October 5
By George Adams
H UMAN limitations are perhaps the
most devastating of discoveries.
In a world ~where greatness is
measured by achievement, we often
tempt ourselves to believe that
anything is possible if only we try -
that our shortcomings arise from a lack
of effort, not a lack of potential.
Sadly for most, this is not so: Genius
is rare, and visible only because it
disturbs a vast calm of mediocrity.
It is precisely this difference between
two 18th century composers that sets up
conflict in Peter Shaffer's five-time,
Tony Award-winning Broadway Best
Play Amadeus, which opens a two-day
run at the Michigan Theater October 4.
On the surface, Amadeus tells of the
rivalry between Viennese court com-
poser Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart, who many believe to
be the greatest musical genius of all
Salieri was an immensly popular
composer in his day, though a man of
limited talent. Because he felt music
was God's art, Salieri made a pact with
God that if God made him a brilliant
composer, Salieri would serve Him
When Mozart appeared in Vienna, it
became obvious that Mozart, not
Salieri, was the chosen conduit of divine
genius. Jealousy, and revenge move the
play to Mozart's tragic death -
possibly at the hands of Salieri - at the
age of 36.
Underlying the outward themes of
vengeance and envy, Shaffer explores
the hatred a man of mediocrity feels for
effortless genius, the anarchy of the
universe, and the internal tragedy of
recognizing one's limits.
Shaffer suggests that a man's genius
has little or nothing to do with his
character. The author sees Salieri as a
courtly man, public spirited, generous
to his colleagues, and morally and
spiritually dedicated to God.
Mozart, on the other hand, appears as
an 18th century John McEnroe: eter-
nally adolescent, foul-mouthed, vain,
and openly critical of his colleagues.
At the same time, Mozart is capable
of producing celestial music that ap-
pears to come straight from the
The dichotomy between the public
Mozart, so base and vile, and the
creative Mozart, so majestic and
glorious, drives Salieri mad; unable to
reconcile the disparity, between the
coarseness of the man and the purity of
his music, Salieri vows to destory
Mozart to get back at God.
The great irony of the play lies in the
title: Amadeus, Mozart's middle name,
means "beloved of God." This is what
Mozart was in Salieri's eyes, and this is
the only thing Salieri wanted for him-
Shaffer reminds the audience that
Salieri had the dubious honor of being
the man who may, or may not, have
murdered Mozart. The author stops
short of condemning Salieri, but
suggests that Salieri at least wanted to
As in his other Tony Award-winning
play Equus, Shaffer runs an icy thread
of hysteria through the play; the limits
See MOZART, Page 11
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D RAMATIC RIVALRY takes the
form of 18th century classic
theater Wednesday, October 5, when
the Michigan Ensemble Theater opens
its 1983-84 season with The Rivals,
Richard Brinsley. Sheridan's social
satire based on human confusion and
innocent love, is a wonderful opener for
MET's '83-84 season and marks the
course that they will follow throughout
Harriet Harris will play the lead role
as Lydia Languish, a 17-year-old caught
in the confusion of "ill-directed" love,
with Carol Schultz playing Julia, her
elder and equally distrought confidant.
The action revolves around Lydia's
desire to marry her sub-bourgeois lover
Jack Absolute, played by Dennis
Bacigalupi. Jack really isn't the hum-
ble army ensign that he has led Lydia to
believe, rather, he is the wealthy son of
Sir Anthony Absolute (Emiry Battis).
Sir Anthony has already been cun-
ningly contriving with Lydia's Aunt
Malaprop (played by Beth Dixon) to
have Jack marry the young Lydia. But
Jack, being the only person not
shrouded in the fog of ignorance, is
refusing to marry Lydia, which, suffice
it to say, spawns even more confusion.
Confusion, however, is a good source
of variety, and a great source of enter-
tainment, which are two of the reasons
that MET Art Director Walter
Eysselinck chose The Rivals for the
opener. His choice of director, Edward
Stern, is equally appropriate. Brim
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Stern, is equally appropriate. Brim-