Film on Friday

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The ATT blog staff have a problem. We admit it. We began our normal, intensive examination into the story behind the legendary comedy Animal House in February of this year. Three months later, we realized we hadn't slept, eaten, or showered because we became fascinated. The 1970’s was a complicated time in America’s history. Watergate, Kent State, the Energy Crisis, Vietnam, were all reasons some people wanted to speed up the clock and move on into the 1980’s. But it was also an extremely rich time as far as popular culture is concerned.  One of the funniest movies ever made was released in 1978. The movie was, of course, Animal House, and it was written by young comedians shortly out of colleges including Harvard and Dartmouth who called their troupe National Lampoon. Nothing was sacred to them, and they showed it by writing a movie script about a not-so-clean-cut fraternity that was willing to do anything for a good joke.

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Written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, they took their treatment to Universal Pictures, who demanded edits. Then rewrites. Then more rewrites. Nine drafts later and it got the okay to be produced. The movie had virtually no budget – only $3 million – so a lot of unknowns were hired both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. John Landis, fresh off the success of Kentucky Fried Movie(written by the Zucker Brothers, who would go on to make the funniest movie of the 1980’s, Airplane!), directed the movie that was supposed to cast the not-ready-for-primetime comedians in the hugely popular Saturday Night Live, including former National Lampoon alum Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Ultimately, Belushi was the only one who would be in it, along with other unknowns such as Tim Matheson, Pieter Riegert, Tom Hulce and Karen Allen. The only actor of any distinction who came on was Donald Sutherland, who did it as a personal favor to Landis. And he was offered either a $25,000 flat fee for two days’ worth of work, or 2% of the profits. Anticipating a flop, Sutherland took the flat fee.  He was also the third-highest paid cast member, behind Belushi and Neidemeyer’s horse, both getting $40,000.  Of course, the movie turned out to be a huge hit – one of the biggest of all time contrasted to how much it cost to make – grossing over $141 million at the box office (Sutherland figures he lost about $14 million because of his decision) – and introduced to the world a quality of dirty humor that has never left us since. Of course, none of this describes anything about the movie itself. That’s because we have to assume you’ve seen it. If, for some reason you haven’t, and your parents tell you it’s okay, you definitely have to. Then you’ll learn exactly what college life is like. Although they don’t say it during the movie, we’re pretty sure it’s a documentary.  (And we do have a poster of it here at the Treasure Tour, in the Music Room.  Good luck finding it among all the other amazing pieces on display!)