Feature » Back To School

Back to School: An Appreciation

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At the 59th Academy Awards in 1987, a slew of films were nominated for Best Picture: Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Platoon, and A Room with a View. All fine motion pictures, to be sure; but each pales when compared to Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 classic about an uneducated businessman who enrolls in his son's college... with hilarious results!

Dangerfield's Back to School is so often mentioned in the same sentence as Welles' Citizen Kane, Fellini's 8½, and Curtiz's Casablanca that it's easy to forget how truly great it is. So, lest we forget the brilliance of Back to School (or, heaven forbid, should any unfortunate philistine have somehow managed to survive without having experienced its glory!), let us take a moment to remind ourselves of its bountiful merits.

Thornton Melon (played with a truly devilish delight by cinema's favorite uncouth ruffian, Rodney Dangerfield) is the wildly successful owner of a chain of "Tall & Fat" clothing stores, which provide garments "in all the larger sizes: husky, stout, extra stout, and the new Hindenburg line." But when Thornton's marriage hits the rocks (his latest wife's chief attribute is that "she gives great headache") and his son decides to drop out of college, he decides to go... Back to School! And so a classic comedy of errors begins, with Thornton seducing his literature professor, paying Kurt Vonnegut to write his papers, tutoring a few coeds in a hot tub in "marine biology," and hosting dorm room keggers with music by Oingo Boingo. "Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out," Thornton requests of a waitress as he relaxes from a hard day on campus. "And then bring one every 10 minutes!"

For the Portland Mercury's annual Back to School Issue, I can think of no grander film to serve as a spiritual basis than Back to School, nor can I think of a grander guest editor than the Ghost of Rodney Dangerfield. So venture forth, students of Portland! Discover within these pages all that one needs to know about this fair city and its education options, from advice on "how to romantically pork a girl," to a directory on where to obtain prophylactics, to study guides written by Thornton Melon himself. Venture forth, and go in—and with—the spirit of Rodney Dangerfield.

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