Cult Corner: Great stuff you've never heard of
Few have seen this 1970s-set road trip movie, but many who have are fervent fans, quoting dialogue and going on their own road trips to 'dig up Dom'
Several years ago, whilst late night channel-hopping, I stumbled across a little film called Fandango. At first it seemed like just another frat-boy movie, but 40 minutes in I realised I'd discovered a hidden gem, and half an hour later I'd fallen in love with it.
Here's the gist: during a raucous graduation party, Gardner (Kevin Costner in an early role) and Waggener (Sam Robards) find out they've been drafted to Vietnam, causing Waggener to impulsively call off his wedding. They head off on one last glorious road trip, along with taciturn man-mountain Dorman (Chuck Bush), frustrated nerd Phil (Judd Nelson) and the intoxicated Lester (Brian Cesak), who remains unconscious for almost the entire film.
First time writer/director Kevin Reynolds fills the movie with quotable dialogue ("Innocent critters squashed on the highway of life!"), subtle detail and visual flair (such as the recurring motif of focusing on small animals as the groovers speed by). Fandango is based on Reynolds' own experiences, and his love for these characters shines through in moments of comedy, action and quiet contemplation.
Packed into their blue-finned Cadillac, the self-styled 'groovers' set off on their mission to "dig up Dom", a mysterious object buried on the Tex-Mex border. It's a quintessential coming-of-age story (think Stand By Me for graduates), with themes of loyalty, friendship and – in Phil and Gardner – the struggle between duty and freedom.
Phil, incensed at his friends' irresponsible behaviour, wants to turn the car around and get back in time for Army induction. As Gardner responds: "We came out here to forget some things, Philip. Why won't you let us?".
Things come to a head when Gardner brands him a 'weenie' and Phil angrily declares that he will take on "anything, any time anywhere!". At this, Dorman slams on the breaks, tossing them forward, and the camera pans over to a clumsily hand-written sign on the side of the dirt road: 'Parachute Lessons'.
This brings us to the movie's superb centerpiece, where we meet stoner pilot Truman Sparks (a scene-stealing Marvin J McIntyre). Truman gives Phil hilariously baffling instructions before taking him up in his dilapidated plane ("Looks fast, Truman" / "Yeah, it's the stripes"), nuts and bolts raining to the ground as they take off.
At this point the other groovers realise Phil's chute is faulty, and we cut
What could anyone possibly
like about Texas?
I like the way it's shaped.
between them frantically trying to write a message on the ground ("Quick son, we need you to be an apostrophe!") and Truman philosophising to a petrified Phil up in the air ("I'd rather burn in at 200 mph than to eat it in a car accident. I mean, that's a really dumb way to go."). The frenzied editing keeps you on the edge of your seat and the dialogue is priceless, but I will say no more to avoid spoilers.
And now I'm running out of magazine! No space to tell you about digging up Dom, or the sublime finale where they manipulate a whole village into putting on an impromptu wedding ("We lost the band!"). No room to hint at the twist or do justice to the many subtleties and nuances. Instead, you're just going to have to watch the damn thing and I shall leave the last words to Costner's Gardner Barnes: "There's nothing wrong with going nowhere son, it's a privilege of youth."
Oh, and check out the fan site at www.ultimatefandango.com
Mustard issue one 31