The Sunday Night Movie: Gremlins (1984)

My boyfriend and I recently spent some time in southern California and decided to spend a day or so touring Hollywood.  Our tour included a visit to the Warner Brothers studio, where our very helpful guide took us around to see the soundstages and the back lot, pointing out which sets and locations have been used in such-and-such films and TV shows.  While I wasn't so interested in hearing about where, say, Pretty Little Liars and Friends were/are filmed, I perked up whenever our guide pointed out a location that had been used in Joe Dante’s Gremlins, of which there were a fair number.  As she showed us the picturesque town square used as Kingston Falls, the house where Mrs. Deagle meets her untimely end, and the mailbox in which a hidden gremlin surprises an unsuspecting local trying to mail a package, I found myself smiling at the mere recollection of the film, which incidentally, my boyfriend had never seen.  So we decided to watch it together on Sunday. 

I had last seen Gremlins three years ago, when I screened it as part of my “re-visitations” series.  My initial post remains a pretty good summation of why I love the film, so I don’t have much else to say about it other than to add that its Orientalism—which at times looks like Sinophobia—becomes excusable only insofar as Dante deploys it ironically and self-consciously, even parodically.  Keye Luke’s Chinatown curiosity-shop proprietor (pictured above, left) is not so much a racist caricature as he is a Hollywood clich√©, a relic of the kinds of old black-and-white movies and comic books to which Gremlins is indebted; Luke’s tongue, as well as Dante’s appears to be firmly in cheek here.  That’s not to say that Gremlins uses irony to get away with casual racism, but rather that its pseudo-racist tropes must be recognized as part and parcel of the generic modes on which Dante is riffing, and that Luke’s “Chinaman” caricature is perhaps better understood as a signifier than as a realistic representation, for whatever that’s worth.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, on the other hand...but that’s another movie for another Sunday night, and another blog post.  Until next week, happy viewing.   

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