Updated: Jan 23
Since 1999, Nick Alaway's fast-rewind.com has provided movie lovers with capsulized reviews of '80s films. Based in the United Kingdom, '80s Movies Rewind was among the Internet's first venues for showcasing movie filming locations, and has been featured on several major news outlets. Mr. Alaway was a prime candidate for a Retro Injection interview, due to his status as a digital pioneer and ambassador of the '80s.
What was your earliest experience with '80s cinema?
Technically, that would be when my parents took me to see The Empire Strikes Back. Far more interesting though, is my first "date" at the age of 14 when a school friend and I took two girls from school to see E.T. Often these adolescent cinema dates are portrayed in ('80s) cinema as sordid, but I remember this as all very sweet and innocent. We were proper little gentlemen.
I grew up in a rural environment in the UK and we just didn't have access to a cinema without significant travel problems like begging busy parents, so my experiences of '80s cinema only really started in earnest with the video revolution and when I got my own transport in the mid '80s.
What is your take on the current state of movies?
I read others saying that studio control has long passed from creatives to accountants and this is to blame for the current need to rehash countless DC comics franchises. Whether that's true is not for me to judge, but there does seem to be a state of paralysis with only legendary filmmakers being given the chance to do other kinds of projects. Clint Eastwood, for example, has been quietly pumping out more personal projects. There are other things going on as well I'm sure, but I don't feel qualified to speak about them as I generally ignore current offerings until enough people around me "bully" me into taking notice.
Do you feel that contemporary shows, such as Stranger Things, Cobra Kai and The Goldbergs effectively capture that '80s magic for a new generation?
It certainly seems so. And you raise an interesting point. I have a theory that, once a generation gets hold of the reins of power, they naturally want to revisit the formulas that so affected them in their youth. For example, George Lucas credited the Saturday morning matinees that so thrilled him as a child for the inspiration for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Now that the generation who grew up in the '80s are occupying senior management positions, it's entirely predictable that they would "green-light" such projects as you mention.
What's interesting as well, is that they are being done independently of the established studio system, thus bypassing the paralysis I mention above. These projects may just be the things that break the log-jam and force (through their success) the studio bean counters to give audiences less cynical and more character driven entertainment. In any case, it's all a very positive move. More power to you, generation X, I say!
'80s Movies Rewind has been championed by outlets such as Entertainment Weekly and USA Today, among others. Why do you feel the 1980s still holds a pivotal influence?
Firstly, the reasons that I outlined above. We all feel the need to revisit the simplicity of our youth sometimes. Secondly, younger generations are using the modern media to explore these simpler morality tales that offer a kind of non-patronizing guidance and support in their lives. It's not easy being a teenager. It wasn't back then and I'm sure its a whole lot harder now. The themes are universal, though. Cliques, love and fitting-in, for example.
What was the genesis behind creating '80s Movies Rewind?
In 1996, I was visiting Los Angeles. One thing on my bucket list was to find the apartment building from The Karate Kid. So I naively just drove down to Reseda (the setting in the movie) and there it was! If you've ever done something like that, you'll know the strange resonant feeling that it creates. Just standing there. It's like meeting a celebrity or something. A strange relative of deja-vu. I was hooked and started a web page on the free hosting that my ISP gave me (remember those days?!) and it was like Field of Dreams in that "If you build it, they will come." This was the early days of the Web and may have been the very first page ever to be devoted to movie locations. Day one, ten people visited. Day two, 23. And so on, until literally a month or two later and 1,500 people a day were visiting -- and writing in with updates. Going out, taking pictures and sending them in. It became a crusade to find all the locations. John Avildsen himself even wrote in! The page still exists as I have left it as a kind of time capsule. It's a mess by modern standards and NOT mobile friendly, but you can see and experience the journey at:
Anyways, it got me thinking that I needed to cover more movies. I started by doing a few more by hand including The Secret of My Succe$$ and The Last Dragon, but it was just too much. If I was going to cover more movies then I was going to have to be smarter about it. I knew that I needed a Content Management System (CMS), but these were the heady days of the Internet bubble where a CMS might cost $100,000, so I wrote my own primitive one and roped in friends and family to write reviews and an early version of the Rewind called the '80s Movies Gateway. From those initial 20 or 30 movies, I created a way for visitors to write and submit their own reviews and the whole thing got rolling.
In 1999, I registered the domain fast-rewind.com based on the Buggles' song lyric "We can't rewind, we've gone too far" from "Video Killed the Radio Star." Shortly afterwards, the name changed from Gateway to Rewind as a result and so I played my part in establishing the use of the word "rewind" to indicate retro nostalgia.
Films from the '80s hold a special place in pop culture like no other decade. What is it about '80s movies specifically that you love?
The energy, fun and optimism, mixed with subtle (ish!) social teaching and support. We had to live life pretty fast back then because there really was a genuine fear that the world may end tomorrow. Difficult to imagine now but it really did feel like it back then, so these ingredients created a special forge in which these movies were created. It seems to me that it was a certain kind of heady "live real for today and follow your dreams" moment in history.
What is your favorite genre? Why do you think that '80s films make it special?
Like a lot of people, my first love has always been music. So I'm a sucker for the high impact mixture of image and music as personified by the huge amount of montage used in '80s movies and media in general. Critics deride this as being just a response to MTV, but I disagree. If anything, I believe MTV was actually a response to IT. In any case, the sheer optimistic energy it creates when done well is part of the magic of the '80s. So, to answer your question: '80s Musicals, be they overt Musicals or just movies with a lot of music to propel the story.
Some movie purists are very particular about their formats. What's your favorite way to watch '80s movies? Why?
I love seeing these movies on Blu-ray because they look so fresh and new - like they were made yesterday. Particularly the colours just pop. But I'm more than happy to watch on DVD, too.
What stands as your favorite film?
Hmmmm... what a tough question! Once upon a time, I would have said The Karate Kid. And, so I'm thrilled that it's getting a new lease of life. But now I'm inclined to say Can't Buy Me Love. In truth, I love them all for different reasons and choosing just one is impossible.
'80s Movies Rewind is a virtual encyclopedia of the wonderful films of the '80s. What are your future plans for the site?
I'm going back to my roots and concentrating on filming locations. The problem is that the big boys have moved in and destroyed nearly all of the lovingly created amateur sites that I remember rubbing shoulders with back in the days before smartphones. Wikipedia in particular has a lot to answer for in this regard. It's sad. Everything has become homogenised and somewhat corporate. It strikes me that filming locations is all I have left to create a niche that none of the big sites do very well. I have a new site engine in progress that I hope will revolutionise the way people share and enjoy movie locations. I also have a much-neglected '70s site that I'm going to bring back to life.
What is your opinion on the use of CGI and digital platforms, compared to the '80s more organic sensibilities?
If it is seamless and advances the story, then I'm cool with it. However, it often doesn't and is just used for spectacle. This is nothing new. Lucas was criticised (unfairly) for this with Star Wars back in 1977.
If you could see one '80s film remade or rebooted, what would it be and why?
Here's one that you wouldn't expect: Millennium, from 1989. I just think it's a brilliant story that is ripe for a decent remake.
Which '80s film do you feel is a cult classic or undiscovered gem that needs more modern love and appreciation?
How about Dance 'til Dawn, a little TV movie from 1988? It tackles all the usual social challenges affecting young people, yet is barely known. I only learned about it by noticing people kept mentioning it in the forums at the Rewind. You can even watch the whole thing on YouTube for free.
Lastly, have you ever considered branching out into the film industry yourself?
Like everyone you'll ever meet, I have a couple of script ideas. One is an entirely new and original take on what the 1980s was REALLY all about... I doubt I'll ever pursue them, but who knows what the future holds, if you follow your dreams.
Thanks so much for your time, Nick! Be sure to check out '80s Movies Rewind for a staggering 579 movie reviews. (After you've read every Retro Injection feature, of course!)
Thanks also go out to contributing writer Luke Worle for his help with this interview.