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Cotton Candy (1978), Ron Howard, B-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

A made-for-television oddity the mere mention of which brings back a Proustian rush of developmental hormones. William S. Repsher reminded me of this film in his landmark piece on 70s cinema a few years back. I actually saw “Cotton Candy” during its 1981 prime time broadcast. (What was it doing on the shelf for 3 years? Did it play at drive-ins?) I was 6 or 7 and my older sister and the baby sitter, one Gail Stasko, who had hair so feathered she could have been stabbed by Jason Voorhees, were watching it. I was only half paying attention until the notorious strip-poker sequence. You see, the nascent rock band Cotton Candy (who may or may not defeat Rapid Fire at the Battle of the Bands. . .a Battle of the Bands, mind you, set at a “Dawn of the Dead”-era mall) is jamming at the garage when the lights go out. They are still getting to know each other so a game of strip poker is in order. But wait?!? Will foxy drummer-cum-chemistry major (she’s going to M.I.T. on scholarship next fall – or is she?) Brenda Matthews play too? You bet she will! She’s part of the band! Anyway, the strip-poker scene. . .the least erotic three minutes of cinema. . .kept me up nights. Hey — I was 7! Anyway, don’t look for this film anywhere. Bill got his copy through his underworld 70s connections — a VHS copy of the 1981 broadcast, complete with commercials (one of which starring Seinfeld’s mother shilling for Pine Sol — another with Orson Wells shilling for white wine!) A remark must be made about young Brenda: today, she’d be cast as the female lead’s ugly friend. Has cosmetic surgery changed Hollywood that much? The answer — yes, you idiot. A shame, because the women on, say, the O.C., even though they force quotas from other races in there, all look the same. Brenda — eyes too close together, a few extra pounds on her — she had her own look. Anyway, if you ask nicely you can come over and watch my dub of it. Some of the songs, I must admit, don’t absolutely suck.


  1. B- is pretty charitable. I’d go with C, or C- for the less nostalgic. It really is a run-of-the-mill bad tele-movie. Ron Howard must have been in pretty dire straights. He had minor success a few years earlier with his two Corman-produced redneck Corvette movies (East My Dust and …), and had yet to get slimy with Cocoon.

    What I take from the movie is Charles Martin Smith’s performance. That guy, even as a teenager (or more likely a 25-year-old when this was filmed), looked and carried himself like a vaguely angry 40-year-old. Even in American Graffiti (1973? 1974?), he had that vibe about him. But I knew so many guys like him in high school — non-descript and disdainful of anything popular … yet not really possessing any special character or personality trait that would draw you to him. Basically, a mediocre person who, in his mind, is above the fray. Yet, when the rock-and-roll magic kicks in by forming this band of talented outcasts and misfits … (It occurs to me now that Michael J. Fox was a continuation of this type of character.)

    I’d be shocked if this was ever released on DVD — most tele-movies never make that cut. But this thing, which I bought on E Bay, complete with commercials and early 80s news updates, is a real time capsule and worth having for that alone. It’s like a yearbook from 1980, complete with bad haircuts, awkwardness and the stark realization that kids were this dorky at that time. Makes a good companion piece to the recent reissue DVDs of all those really odd 70s After-School Specials, which are worth checking into if you already haven’t.

    Comment by Bill R. — March 30, 2005 @ 9:15 am

  2. B- may be charitable … but we had a really good time watching this and were not bored.

    Of the TV commercials, I was most taken with the news updates. I don’t watch too much primetime network TV, but I am prety sure they don’t do this anymore. . .and if they do it isn’t some dude in front of a typewriter, reading copy and promising “film at eleven.” That was awesome.

    Comment by Jordan — March 30, 2005 @ 10:01 am

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