Which pop culture party do you want to attend?
Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question—a new version of a Q&A we originally did way back in the bygone era of 2010—comes to us from A.V. Club commenter Cuddlebastard:
Which party from pop culture would you most like to attend?
I’m not really one for big boozy parties these days, but if you infused it with all the Jazz Age nouveau riche madness of the first soiree from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, I’d be there in a heartbeat. I’ve always been a sucker for that aesthetic—swing tunes, flappers, you know the drill—and unsurprisingly, when you pump it full of Luhrmann’s signature sense of colorful, decadent whimsy, it becomes something truly breathtaking. I’d be there just to be dazzled by it all, and when I got tired of the dancing and gilded champagne-soaked craziness happening out front, I could always try to sneak away into the bowels of Gatsby’s mansion for some quiet time among the gorgeous Art Deco architecture.
A party is only as good as the people in attendance, and there are no party guests who could possibly be cooler than the Avengers, so if I’m going to any fictional shindig, it would definitely be the party from Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I could drink Asgardian booze with Captain America’s old army buddies, I could politely listen to War Machine’s relatively cool stories, and I could get my dirty fingerprints all over Tony Stark’s amazing computer screens. Plus, if I hung around long enough, I’d probably get a chance to see if I could lift Thor’s hammer—and as someone who considers himself to be at least as noble and heroic as a Norse god, I bet I could make that thing budge. I’d probably have to join the fight against Ultron afterward, but a good guest always helps with cleanup.
When hosting or attending a get-together in real life, I’m less inclined toward material extravagance, but rather want something, anything, to happen, something unexpected or serendipitous, within the mundanity of yet another Saturday night. The Almost Famous party begins as an inauspicious evening in middle America—the modest promise of “good people” who want to have a good time over at their buddy Aaron’s house. Even when rock star Russell Hammond shows up (Billy Crudup should be barred from appearing in films not set in the ’70s), the party remains shockingly regular for most of its duration. People listen to music, drink alcohol, do drugs, and have conversations that feel more significant due to that alcohol and those drugs. But then the party transcends itself, not just for high-as-shit Russell holding forth from the house’s rooftop, but also for everyone down below. Who wouldn’t want to say they were there the night Russell Hammond of Stillwater jumped off their friends’ roof? The very moment when the ordinary became extraordinary.
As a sculpture professor’s kid, I grew up going to a lot of art school faculty parties—potlucks replete with mismatched earthenware platters piled with food and dormant hippie abandon reignited by, if not sweet mead and dandelion wine, then at least a few healthy pours from the box of Franzia. So I’ve always felt a comfortable familiarity with Bilbo’s 111th birthday party from The Fellowship Of The Ring. It has the same wholesome, earthy bacchanal quality I remember from those childhood parties, plus Hobbits, wizards, magical fireworks, shenanigans, and probably triple or quadruple the food and drink. Even the party’s showstopper—a dramatic speech by Bilbo that culminates in him abusing an evil ring’s corrupted invisibility powers to stage an elaborate prank, essentially to tell his neighbors to fuck off—would only slow the action for maybe 20 minutes before the shock of Bilbo’s exit faded, replaced by the awareness that there was still a whole lot of beer left to drink.
I’ve always wanted to party at the famed Hacienda—Tony Wilson’s legendary folly, the epicenter of Madchester—but more so the fictionalized version as depicted in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People. Most accounts of the real-life club (particularly Peter Hook’s amusingly squalid The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club) are dominated by stories of gang violence and drug overdoses, which are admittedly more gripping to read about than the euphoria of its cultural highs. Not so in Winterbottom’s film, which captures what Steve Coogan’s Wilson describes as “the birth of rave culture” and “the moment when even the white man starts dancing” in a series of beautifully pulsating sequences that represent the idealized version of every post-punk/new wave/white-man-dancing club night I ever attended, organized, or DJed around the time the movie came out, and which we all tried so desperately to replicate. If I had my pick, I’d be there for the Hacienda’s final night, as Wilson implores the crowd to go and loot the bankrupt Hacienda of all its office and music equipment, a moment that feels liberating, inspiring, and epochal—one of those parties that literally changes your life. Of course, in reality the chaos would be terrifying; I’ll stick to the legend.
If I get to attend any pop culture party, I’d like to drop in on Marie Antoinette’s 18th birthday party in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. With my stay-up-all-night-and-watch-the-sunrise partying days in the rearview mirror, it’s unlikely I’ll combine the all-out partying I did when I was drinking shitty beer in shitty apartments with the relative wealth I have now—at least the wealth to buy decent beer—much less the opulence seen in the Palace Of Versailles. In other words, I want to combine the drunken nights of my college days with an obscene amount of wealth. Just for one night.
I was stuck between a couple of outdoor gatherings from two of my favorite movies—both set roughly in the same groovy period as Laura’s pick—but I ultimately chose the bonfire from Wet Hot American Summer, in which the staff and counselors of Camp Firewood let down the façade of responsibility before dropping it entirely in the movie that follows. So many fictional parties are freighted with incident and import; the Wet Hot bonfire has the duty of introducing the film’s cast of characters, but it’s also a simple vignette of young adults and adult adults blowing off steam (and other vaporous substances). The cast lived on-set for nearly a month during the filming of Wet Hot, and until the release of the making-of documentary Hurricane Of Fun, the opening sequence was the closest you could get to experiencing the waterlogged revelry that ensued during off-hours. Everyone’s having a good time, Guitar Dude is miming along to the solo from “Jane,” and nobody’s getting punched. (My runner-up was the beer bust from Dazed And Confused, but c’mon: Part of Dazed And Confused’s genius is that all the stuff that looks like fun is actually a huge bummer.) And if that’s not enough, consider this: The Wet Hot bonfire was a party so nice that David Wain staged it twice.
While high school me would have likely answered the end-of-the-year rager from Can’t Hardly Wait, the pop culture party I’d love to attend would have to be Lucille Bluth’s intervention from Arrested Development. I wouldn’t even have to participate, per se—I’d be happy just being a fly on the wall for more than the 10 seconds or so we see of it. When did Gob pull out Franklin? How did Tobias morph from passed out in the chimney to dancing never-nude to Buster’s staccato piano? But really, the pièce de résistance would be basking in an endless ocean of a liquored-up Lucille Bluth’s acerbic and cutting barbs while tossing them back (single malt, obviously).
If I’m going to hate a party—and 33 years of standing awkwardly in corners, eyeing people’s bookshelves, is more than enough evidence to suggest that I will—it might as well be the biggest, loudest party of all time. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams always had a knack for taking things to their beautifully illogical conclusions, and The Party he introduces in Life, The Universe And Everything is no different. Raging for decades, floating through the skies on improvised anti-gravity technology, and laying waste to everything around it (the better to harvest more life-giving booze and snacks from the terrified populace), The Party is every loud, awful gathering of angry happy horny humans you’ve ever been to, taken to the maximum. Dodging jock Norse gods and hideous music, I’d be as miserable there as I’d be anywhere in the universe. And as Arthur Dent could attest, there’s a pleasure in knowing that your life has become so absurd and terrible that there’s nowhere to go but up.
Every time I watch All About Eve (kind of a lot, at least once a year), I long to be one of the fortunate guests of Margo Channing at her disastrous cocktail party. Bette Davis’ iconic line, “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night,” is famous for a reason, as everything that unfolds afterward takes advantage of the party setting to unravel various relationships. But even before the emotional destruction, there is sophisticated yet hilarious cocktail chatter, unlimited trays of champagne, Marilyn Monroe holding her own against Davis and George Sanders, and drunk people huddled on the stairs, revealing their hopes and dreams and disappointments. Oh, to be a lucky guest seated on those steps. It could be the Feud hangover in me talking, but I’ll take drunk Bette Davis sobbing to Liebestraum over a more raucous bash anytime.
I’m going to cheat a little bit here, but I think it’s fair: I’d like to attend every single graduation party in Billy Madison. Those things look like great blowouts—and technically, they’re all just one long graduation celebration, with two-week breaks to sleep and recuperate in between festivities. Every single one is practically an entire carnival, with games, pony rides, cotton candy, and more. That’s the kind of party I like, but if you’re in the mood for libations, I’d also be able to just lie in an inflatable pool raft and get drunk with Norm Macdonald. It’s a win-win. Plus, you’d get the opportunity to watch a clown suffer a non-fatal brain hemorrhage, which would only be sad if he didn’t sound so chipper about it later on.