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Revisiting two classic ’80s films

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas past.

Like the 1980s, to be specific.

At 7 p.m. Dec. 12, the Center For the Arts on UB’s North Campus plays host to an event called “Molly Ringwald Revisits ‘The Breakfast Club’.” The “quintessential 1980s movie,” as UB justifiably describes it, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Ringwald, the movie’s star, will be present for a Q&A session. (See accompanying story.)

At 1 p.m. Dec. 12, the more innocent 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” will be shown at the nostalgic Riviera Theatre (67 Webster St., North Tonawanda). Five of the movie’s stars will turn out: Scott Schwartz (Flick), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Ian Petrella (Randy), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill) and Zack Ward (Scut Farkus). They will be on hand for a two-hour Q&A session preceding the movie, which will be shown around 3:30 p.m.

Two hours may seem like a long time. But the enthusiasm level is such that Joe Lavey, a diehard fan of “A Christmas Story” and the mastermind of the event, felt it was necessary.

“We did two hours last time and it started running over,” he said.

With a little planning, ambitious 1980s movie fans could attend both screenings. What fun that would be. Both events forge a new bond between actors and audience. They show that a movie does not have to end when the final credits roll.

Best of all, they give audience and actors a chance to celebrate two classics together.

‘A Christmas Story’ seems to get bigger every year

A flop when it was first released, “A Christmas Story” became a sleeper hit 10 years later. Now, it’s more popular than ever. TBS runs it on a continuous 24-hour loop from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day, in accordance with a tradition that goes back 15 years.

The movie strikes chords with multiple generations.

Though made in 1983, it was based on hilarious, pull-no-punches stories by Jean Shepherd, who wrote about growing up in gritty Rust Belt towns in the 1930s. The movie has an old-fashioned orchestral soundtrack. When young Ralphie blurts out a profanity, you hear the ominous opening from Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture “Hamlet.”

It takes us back to a time that, for better and worse, was different from now.

No one had smartphones. Kids ran in packs. In “A Christmas Story,” the kids walk to Warren G. Harding School and have to learn to battle bullies and the bullies’ sidekicks, whom Shepherd called “toadies.”

But kids who are picky eaters, dads who cuss while trying to fix the furnace – this kind of stuff will always be familiar. Small wonder that everyone has a favorite scene from the movie. Maybe it’s when Ralphie is petrified by the mall Santa. Or when Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, is straight-jacketed by a voluminous snowsuit. “I can’t put my arms down!” he wails.

Ian Petrella, who played Randy, grew up in California where there was no snow. His childhood, he said, was nothing like the movie.

But even he could relate.

“My dad didn’t have a furnace, but he had a ’71 Chevy truck he would work on, and that’s where I learned those choice words. So that I found similar,” he said.

Yano Anaya, who portrays Scut Farkus’ toady Grover Dill, grew up in Miami. The movie’s Midwestern humor resonates with him, too.

“Lots of people can relate to it,” Anaya said, speaking on the phone from Atlanta, where he lives. “It’s such a well-written, well-put-together film. And it’s about a time when things were simpler.”

It’s sweet how the actors as well as the public have deep personal affection for the movie. Anaya laughed looking back on how he became involved with it.

“I’m going to tell you a secret,” he laughed. “When I was on my second callback, once I got done, I waited outside the waiting room. It was a choice between me and another actor. They called my mom in, and she came out and said, ‘Here’s the deal. They want to give you this part, but they want to cut your hair off. I had really long hair. It was like my everything. Robert Plant was my goal. I said, ‘No, I’m not going to cut my hair.’

“She said, ‘I’m going to tell them you’re going to cut your hair.’

“I’m like, ‘I’m not going to, I’m not going to.’ ”

His mother went back, fibbed that he had agreed, and signed the contract. It did not take Anaya long to realize his hair would grow back. Newly shorn, he met with director Bob Clark.

That was when his role changed. In Shepherd’s stories, Grover Dill was the main bully, and Scut Farkus was the toady. Director Bob Clark saw the lanky Ward standing next to the shorter, younger Anaya and instantly switched them.

During filming, the kids playing the bullies weren’t allowed to mingle with the rest of the child actors.

“They wanted that authenticity,” Anaya said.

The two understood the situation, and became friends.

“We got along like brothers. We just kind of clicked,” Anaya said. “He was a little older. I was 10, he was 13 or 14. It was like he was my big brother.”

Among the other young actors, similar bonds were forming. Ian Petrella, who played Randy, developed a similar fraternal relationship with Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie. After the movie came out, Petrella said, they visited each other. As years passed, they gradually lost touch.

Until 10 years later.

With the movie suddenly hot, the drama took a new turn. Anaya was thrilled to get a call from Scott Schwartz, who had played Ralphie’s friend Flick.

“He says, ‘Look, man, we’re doing showings of the movie and signing autographs.’ ”

The erstwhile toady no longer has acting ambitions. He now has a stable career training personal trainers. But he jumped on board, as did his former colleagues.

The cast’s good humor emerges in how they handle their public appearances. Typically, they do several a year.

Petrella learned the hard way to decline when people asked him to say “I can’t put my arms down!” Once in 2003, he obliged, and regretted it.

“It was just the weirdest thing,” he said. “I was this 30-year-old man trying to re-create this line, and looking at their faces, I thought, ‘I so wish they didn’t ask me to do that.’ I’m not going to do lines like that any more. I would love to, but it’s not going to sound the same.”

As for Anaya, “A Christmas Story” continues to bring good luck.

“I get to see my close friends from the movie on an annual basis,” he said.

There was another plus, too, he added shyly.

“The biggest fortunate thing that came out from the movie is not only did I meet thousands of fans,” he said, “but one of the first fans that I met happens to be my wife.” It has been 10 years since she stepped up for his autograph. They now have a son.

Anaya speaks for many thousands of fans when he looks back on “A Christmas Story” and his relationship with it.

He said: “It’s brought so many blessings.”



What: “A Christmas Story”

When: 1 p.m. Dec. 12

Where: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda

Tickets: $24