RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7—‘the little indie that would’ (a) give rise to “reunion movies” (b) fight way above its weight in cost v. cash (c) launch several notable careers and (d) allow a zillion aren’t-we-smug? critics to tiresomely kneejerk denigrate The Big Chill (see ‘a’).
As of 2022, it had been nine years since John Sayles wrote & directed a movie (2013’s Go For Sisters)—his loyal fans are waiting! In the 18 feature films he scripted & guided since this inaugural outing in 1979, Sayles has proven to be one of America’s most astute cinematic chroniclers, even if mass popularity—let alone sufficient industry recognition—has never accrued. *
His kickoff in ’79 was this well-liked 16mm effort that cost all of a whopping $60,000. Sayles wrote, directed, edited, produced and acted in it, casting friends, most of them new to the screen. The ‘7’ are a group of former activists who get together at the rural New Hampshire home of two of them, years after college and the days of taking it to the streets. Now they’ve got to put bread on the table, and try to square what that involves with who they were and what they hoped would come.
In the crew, Maggie Renzie remained Sayles personal and professional partner, acting, producing or doing both jobs in 14 more films together. David Strathairn became the most durable of the actors; both Adam LeFevre and Gordon Clapp also did much work later. Others in the cast are Bruce McDonald, Karen Trott, Maggie Cousineau, Jean Passanante and Mark Arnott.
A 110-minute talkfest hangout has them skinny-dipping, playing volleyball and Charades, doing a barbeque, drinking, singing and playing basketball (the best sequence), and pairing off when that call to action needs answering. Much as we dig most of Sayles subsequent work, we’re not hot on this one: I’m one of those philistines who—gasp—prefer The Big Chill: deal with it, comrade. But certainly the hearts were in the right place, and the rough-hewn movie has many adherents. It also made $1,000,000, an outstanding take considering the tiny production tab.
* We hasten to mention that along with the features he wrote & directed, Sayles aced scripts for numerous others, including Breaking In and horror fave The Howling. Plus music videos. Plus a magnificent novel opus, “A Moment In The Sun”. Basically, the guy’s a dude times three. Since in my personal stash I have 13 out of his 18, is it okay with all the critics-who-were-in-the-streets (as f’ing if) that we don’t freak out and give up Scotch over Secaucus? I’d pass the bong, but since it’s legal now, it just isn’t fun anymore. Plus it gives me some damned scary physical reaction to it of late, which truly sucks, man…Oh, yeah (see, the mind wanders without herbal help), The Big Chill: writer-director Lawrence Kasdan said he never saw Sayle’s movie, and there’s no reason to doubt him. Gawd, why do so friggin’ many critics insist on slamming someone else to try and convince you to worship at their rarified altar? Now, cued, someone chime in with “and Pauline Kael said…”