Six hundred people poured into Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on April 20 to watch an old movie and meet the man who made it.
The movie was ”The Big Chill” (1983), and the man was writer/director Lawrence Kasdan.
He was there to help promote the Theater’s new partnership with Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. The Theater is among only 14 art houses picked to host a series of 25 of Sundance’s greatest hits, in celebration of the Institute’s 25 years as a leading developer of independent films. The series starts May 19 and will include ”Sex, Lies & Videotape,” ”Gods & Monsters,” ”Clerks” and ”Donnie Darko.”
Kasdan was a University of Michigan English major when he took his now-wife (and sometime collaborator) Meg to the Theater on their first date almost 40 years ago to see the Japanese film ”Woman in the Dunes.” He later earned a master’s degree in education and planned to teach high school, to keep his summers free for writing. But things didn’t work out as planned, and he spent close to 10 years working in advertising (and hating it) until he finally became established as a screenwriter.
He broke in with ”The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and went on to write 13 produced films (so far), including the blockbusters ”Raiders of the Lost Ark” and ”Return of the Jedi.” He wrote and directed films such as ”Body Heat,” ”Silverado” and, most recently, ”Dreamcatcher.” Many of his movies had their local premieres at the Michigan Theater, as fundraisers.
The ”chill” in ”The Big Chill” is not the chill of death, although the film opens, famously, with a sequence of a corpse being dressed for a funeral. (The body is Kevin Costner’s, whose hairy calf made it into the final cut but whose face got left on the cutting room floor.) Nor does it refer to the big, cold world that awaits idealistic college students. Instead, it memorializes what Kasdan felt when talking to a movie industry colleague, similar to himself in many ways, who nonetheless sometimes expressed values so alien to Kasdan’s own that it sent a chill down his spine. It made him realize people could share many of the same experiences yet turn out utterly different.
It’s a theme Kasdan develops in the film, as seven UM alumni (played by William Hurt, Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, among others) gather 13 years after graduation to mourn the suicide of one member of their close-knit college circle and to discover how much each of them has changed (or not).
The characters were reportedly based on people Kasdan lived with in the Eugene V. Debs co-op in Ann Arbor.
”I think when you write these movies there’s a little bit of you in all of them,” Kasdan said.
Columnist Lauri Donahue may be contacted at email@example.com.