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The Big Chill(1983)

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

SYNOPSIS

This surprise hit from writer/director Lawrence Kasdan focuses on a group of thirty-somethings who were close friends at college during the late 1960s who reunite for the funeral of one of the members of the old group after he inexplicably commits suicide. Spending the weekend at the summer home of Sarah (Glenn Close) and Harold (Kevin Kline), the happily married "glue" of the group, the friends examine their own lives and come to terms with the passing of time that has seen them all transform from idealistic free-spirited rebels to well-to-do members of the establishment they once detested. In the mix are Nick (William Hurt), a troubled Vietnam veteran with a drug habit; Sam (Tom Berenger), a successful Hollywood actor who questions his fame; Karen (JoBeth Williams), a bored housewife who carries a torch for Sam; Meg (Mary Kay Place), a cynical single lawyer who wants to be a mother; Michael (Jeff Goldblum), a People magazine reporter who once had ambitions of writing a great novel; and Chloe (Meg Tilly), the quirky younger girlfriend of the deceased who plays outside observer to the gathering. Featuring an exquisite ensemble cast, a crisp original screenplay and memorable hit soundtrack of period songs from the late 60s and early 70s, The Big Chill is a modern classic that helped express some of the discontent of a tumultuous and confused generation.

CAST AND CREW

Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek
Producer: Michael Shamberg
Cinematography: John Bailey
Art Direction: Ida Random
Editing: Carol Littleton
Cast: Harold (Kevin Kline), Sarah (Glenn Close), Meg (Mary Kay Place), Nick (William Hurt), Karen (JoBeth Williams), Sam (Tom Berenger), Michael (Jeff Goldblum), Chloe (Meg Tilly)
C - 105 min.

Why THE BIG CHILL is Essential

The Big Chill features a terrific top-notch ensemble cast with each actor getting the chance to shine individually along the way. Made up of actors who were all near the beginnings of their distinguished careers including Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Jeff Goldblum and Meg Tilly, the film showcased their remarkable talents and gave everyone's career a giant boost.

The structure of the film, along with its ensemble cast and focus on baby boomers, influenced numerous films and television shows that followed including the popular 1980s series Thirtysomething and the film Peter's Friends (1992) among others. Something about the tone of a core group of friends gathering to talk about life, love, ups and downs appealed to people, especially those of the same generation who could especially relate.

The incredible soundtrack to The Big Chill, made up of soulful late 60s/early 70s hits, is a character unto itself in the film. With popular music having the power to evoke specific times and places, it also has the ability to create the perfect mood, which is what this soundtrack accomplishes. With each carefully selected track, each scene takes on a deeper meaning, tapping into the nostalgic roots of its story. The soundtrack also struck a chord with contemporary audiences and became a huge hit, even spawning a soundtrack sequel featuring even more music from the film.The Big Chill became a contemporary classic that has endured through the years as it continues to speak to each new generation who finds something relatable to the themes of lost youth, idealism and the powerful bonds of friendship.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

In the 2000 comedy High Fidelity two co-workers played by Jack Black and Todd Louiso are creating a playlist of their top five songs about death. Jack Black's character suggests adding the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want," when Louiso's character reminds him that the song must be immediately disqualified because of its involvement with The Big Chill. Black's character responds, "Oh God, you're right!"

The popular web comedy 30-Second Bunnies Theatre has a funny parody of The Big Chill online utilizing their signature animated bunnies. The parody can be found on the website www.angryalien.com.

When actor Kevin Kline hosted Saturday Night Live in 1988 he appeared in a parody of The Big Chill in which a fictional "alternate ending" is depicted. Cast member Jan Hooks portrays Glenn Close's character Sarah from the film, Victoria Jackson plays Mary Kay Place's character Meg, and Kevin Kline reprises his role as Harold. The parody sees Sarah slowly going crazy at the thought of her husband and friend trying to make a baby together, culminating when Sarah turns into a parody of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction (1987) and proceeds to boil a (fake) rabbit and hurl it at Kline and Jackson.

In 1998 The Big Chill was re-released into movie theaters to celebrate its 15th anniversary. A celebration screening took place at the famed Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles that reunited most of the cast.

In 2007 Variety ran an item announcing that a remake of The Big Chill would go into production with an all African-American cast and a "contemporized" storyline. Actress Regina King was attached to both star and produce. To date, the film has not been completed.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

Actor Tom Berenger, who plays the Magnum P.I.-like actor Sam, was so captivated with the town of Beaufort, South Carolina during the filming of The Big Chill that he bought property there and has continued to live part of the time there throughout his life where he remains involved with the Beaufort community. Berenger also married his second (now ex-) wife on the front lawn of Tidalholm, the house used in the film.

Actress Meg Tilly who plays Chloe, went on to become a successful book author in addition to her acting work over the years.

The popular music soundtrack to The Big Chill was re-released with new packaging for the film's 15th anniversary in 1998.

In 2004 a 2-CD Deluxe Edition of the film's famous soundtrack was released that contained a total of 38 tracks, including some previously unreleased instrumental selections such as the J.T. Lancer theme song.

When they weren't filming, the cast loved to pass the time playing games together including poker, charades and a brand new game Glenn Close had found in Canada that had not yet been released in the States called Trivial Pursuit. "I remember when we shot The Big Chill, and we'd have these get-togethers," wrote co-star Meg Tilly on her blog in 2008, "and there would be food and music and conversation, and then out would come the dreaded Trivial Pursuit. It was a new game and oh my was I bad. Everybody else's pieces were whizzing around the board as the rest of the cast gleefully got answer after answer right. And there was me, stuck at Go/Start. I am not exaggerating here, my piece never moved."

Director Lawrence Kasdan's wife Meg, who also served as Music Consultant on The Big Chill, appears at the beginning of the film as an airline flight attendant who hands Sam a copy of the Us magazine with him on the cover.

Lawrence Kasdan's older son Jake appears in the film as the little boy who approaches Sam at the funeral reception and asks for his autograph. Jake Kasdan has gone on to be a successful writer and director himself in Hollywood with such credits as Zero Effect (1998), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) and the Zooey Deschanel television show New Girl.

Lawrence Kasdan's younger son Jon appears in the film's opening shot as the little boy singing "Joy to the World" as he gets a bath from on-screen dad Kevin Kline. Jon has also gone on to a successful career in Hollywood, working as a writer and/or director on such projects as Dawson's Creek and Californication.

In a 1998 retrospective documentary actress JoBeth Williams revealed that in the beginning she had really wanted to play the role of Meg, the attorney with the ticking biological clock that ended up going to Mary Kay Place.

At first, Glenn Close and Kevin Kline were disappointed with having to play the level-headed parental figures of the group. However, Kasdan assured them that their characters were "the glue" of the friends and extremely important to the dynamic of the film.

Before being cast as Harold, Kevin Kline also read for the roles of Michael (Jeff Goldblum) and Sam (Tom Berenger).

According to the rest of the cast, it was the house on location in Beaufort, SC shared by Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline that was the "party house." It was there that most of the fun gatherings took place during down time where music, games, food and drink were shared.

Since the shoot was going on through Halloween of 1982, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place and Glenn Close went to a local K-Mart together to buy Halloween costumes. While there, as a joke, they also bought a vast quantity of extremely large women's underwear. Later they sneaked into Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum's house and hung the underwear on the ceiling fan in the living room. As a gag they would let the fan run, increasing its speed along the way until the underwear flew off in all directions and everyone dissolved into hysterical laughter.

Famous Quotes from THE BIG CHILL

"I feel terrible. The last time I spoke with Alex we had a fight. I yelled at him."
"That's probably why he killed himself. What was the argument about?"
"I told him he was wasting his life."
-- Meg (Mary Kay Place) and Nick (William Hurt)

"You alright?"
"Yeah. I'm a little disappointed, though. I wanted to ride up there. I've always wanted to ride in a limo."
-- Sam (Tom Berenger) and Chloe (Meg Tilly), on the way to Alex's burial.

"Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come." -- Michael (Jeff Goldblum), at Alex's funeral reception.

"So, how's your life?"
"Great. How's yours?"
"Not so great."
"Oh, we're telling the truth." -- Sam and Karen (JoBeth Williams)

"You'd never get a crowd this big at my funeral."
"Oh, Karen, come on. I'll come. And I'll bring a date."
-- Karen and Michael, at Alex's funeral reception.

"I know this is hard for you, but it's all beautiful."
"Yeah, we put on a great funeral here."
"Yeah, maybe I'll have mine here too."
"We give first preference to people who kill themselves in one of our bathrooms...That was a terrible thing to say. I don't know why I said that."
-- Karen and Sarah (Glenn Close), at Alex's funeral reception.

"I found him."
"God, it must have been awful."
"It was. It was a real mess."
"So, what are you going to do now?"
"Oh, we cleaned it up." -- Chloe and Karen, at Alex's funeral reception.

"I feel like I have never been alone in my own house. Never. Either Richard is there, or the boys or the housekeeper. Remember those laboratory rats that went crazy when deprived of their privacy?"
"They're living with you, too?" -- Karen and Sarah

"Harold, don't you have any other music, like from this century?"
"There is no other music. Not in my house." -- Michael and Harold (Kevin Kline)

"So how about you, Michael? Tell us about big-time journalism."
"Where I work we have only one editorial rule: you can't write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap. I'm tired of having all my work read in the can."
"People read Dostoevsky in the can."
"Yes, but they can't finish it." -- Karen, Michael and Harold

"I don't know what people think about me. I don't know why they like me, or even if they do like me."
"Well, you don't have that problem here. You know I don't like you."
-- Sam and Harold

"What's this?"
"I'm not sure."
"What's it about?"
"I don't know."
"Who's that?"
"I think the guy in the hat did something terrible."
-- Sam and Nick, watching a television show.

"That's the trouble with these things. You have to watch them every minute."
-- Michael, to Sarah who is staring blankly into an open refrigerator.

"Really all that's happening is I'm trying to get what I want, which is what everybody does. It's just that some of their styles are so warm or charming or sincere or otherwise phony, you don't realize they're just trying to get what they want. So you see, my transparent efforts are in a way much more honest and admirable."
"Why is it what you just said strikes me as a massive rationalization?"
"Don't knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don't know anyone who can get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex."
"Ah, come on. Nothing is more important than sex."
"Oh yeah? Ever go a week without a rationalization?"
-- Michael and Sam

"This is all so familiar, and I love you all so much. I know that sounds gross, doesn't it? I feel like I was at my best when I was with you people." --Sarah

"Getting away from you people was the best thing that ever happened to me. I mean, how much sex, fun, friendship can one man take?" -- Harold

"I'm not cynical about dessert." -- Nick, at the dinner table

"I know that Richard will always be faithful to me."
"That's nice. A little trust."
"Fear of herpes." -- Karen and Harold

"I don't like talking about my past as much as you guys do." -- Chloe, to Nick

"This bed has always been lucky for Sarah and me." -- Harold, to Meg
"I feel like I got a great break on a used car." --Meg, to Harold

"I must tell you I'm picking up vibrations here at the house. I'm almost certain there's sex going on around here." -- Michael, to Sarah

"Sarah, Harold, we took a secret vote. We're not leaving. We're never leaving."
-- Michael, on the day that everyone is supposed to leave Sarah and Harold's house

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

Writer/Director Lawrence Kasdan had been working throughout the 1970s and early 1980s trying to establish himself in Hollywood. He had found success penning screenplays for such diverse films as the John Belushi vehicle Continental Divide (1981) as well as the iconic blockbusters The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Kasdan had also made a formidable splash with his first directorial effort, the sultry modern noir Body Heat (1981), another film that he had written himself.

It was while Kasdan was working on Body Heat at 20th Century Fox that the original first seed for The Big Chill was planted. There was a person with whom Kasdan worked during that time who inspired the theme of the film. "We were pretty good friends," said Kasdan in a 1998 interview. "We seemed to agree about a lot of things...and as we'd talk, every once in awhile he would say something that I found so counter to my own beliefs, so repugnant to me in some way, so awful and cynical, and I would feel a chill actually running down my body. Because here was a guy I got along with perfectly well in every other way, but clearly we had a vast value split that was enormous, and that feeling, that big chill that I would get is really the original impulse for the movie, because it was about the fact that even though we had certain kinds of values and held them dear when we were in school, they were put to a very severe test when we go out into the world...The world was a colder place than the university setting we had lived in in the 60s, and in order to survive and go on in the real world--a colder world--you had to make some compromises."

Kasdan asked a friend, writer Barbara Benedek, to work with him on hashing out ideas together for a new screenplay that would touch on those ideas. Kasdan liked Benedek's particular brand of humor that he knew she would bring to the story, and he especially liked the idea of her bringing the added value of a woman's perspective.

Together Kasdan and Benedek spent several months meeting and talking through potential ideas for the film. Eventually they were able to put together an original screenplay based on everything they had discussed with characters and storylines that were already well thought out and specifically structured.

Armed with this fresh new screenplay titled The Big Chill that he described as a "comedy of values," Kasdan began meeting with the heads of various studios to discuss making what would be his second film as both writer and director. Being fresh off the success of Body Heat, all of Hollywood was eager to work with Kasdan at the time. Nevertheless, he still found a great deal of resistance towards making The Big Chill. "They could not relate to this material," said Kasdan. "They didn't understand a movie that would have seven protagonists." The studio executives wanted to work with him, but not on The Big Chill. They encouraged him to find another project.

When Kasdan and co-writer Benedek serendipitously ran into Marcia Nasatir, the head of Johnny Carson's company Carson Productions, things took a turn for the better. Carson Productions was headquartered at Columbia Pictures, which had already turned the project down. However, Nasatir loved The Big Chill and understood immediately what it was trying to say. She even got the story's quirky humor and quickly became The Big Chill's champion. With a little persistence, Nasatir was eventually able to convince Columbia Pictures to make the film, and she would serve as Executive Producer.

With the welcome green light for the film, Kasdan now focused on choosing the right actors for the important ensemble cast. Kasdan always loved actors and loved working with them. In fact, he had started out in life wanting to be an actor himself, but ended up feeling that he just didn't have the talent and should focus his efforts on writing and directing. "I love actors, I'm amazed by them," said Kasdan in 1998. "To me, they are like athletes...they simply do something that I cannot do, and it mystifies me, and part of what I wanted to do with The Big Chill was to create an ensemble where I could hire many more actors, work with many more actors and have in the air the excitement that comes with having a bunch of great people. It's the same as having an all-star team in basketball."

Working from instinct, Kasdan began putting together his dream cast. For the role of Nick, the drug-addled Vietnam veteran, Kasdan chose William Hurt, with whom he had previously worked on Body Heat. It had been a good experience for them both. "I think Bill Hurt is one of the great actors of my generation," said Kasdan in 1983. "He's powerful, intelligent, sensitive, and has a strong sexual presence, which is used in an oblique way in this film. He's a strong center to a group. He commands attention."

Kasdan had met Kevin Kline for Body Heat. Even though Kline didn't end up in that film, Kasdan was impressed with him. Having established himself with a distinguished theater career and a plum role in Sophie's Choice (1982) opposite Meryl Streep, Kasdan wanted Kline to play Harold, the solid businessman, husband and father. "Kevin Kline is a graceful, wonderful, serious actor," said Kasdan. "At the same time he has this great, unexpected comedic gift. As Harold, he's the steady center, the keel of this group. It's a terribly difficult role to play because Harold has desires and irritations just like anybody else. Kevin expresses all these things with enormous humor and grace."

In choosing Glenn Close to portray the warm level-headed Sarah, Kasdan saw a remarkable depth in the actress who had just been nominated for an Academy Award for her film debut in The World According to Garp (1982). "Sarah is a strong, accomplished woman," said Close in 1983 while promoting the film. "But there is another side to her character that isn't really happy despite all the material and external success she's had. She's confused by her own intense feelings and sometimes what she doesn't say is more important than what she does say."

For the role of sexy TV star Sam Weber, Kasdan chose actor Tom Berenger. Berenger had previously garnered attention for his supporting role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) and had impressed Kasdan playing the young Paul Newman role in Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979). "Tom has an enormous physical presence, a very fine sense of irony about his physical being," said Kasdan upon the film's release. "We needed some of that confidence for Sam, who as a TV star is essentially a modern-day matinee idol. Tom carries that image and has the same earnestness as Sam, who takes himself seriously until his balloon is punctured."

The multi-talented Mary Kay Place was tapped to play the complex role of Meg, the jaded yet warm single attorney who wants to have a baby on her own. The Emmy winning actress, writer and singer was best known at the time for her memorable supporting work on the popular TV comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Her dramatic role in The Big Chill would be a departure of sorts for the actress, and Kasdan had plenty of faith that she could handle it.

Kasdan had been impressed with actress JoBeth Williams from her work in the hit films Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Poltergeist (1982) and he chose her to play the part of unhappy wife and mother Karen. "JoBeth is an amazing actress, serious and comic," said Kasdan. "The part of Karen is as difficult as anything in the movie because it is so dependent on irony. Karen, the character, is not always aware of what she's doing. It takes an actress with enormous intelligence to pull off something like that and JoBeth has it."

Jeff Goldblum, who had appeared in several memorable small roles in films and television up to that point, including Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) and Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), was tapped to play entertainment journalist Michael, whose loftier novel writing dreams have fallen by the wayside. Kasdan had almost used Goldblum in a supporting role in Body Heat that had ultimately gone to Ted Danson. "I've always been a Jeff Goldblum fan for years," said Kasdan. "He has an eccentric, unique sense of timing and wonderful crisp delivery. Jeff is an elegant, mime-like actor."

The role of Chloe, the deceased Alex's much younger girlfriend, was a crucial one, as it called for someone to play outside observer to this group of disillusioned friends. Actress Meg Tilly had burst on to the Hollywood scene with memorable roles in films such as Tex (1982) and Psycho II (1983), and Kasdan thought she would be perfect to play the complex character who possesses a quiet and often misunderstood intelligence. "Meg Tilly is obviously an incredible natural beauty with an amazing physical presence and a crystalline voice," said Kasdan. "She's a very subtle actress. The part of Chloe is terribly difficult. She seems to be there at all times, yet she says very little in a group of very talkative people.

Last but not least, for the key role of Alex, the fallen friend whose suicide brings the friends back together, Kasdan cast a then unknown actor named Kevin Costner who had not yet made his mark in Hollywood.

When Kasdan was deciding where The Big Chill should be filmed, it didn't take him long to settle on the beautiful seaside town of Beaufort, South Carolina. The critically acclaimed Robert Duvall film The Great Santini (1979) had been shot there a few years earlier and had used a local residence in the historic district as the family's home in the film. The house, known locally as The Edgar Fripp House or Tidalholm, was a gorgeous sprawling white antebellum treasure that had once been used as a Union hospital during the Civil War. When Kasdan saw it, he fell in love with it right away and thought it would be perfect as Harold and Sarah's southern summer home where the friends spend the weekend together.

To further prepare for The Big Chill, Kasdan started thinking about what music he wanted to ultimately use on the film's soundtrack. "It was always clear in my mind," said Kasdan in a 1998 interview, "that the score of the movie would be the songs that I liked then when I was in college." Kasdan, himself a graduate of University of Michigan like the characters in the film, asked his wife Meg, who had also been present during his college days, to start compiling tapes of favorite songs from that era. Meg Kasdan, who would go on to be credited as the film's Music Consultant, carefully considered all the songs that had been popular at the time and tried to decide which ones she thought might be a good match for particular scenes in the film. It was a significant job that would have far more impact on the finished film than anyone ever dreamed.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

Before actual shooting was to begin on The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan wanted the cast to spend some significant time rehearsing together. As they traveled from California to Atlanta, Georgia and ultimately Beaufort, South Carolina, the actors had nearly three weeks of rehearsal time before the cameras rolled--something extremely rare for a film. Actress JoBeth Williams believed it was partly due to the studio not wanting to spend a lot of money on the actual shooting process. More importantly, however, Kasdan wanted to give the cast and crew a chance to work out how they would play their scenes together and get to know each other well enough to achieve the effortless camaraderie that comes with the close long-time friendships depicted in the story. It was a strategy that all of the actors found extremely helpful in making their characters' relationships believable. "It's like playing on a wonderful team," said Kevin Kline at the time, "and it's fun being part of that team. It's a sharing, like sharing a victory when you've won. There's a beautiful exhilaration in team play, which is about as apt a parallel as I can make to this ensemble."

The first thing actually shot was a key flashback scene in Atlanta that Kasdan always intended to be the ending of the film. It was a scene that showed all of the friends, including the deceased Alex, back during their college days making Thanksgiving dinner together. It was intended to depict how all of the friends were back then and finally show Alex as a contrast to everyone's different memories of him.

After filming the college Thanksgiving flashback scene, the cast and crew moved on to the picturesque town of Beaufort, SC and settled in for the remainder of the shoot. It was during the colder fall off-season for Beaufort, so the usual summer vacationers were absent, leaving a somewhat deserted feel to the area. With Hollywood so far away, and it being a time before cell phones or the Internet, contact with the outside world was limited, leaving the cast and crew to spend most of their time together off-camera as well, which helped in creating a tight communal atmosphere. When they weren't filming, the actors spent their time exploring the area, playing parlor games and having dinner together.

Kasdan made a point of encouraging all of the actors to be present in and around the house during shooting, even when they weren't the focus of the scene. He would have them be visible in the background, through windows or off to the side, which he felt gave the film a sense that the action of the story was always alive, ongoing and organic.

According to Mary Kay Place, Kasdan would often time scenes so that they would move along at a certain clip. It was an effort to keep the scenes from running too long so that Kasdan wouldn't be forced to cut them down later--something he hated having to do.

For scenes in which Kasdan anticipated using music, he would have the actors deliver their lines in voices much louder than normal. This was done so that when the songs were added to the soundtrack later in post-production the lines would be heard clearly above the music and sound natural.

When shooting was complete and The Big Chill moved into the post-production phase, editor Carol Littleton was faced with some challenges. Littleton, who had previously edited Body Heat (1981) and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), found that The Big Chill was a different kind of film. Not only did the vast majority of the action take place in one location, but the focus was on characters and dialogue rather than traditional story action. "It was really all about nuance and tone," said Littleton in a 2011 interview, "and constantly weighing the dramatic value. Looking for the small moments, the little remarks, that made the story."

Another crucial part of Littleton's job was to work with Music Consultant Meg Kasdan on cutting scenes to specific songs on the soundtrack. Upon the film's release Lawrence Kasdan explained why the music in the film was such an important element. "The 60s were an explosion, an incredibly varied explosion of pop music," he said. "For a lot of people in my generation, rock 'n' roll hasn't since equaled that period in terms of richness or emotional impact. The songs really spoke to us, spoke to a lot of our concerns. Even if it were just the fact that we were living vividly, these songs spoke to those emotions in a very strong way...It's not just background to these people. These songs mean something very real and different to each of these characters. It's a strong, strong reference for them--a sense memory of that time."

In the final film Kasdan didn't want all of the songs to necessarily be an obvious commentary on every scene, but rather something more subtle. He wanted it "in some oblique way to support the feeling of the movie." Editor Littleton worked with both Kasdans to look at various songs against certain scenes in the movie. "So we talked about a number of things they wanted to have included in the film," said Littleton, "then I added a few more, and we just started with a library of music matching it against the scene to find out which ones worked best rhythmically and thematically."

It was also during the post-production process that it became clear the flashback scene featuring Kevin Costner as Alex, originally slated to be the ending, did not work with the rest of the film. According to Littleton, they tried using the flashback in a couple of different spots in an effort to keep it in the film, but it never seemed to fit. "By showing Alex," explained Littleton in 2011, "we made the story specific to these characters. By not showing Alex, each member of the audience could...find their own Alex. We all know someone like Alex."

With the decision to finally cut the flashback scene entirely, it made for a better film. Unfortunately for Kevin Costner, it also left all of his footage (except shots of his body being prepared for the funeral) famously on the cutting room floor. "It was a turning point in my life," Costner told James Lipton in a 2001 episode of Inside the Actor's Studio, "...and when I was cut out of that movie, [Kasdan] called me very bravely and said, 'Kevin, I had to take you out of this movie, and I'm sorry.' And I said to him, 'Larry, it doesn't matter because it's already happened.' I was on my way, and he had confirmed what I thought about what acting could be and how actors should be treated, and that was a gift that I got from Larry." Kasdan believed in Costner's talent enough that he ended up giving him a starring role in his next film Silverado (1985), which later helped establish Costner as a leading man in Hollywood.

When The Big Chill opened in September 1983, it had an immediate impact on audiences, who instantly embraced the poignant and funny examination of friendship and the lost idealism of a generation. It struck a chord not only with the baby boomers on whom the story focused, but also with a surprisingly broad audience who all found something to take away from the film.

Following strong positive reviews from critics, The Big Chill went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Glenn Close. Unfortunately, however, it did not take home any of the golden statuettes.

All of the attention that Kasdan had given to the details of the film's memorable music paid off in a big way. The soundtrack to The Big Chill was an immediate sensation, staying on the Billboard charts for a total of 84 weeks. It was so successful that a follow-up soundtrack album was released a short time later called The Big Chill: More Songs from the Original Soundtrack, which was also a hit. The smooth sounds of the soul-inspired music from the late 60s and early 70s thoroughly permeated pop culture and renewed interest in the songs and musical groups featured on the albums.

The Big Chill went on to become a modern classic. Its structure and style influenced numerous other film and television projects aimed at the same demographic that attempted to tap into the same relatable themes that had made The Big Chill so popular. The film has remained a pop cultural touchstone throughout the years as it continues to be rediscovered by new generations. When the cast and director reunited in 1998 for a public screening in Los Angeles to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the film, they reminisced about the significance The Big Chill had taken on over the years. Kevin Kline said the film was a very personal one because "it's about reframing your perspective for real life after the youthful phase of your life is over, at least chronologically." Actress Meg Tilly added that it was a film that still moved her and made her laugh and cry all over again. Mary Kay Place said that people still stopped her on the street years later "to talk about how they have a group of friends like the movie's. People connect to that aspect of the film because it's about community and friendship."

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

When it was first released in 1983, The Big Chill drew decidedly mixed reactions despite its commercial success. Some saw it as an insightful portrait of a generation lost between youthful idealism and middle-aged disillusionment, while others found it glib and self-conscious. True, it doesn't always hold up well with today's younger audiences, who don't always relate to the time period and the dilemmas that are the film's focus. But it was nonetheless a box office hit and it garnered three Academy Award nominations - for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close) - and a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.

The Big Chill definitely tapped into the prevailing zeitgeist. The story of a group of former 1960s college radicals, now following divergent paths in life, who are reunited over the course of a weekend after the suicide of one of their group, struck a chord with baby boomers (a theme that was also explored in John Sayles's Return of the Secaucus 7, 1980). Producer-director-writer Lawrence Kasdan, 34-years-old when he made the movie, summed up the picture's theme and appeal in defining the meaning of the title: "The Big Chill deals with members of my generation who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal."

In Kasdan's self-described "comedy of values," audiences of a certain age and background found some truths about their own past and present lives in the film, and if the harsher realities seemed to be downplayed and glossed over, the central concept was well developed through the strength of a witty script by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek and the fine ensemble work of a cast of actors who were among the most popular and accomplished working in film at the time.

The actors took part in a month-long rehearsal process with the director in Los Angeles and then Atlanta and the Tidalholm estate in Beaufort, SC, where it was shot, giving each one the chance to develop a solid character while also fostering the group dynamic needed for a story about a group of friends with a long history and complicated relationships. One night while rehearsing at the house used as the central location, something clicked. Kasdan recalled, "It happened kind of spontaneously...everyone was in costume and we decided it might be great if we all cooked a meal. That way they'd have to split up the tasks and approximate a group of close friends putting together a dinner. I chose to leave at that point...and for five hours they remained in character without any authority figure, without any director to tell them if they were behaving or reacting in the correct way according to the writer's or director's ideas...It became a very intense experience and they all came out of it exhausted and drained...But that happened at a crucial, crystalizing moment and it turned eight individual actors into an ensemble."

Each of the actors had their own interpretation of what The Big Chill was really about. Tom Berenger commented that the film "is about that period in life when you're beginning to realize you have limitations, that you will never accomplish certain goals and dreams...Suddenly, you know you're not a kid anymore." For William Hurt, "the basic theme of The Big Chill is the reconstruction of hope." Mary Kay Place offered the observation, "When you're in college, you think you can do anything, be anything, accomplish anything...Then suddenly you reach a point where you're settled into what you're going to be and once you realize it, everything stops. Then the questions begin."

The sense of the era evoked in the story is boosted by a soundtrack of about 20 songs from the characters' collective past. "The '60s were an explosion, an incredibly varied explosion of pop music," Kasdan noted. "It's not just background to these people. These songs mean something very real and different to each of these characters. It's a strong, strong reference for them -- a sense memory of that time." Meg Kasdan, the director's wife, sifted through hundreds of tunes before narrowing it down to the ones used in the film, popular numbers by such performers as Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Bad Moon Rising"), The Beach Boys ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"), The Temptations ("Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "My Girl"), Marvin Gaye ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine"), Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman"), The Steve Miller Band ("Quicksilver Girl") and others. One song used to great ironic effect is The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." At the end of the wrenchingly sad funeral of their friend, one of them gets up to perform the song, the deceased's favorite, on a church organ. The combination of the appropriateness of the title to the suicidal friend's lost hope and the comical effect of hearing it played that way brings a welcome smile to the group's faces, and the Stones version swells onto the soundtrack as they leave the church to head off to their momentous weekend reunion.

The Big Chill also benefited greatly from Kasdan's enviable reputation in the industry at the time. He was already well-known for his scriptwriting work on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Continental Divide (1981), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which was paid homage in The Big Chill (Kevin Kline hums the adventure movie's theme music while doing battle with a bat that flew into the house). And two years earlier, Kasdan made a big splash with his directorial debut, the sexy neo-noir thriller Body Heat (1981), so there was much expectation for this, his second movie.

Kevin Costner was supposed to have played a key role in the picture as the suicidal Alex, seen in flashback scenes to the group's college days at the University of Michigan. But Kasdan decided to cut these scenes, and all that survives of Costner are brief close-ups of parts of his corpse being dressed for the funeral. Kasdan made it up to the actor, however, by later giving him important roles in the westerns Silverado (1985) and Wyatt Earp (1994).

As noted earlier, The Big Chill generated much discussion among critics who lived through the same era as the film's characters. Isidore Silver, in an article for the magazine Society, wrote "the movie affirms a sneaking suspicion I have always harbored that the sixties generation was better at proclaiming than at achieving such values as sensitivity, mutual caring, and emotional closeness. In short, if The Big Chill somehow represents an important truth about that generation (and I think it does), it demonstrates that many quondam radicals were as boring as their immediate predecessors (my generation), and remain so in the 1980s. The movie is replete with embarrassing examples of unfulfilled aspirations, misremembrances of the past, and simple ennui." Pauline Kael expressed a similar opinion believing the movie would be despised by "anyone who believes himself to have been a revolutionary or a deeply committed radical during his student demonstration days." On the other hand, she acknowledged the film as an entertainment: "There are pleasures to be had from this kind of wise-cracking contemporary movie that you can't get from anything else." And most reviewers had nothing but praise for the film's script and acting ensemble. Vincent Canby of The New York Times proclaimed The Big Chill "sweet, sharp, melancholy" and wrote "the performances represent ensemble playing of an order Hollywood films seldom have time for, with the screenplay providing each character with at least one big scene. If the actors were less consistent and the writing less fine the scheme would be tiresome. In The Big Chill, it's part of the fun."

Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Producers: Lawrence Kasdan, Marcia Nasatir, Michael Shamberg
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, Barbara Benedek
Cinematography: John Bailey
Editing: Carol Littleton
Production Design: Ida Random
Original Music: Yuji Nomi
Cast: Kevin Kline (Harold), Glenn Close (Sarah), William Hurt (Nick), Mary Kay Place (Meg), Tom Berenger (Sam), JoBeth Williams (Karen), Jeff Goldblum (Michael), Meg Tilly (Chloe).
C-105m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Big Chill (1983)

"...sweet, sharp, melancholy new comedy...The mourning friends are constantly teetering between laughter and tears, which is the mood of this very accomplished, serious comedy...It's a particular achievement for Mr. Kasdan, who made a stunning directorial debut with Body Heat...Mr. Kasdan is one of the finest of Hollywood's new young writers but The Big Chill, like Body Heat, demonstrates that he is a writer who works as much through images as through words...The soundtrack is loaded with 60s music that recalls, without sentimentality, everything the friends have grown away from. The performances represent ensemble playing of an order Hollywood films seldom have time for, with the screenplay providing each character with at least one big scene. If the actors were less consistent and the writing less fine the scheme would be tiresome. In The Big Chill it's part of the fun." -- The New York Times

"The Big Chill is an amusing, splendidly acted but rather shallow look at what's happened to the generation formed by the 1960s. Like a high-gloss version of John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven [1979] with a classy cast, pic should be very well received by upscale viewers in their 30s, as contemporaries of the characters will find plenty to relate to." -- Variety

"One of the nice things about this funny and ferociously smart movie is that it is not only about the '60s...No joke or gesture is forced in these performances. The eight star actors deserve one big Oscar®. There is another invisible presence in The Big Chill: that of filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan...The Big Chill marks another sure step forward for Kasdan. This is a movie that can extend outside the confines of movie genres, with characters whose lives seep outside the screen frame, who persuade the viewer to care about their pasts and futures." -- Time magazine

"Anyone who believes himself to have been a revolutionary or a deeply committed radical during his student-demonstration days in the late sixties is likely to find The Big Chill, which opened the recent New York Film Festival, despicable. And if the advance publicity for the film has led you to expect a serious, 'personal' movie about how the late-sixties campus activists have adjusted to becoming the kind of people they used to insult, you may find it pretty offensive. It's no more than an amiable, slick comedy with some very well-directed repartee and skillful performances. It's over-controlled, it's shallow, it's a series of contrivances. But there are pleasures to be had from this kind of wisecracking contemporary movie that you can't get from anything else." -- The New Yorker

"The Big Chill is a splendid technical exercise. It has all the right moves. It knows all the right words. Its characters have all the right clothes, expressions, fears, lusts and ambitions. But there's no payoff and it doesn't lead anywhere. I thought at first that was a weakness of the movie. There also is the possibility that it's the movie's message." -- Roger Ebert

"Though it's intelligent, quick-witted and slickly produced, there's no escaping the ponderous philosophizing that keeps spoiling the fun...Sadly, Kasdan sets forth these characters with a patronizing patness. Alex, who is never seen, becomes the most interesting by default. He represents the spirit of the '60s, as does the superb soundtrack...that Kasdan uses like an open faucet of nostalgia." -- People magazine

"Entertaining, surface-level look at a group of former college-radical friends who've dropped back into Society. Wonderful acting ensemble, irresistible soundtrack of 60s hits help camouflage weaknesses of script--which bears more than passing resemblance to John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven." -- Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide

AWARDS AND HONORS

The Big Chill was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and Best Original Screenplay (Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek).

The original screenplay for The Big Chill was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award.

Lawrence Kasdan was nominated for a DGA (Directors Guild of America) Award for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures" for his work on The Big Chill.

The Big Chill received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical and Best Screenplay.

The script for The Big Chill came in second place in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Screenplay.

The National Board of Review named The Big Chill one of the Top Ten Films of 1983.

The Big Chill won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1983.

Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek won the WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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