At the age of six, I was one of those kids who saw Gremlins in the theater at a time when I was way too young to see GREMLINS anywhere. It was my first introduction to the very concept of live-action madcap. A wonderful Looney Tunes episode with an old woman launching through a window instead of Wile E. Coyote. I loved it. Gizmo was adorable, the bad Gremlins were hysterical and Phoebe Cates made me feel things that I couldn’t explain at that time. I wasn’t until later that I heard that Gremlins was technically BAD for my development, and that the MPAA created the PG-13 label in response to parental backlash. To me, however, it wasn’t much different than Bugs Bunny sticking his finger in Elmer Fudd’s rifle.
Fast-forward to 1990, and here comes Gremlins 2, a full six years after the first movie. I went to see it and was delighted as the Looney Tunes concept got turned up to max. Electric Gremlins and Brainy Gremlins and Spider Gremlins – all taking over a constantly malfunctioning smart building in NYC – with gags that made the first movie look tame by most standards. Once again, I loved it.
It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I put a name to the person who created the movies – Joe Dante; as a kid, I thought that they were made by “that E.T. guy”. It wasn’t until years after that that I discovered Roger Corman, who was Joe Dante’s mentor. It wasn’t until my twenties that I realized that Gremlins 2 was a financial failure that a lot of people despised. It wasn’t until I revisited the movie in my thirties that I realized that the entire movie was a parody of sequels and Hollywood as a whole. That Joe Dante only made Gremlins 2 because he was offered complete creative control and that he used that control to show people why the movie should never have been made. There have been think pieces and behind-the scenes pieces in recent years about Gremlins 2, really good ones. I suggest you read this piece over at AVClub for some more background on the movie
I’m going to use this place to talk about Daniel Clamp.
Daniel Clamp was Gremlins 2’s neutral-chaotic foil-turned-hero. Clamp was a young, aggressive, egotistical real estate developer from New York who put his name on everything from buildings to coffee mugs to books about himself. The movie took place in his building, which he propped up as the best and most advanced building in the world. Clamp constantly waffled on how much access he wanted to give to the press, how to handle the Gremlins problem, and how to make sure his name isn’t sullied and his brand isn’t ruined in the process.
If Daniel Clamp sounds like a parody of Donald Trump, that’s because he was. Joe Dante himself admitted as much, saying, “It was pretty obvious from the name who we were talking about, though Clamp is also part Ted Turner, since he runs a cable empire as well. Clamp was originally supposed to be the megalomaniac villain of the piece, but he was so oddly endearing, he ended up becoming a semi-heroic figure.”
And that’s the thing about Donald Trump throughout the late 80s and 90s – he was this oddly endearing asshole in New York. I don’t know how popular he was outside of the city, but in the city he was this guy you just knew about. He was on our TVs and in our newspapers and even on our rap albums (first as someone who was a stand-in for wealth, and eventually actually appearing on albums such as Method Man’s “Tical 2000”). He just represented this dream, in a way. A guy who makes it to the top and still holds on to his every-person accent and roots. Improving NYC, the city I grew up in, defending it. All this stuff coming out now, granted, I was a teenager then – it either few under the radar or blended into this story of an endearing asshole who wasn’t running for president.
When I first watched Gremlins 2, I didn’t know who Joe Dante was nor did I even know what the movie was fundamentally about. But I knew who Daniel Clamp represented, and I understood how his obsessive desire to preserve his image was part of the reason why things got so bad in Clamp tower, but his need for self-preservation also helped lead to the solution.
I guess what I’m saying is…I miss the time when Joe Dante was making movies. I also miss the time when Donald Trump was an endearing asshole.