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5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 13, 2012 at 1:02PM

One of the trickier genres to get right is the teen comedy. Walking the line between not condescending to a high-school-age audience and yet also not alienating them is a difficult balance, let alone making a film that doesn't age, feels truthful, and can be smart and funny as well. And one of the finest examples of the genre remains to this day, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
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Fast Times At Ridgemont High

One of the trickier genres to get right is the teen comedy. Walking the line between not condescending to a high-school-age audience and yet also not alienating them is a difficult balance, let alone making a film that doesn't age, feels truthful, and can be smart and funny as well. And one of the finest examples of the genre remains to this day, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Released thirty years ago today on August 13th, the 1982 film, directed by first-timer Amy Heckerling and written by future filmmaker Cameron Crowe, follows a diverse range of characters, including hot-headed Brad (Judge Reinhold), his virginal sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), her older friend Linda (Phoebe Cates), shy Rat (Brian Backer), ticket scalper Mike (Robert Romanus) and stoner/surfer Spicoli (Sean Penn). And of course, it's responsible for some indelible moments both for those who were of the right age when the film released, and who caught up with it since. And no, we're not just talking about the Phoebe Cates dream sequence.

Even today, the film stands up as an unusually authentic, touching and funny take on the genre, and certainly foreshadows great work that both Heckerling ("Clueless") and Crowe would do in the future. And it also features great performances from the cast, many of whom would become huge names down the line. To mark the 30-year anniversary today, we've dug up five bits of information that you might not be aware of about the film. Check them out below.

Andy Rathbone
1. Brian Backer's character, Mark "Rat" Ratner, was based on the man who'd go on to create the "...For Dummies" series of books.
If you've seen writer-director Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," you likely have a pretty good idea of how his career got started: the aspiring music journalist contributed to Creem and The San Diego Door in his early teens before graduating high school at 16 and later joined Rolling Stone as their youngest-ever writer. But when Rolling Stone moved their offices to New York, Crowe elected to stay on the West Coast and go freelance, and two years later, in 1979, the writer pitched a book idea to Simon & Schuster: he'd re-enroll in high school, going undercover to write about his experiences there. He enlisted (amusingly, as Dave Cameron), at Clairemont High School, convincing the principal to let him do so after telling him he'd interviewed Kris Kristofferson. Among the people he befriended and included (albeit with names kept under wraps) was one Andy Rathbone, who was the inspiration for Brian Backer's shy, sweet character Mark "Rat" Ratner. Rathbone later claimed that everyone knew that Crowe was a journalist saying, "We budding journalists could relate to him and vice versa. He was friendly and interesting to talk to," but was upset that the writer portrayed him as nerdier than he really was, claiming that the scene where Spicoli (Sean Penn) orders a pizza to be delivered mid-class was actually something that he'd masterminded. Rathbone filed a lawsuit against Crowe, but soon dropped it, and as it turns out, he wouldn't have needed the money. He later became a computer journalist and in 1992, he authored "PCs For Dummies," the first in a series of plain-spoken computer manuals of which there are now 15 million copies in print.  

Fast Times Sean Penn
2. David Lynch was offered the director's chair.
Cameron Crowe's work picked up great reviews and became a sleeper best seller when it was published in 1981, but the movie rights had already been snapped up. After leaving Rolling Stone, Crowe had played a small role as Delivery Boy in birth-of-rock-and-roll biopic "American Hot Wax," and that film's producer, Art Linson, bought the rights to 'Fast Times' when it was in the galley stage, and partnered with legendary rock manager and soon-to-be MCA Records boss Irving Azoff to produce the film, which was set up at Universal. Crowe was hired to write the screenplay, but was never a possibility to direct at this stage; instead, according to the DVD commentary, the first filmmaker to be offered the job was, of all people, David Lynch, who'd just made the acclaimed "The Elephant Man" and was being courted to direct 'Star Wars' trilogy-closer 'Return of the Jedi' around the same time. Lynch felt neither was a good fit (probably a good call...) and went on to make "Dune" instead, leaving AFI and NYU graduate Amy Heckerling to step in. The filmmaker would, over ten years later, deliver a second teen comedy classic with "Clueless." Lynch has, as yet, not tackled the genre...

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling, Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Features, On This Day In Movie History


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