Welcome to Miami—Bienvenido a Miami

Last weekend I was giving tours at Art Basel Miami, an annual art fair. Driving down to Miami Beach every morning for four days was heaven and reminded me of the 80s fad of filming movies in South Florida.

For too long the image of South Florida wavered between “drug haven” (Scarface, 1983) and “God’s waiting room” (Cocoon, 1985). Luckily some truly goofy films came along to present another view:

1. Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987). As if the first one wasn’t ridiculous enough, they decided to make a sequel. And in the spirit of 80s sequels, there was the token trip to South Florida. As the nerds are swept up in the allure of beach life, hilarity ensues.

2. Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988). I don’t recall nos. 2-4 so well, but I’m sure the franchise needed a little perking up by no. 5, so why not go to Miami Beach? In the tradition of Revenge of the Nerds, a tropical atmosphere provides plenty of material for a film. At least, plenty of visuals.

This scene is pretty iconic since Captain Harris receives his comeuppance via sunblock. Random fact: the two guys (white tank; purple shorts) that appear at 2:05 were actually my camp counselors one summer at Kamp Kool and they were super amped about being extras in this movie.

3. Making Mr. Right (1987). One of my all-time favorite films. It’s so bizarre and 80s I don’t know where to begin. The plot is completely random as is John Malkovich’s dual presence as a prickly scientist and romantic robot.

This film was one of my first experiences of self-awareness since it was the first time I can remember seeing my surroundings in a movie,  especially that particular mix of art deco, neon, and the tropics.

4. The Birdcage (1996). Even though this isn’t an 80s film, it’s still from the period when Miami Beach was starting to emerge from its Scarface-era violence/dilapidation; between Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Will Smith’s video Miami (1998), and There’s Something About Mary (1998) there’s a definite shift in how South Florida appeared in film.

The Birdcage is full of beautiful shots of Miami and this clip is especially accurate: the lighting, the pastel colors, the architecture mingled with vegetation and the bay. Just gorgeous. This scene is also poignant and relaxed, like you’ve spent the whole day at the beach and all that exposure to the sun, water, and salty air has left you wonderfully content and dreamy.

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