Film’s Great Inanimate Objects: Lloyd Dobler’s boombox from Say Anything

Lloyd Dobler in the famous "In Your Eyes" scene from "Say Anything."

Characters and the actors that portray them are what drives great film.  But every so often an object as opposed to a character comes to express the theme of a film and in the long run becomes the most memorable part of a great movie.  Examples that quickly come to mind are the time traveling Delorean from Back to the Future, Rosebud from Citizen Kane and the focus of this post; Lloyd Dobler’s boombox from Cameron Crowe’s classic Say Anything.

John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler is arguably the definitive “high school loner with a great heart” portrayal in American cinema history.  It seemed like half of the teen males in America could relate to him at the time and more than half of teen females wanted a guy like Lloyd to love them.  His pursuit and determination to court the school’s smartest and most driven young woman Diane Court as played by Ione Skye is the thing of Hollywood legend.  The film and these characters are a timeless piece of Americana art.

While we all fell for Lloyd and his kick boxing dreams and thoughtful love letters as well as Diane’s struggle to break free of her father’s protective shell it is the iconic scene of Lloyd Dobler holding up a boombox outside Diane’s window blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” as a means to express his soul that has become the essential memory from this film.

Everything about the scene is of that time and yet timeless, Lloyd’s clothes, an outsider’s duster length coat with the sleeves pushed up over a t-shirt, his hand-me-down but cool-ride Chevelle Malibu and those high top sneakers.  The real star of the scene though, and in retrospect the film, is that boombox.  It’s an archive of the time, an outward device for expression that has given way to personal and private iPods and ear buds.

Here’s the clip because it never gets old:

In a recent interview with Moviefone Cameron Crowe revealed the genesis behind the famous scene and what has become of that boombox:

Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover” was a song I liked for [exactly] one day — the day I wrote that scene. It never worked for the scene the day before or after. John Cusack is playing Fishbone’s “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” in the actual scene, but when we put the movie together, it didn’t work at all. He seemed like a crazed Fishbone fan who just happened to be outside her window.

But with ‘In Your Eyes,’ it was like his life was leading to that moment. We were lucky Peter Gabriel let us use it. It’s a mystical kind of marriage, when a song works with film. I live for those kinds of marriages. It’s always fun to find that connection as a director.

It’s [the boombox] in my garage. I think I’ll play a Fishbone cassette on it tonight, in your honor.

Crowe needs to put that important piece of cinema history in safe keeping somewhere.  It is deserving of that type of archiving.

Here’s one more clip.  This is a tribute to the scene following its 20th anniversary in which The Mobler, a group that performed public Dobler scenes frequently, take over Times Square:

That old plastic rectangle that ran on probably at least 30 double-d batteries and jammed Fishbone has come to symbolize the desperate, youthful, and suppressed voice yearning to be heard for a generation of young Americans.  Long may it run.

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