Putting The Big Chill in the Big House

Aug. 4, 2010

By Matt Trevor, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director

Since the University of Michigan officially announced "The Big Chill at the Big House" game on Jan. 28 I've been asked two questions on a regular basis: "Can you get me tickets?" and "Why is it called The Big Chill at the Big House? Why not Cold War 2 since we're playing Michigan State again or the Michigan Hockey Classic, like the NHL?"

There wasn't some "Eureka!" moment where an athletic department official came up with the name. The prevailing sentiment is that someone in the athletic department heard a guest on a sports talk radio show mention the idea of incorporating the popular early 1980s movie "The Big Chill" into the name of the outdoor game. When the idea was first introduced at a planning meeting, I was rather skeptical. What does a movie that debuted in 1983 (when I was a year old) have to do with our hockey game? Sure, it's neat that "Chill" goes along with cold, frozen ice and "Big" works with the enormity of the event, and of course, the famous nickname of Michigan Stadium.

Thanks to some tutoring by my elders, I learned that the movie and the game have tie-ins that go beyond a simple play on words. Spoiler Alert! The movie is about seven University of Michigan grads that reconvene in South Carolina for a weekend at the funeral of one of their friends whom they lost touch with since their days in Ann Arbor. The characters revisit how idealistic they were in college back in the 1960s and how jaded each of them has become in the current day. What's fun is that U-M gets integrated into the movie on a number of occasions. One of the main characters, played by Kevin Kline (he's a Big Ten alumnus, Indiana, by the way), goes for runs throughout the movie in a Michigan t-shirt and obscenely short running shorts common in the '80s. Later, Kline sports a Michigan tam (think old-school crocheted hat) and scarf while singing "The Victors" before the group watches a Michigan-Michigan State football game. (Editor's Note: Kevin Kline is just one of several actors in The Big Chill who went on to do quite well. Glenn Close was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress playing Kevin Kline's wife in the movie. Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams and Mary Kay Place also played major roles).

So why all the attention to detail about U-M in the movie? Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the screenplay, directed and is the executive producer on the film, graduated from Michigan. The characters were based on people he knew while attending the University of Michigan. Kasdan also wrote, or co-wrote, "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "The Empire Strikes Back", "Return of the Jedi" and "The Bodyguard", plus he directed and wrote, among other movies, "Body Heat", "Silverado" and "Grand Canyon."

"I'm very flattered that this historic athletic event will be billed with the name of the movie, a U of M movie through and through," said Kasdan.

Ready for an interesting twist of fate? Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, W.Va., which is 20 miles from the hometown of U-M head football coach Rich Rodriguez.

Kasdan's co-writer on "The Big Chill" was Barbara Benedek, who is married to U-M graduate Peter Benedek. Through the Benedek Family Foundation, they donated $1 million to U-M in 2005 for use within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, School of Music and athletics. Lawrence Kasdan delivered the commencement address to the College of LSA in 1990. Kasdan and his wife, Meg, met at U-M and both graduated in 1970. The Kasdans fund two annual scholarships at the university and remain closely involved with the school.

The best Michigan moments in "The Big Chill" are the few minutes when the group is watching a Michigan-Michigan State football game on television. (Editor's Note: back in 1983, I wonder how often a Big Ten game would have been available on TV in South Carolina.). Like any true Michigan fan, Kevin Kline's character makes sure everyone knows the game is on and hustles them into the living room to watch. The first of two plays shown is a long play-action pass from John Wangler to Craig Dunaway, which gets overturned on a clipping call (figures, right?). The character played by Berenger wears a U-M Rose Bowl hat and a sticker of Bo Schembechler on his shirt. And no 1980s U-M football clip would be complete without a shot of Bo getting upset at the referees on the sideline. The one irksome part of the scene is Goldblum's character stating that Michigan has the ugliest helmets in the world. The footage of the game is actually from Oct. 11, 1980, when U-M beat MSU, 27-23, at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Topping off the scene is the fact that Michigan's own Jim Brandstatter is calling the play-by-play that can be overheard on the TV set. His play-by-play man was Larry Adderley at the time.

Brandstatter refers to "The Big Chill" as a "classic ensemble film." Having played at U-M in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he notes that he went to school with somebody like just about every character in the movie. And the soundtrack made it a special film for his generation.

One other small detail that I picked up was the use of a Michigan Daily article cut out and saved as a memento that one of the characters finds. The font of the headline is almost exactly like the one used today.

Kasdan notes that there were plans for an on-campus scene. "In the original script, the movie ended with a flashback to Thanksgiving 1968 in an Ann Arbor house shared by the protagonists. We shot that flashback but decided during the first screenings that the idea didn't work and we cut it out."

Last, but certainly not least, is the outstanding music from the movie. Meg Kasdan was the music supervisor for the film, compiling all the songs for the multi-platinum soundtrack album. I don't consider myself a music buff by any means, but even I knew almost every song. There's a strong and intentional Motown feel. The original soundtrack includes: "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, "My Girl" by The Temptations, "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night, "Good Lovin'" by The Rascals, and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by The Temptations, which is used in a dance scene during the movie. Also, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" made popular by The Rolling Stones is featured.

"The Big Chill" went on to earn three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close). Now you'll know the back story to the naming of "The Big Chill in the Big House" and how exciting it is to many Michigan alumni.

In case you were wondering about the meaning behind the movie's title, Kasdan was obliged to share. "The title refers to the experience of going out into the world after the warm embrace of living in Ann Arbor for four years."

Other Movies/TV Shows with Michigan References

LOST -- The Dharma Initiative is based in Ann Arbor on the U-M campus.

The Program -- Fictional "ESU" loses to Michigan on the final play of the game. Bo Schembechler was briefly featured as a TV commentator.

The Waterboy -- Clip on SportsCenter shows Michigan trying out its towel boy in the spirit of Bobby Boucher's miraculous rise as a waterboy/linebacker. The poor kid gets knocked out in the clip.

Air Force One -- Michigan football beats Notre Dame in South Bend at night, which has never actually happened in real life.

Back to the future Part II -- Radio report states "Michigan blanked Indiana 30 to nothing" while Biff is driving and looking at sports almanac. That portion of the movie was set in 1955 and U-M did in fact beat the Hoosiers 30-0 that season.

Harmon of Michigan -- The 1941 film was the story of Tom Harmon's standout football career at Michigan. In 1940, Harmon became the first U-M player to win the Heisman Trophy. It also starred Forest Evashevski.

Las Vegas -- University of Michigan trademarks were cleared for use within a 2004 episode of the hit television show "Las Vegas."

Women of a Certain Age -- A video clip from a Michigan vs. Ohio State football game was utilized as playback in a 2006 television pilot show starring Heather Locklear, Peri Gilpin and Illeana Douglas.

Who's Got Game -- University of Michigan football and men's basketball highlight clips were featured in a 2006 and a 2009 episode of the television show "Who's Got Game."

Rocky Balboa -- A video clip from the 2001 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game was utilized as playback within the film. The movie was released in December 2006.

Sports Science -- This educational program examines the mechanics of the body in particular sports. Photos from the 1950 "Snow Bowl" between Michigan and Ohio State were utilized in an episode that aired in 2007.

Burn Notice -- Airing on the USA Network, "Burn Notice" follows a spy who was disavowed by the US Government and uses his special operations training to help others. A video clip from the October 6, 2001, Michigan vs. Michigan State hockey game (The Cold War) was provided for use as playback within the pilot which aired in 2007.

Friday Night Lights -- Michigan trademarks were visible in a 2007 episode of the hit TV show "Friday Night Lights."

Fool's Gold -- A video clip from the October 6, 2001, hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State (The Cold War) was utilized as playback in the 2008 film "Fool's Gold" starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson.

Jumper -- A video clip from the November 13, 1999, Michigan vs. Penn State football game was utilized as playback in the 2008 film "Jumper" starring Hayden Christensen.

Gran Torino -- Video content from the February 23, 1994, baseball game between the University of Michigan and the University of South Florida was utilized as playback within a scene in the 2008 feature film "Gran Torino" directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

In case you would like to watch "The Big Chill", you can see it on campus for no charge on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 p.m., at the U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium. "The Big Chill" is one of a series of films that is going to be featured in this fall's LSA Theme Semester: 'What Makes Life Worth Living?' Visit the theme semester website for information on films and many other events on the theme: www.wmlwl.com.

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