When National Lampoon's Animal House was released in 1978, my big brother convinced our parents to take us to to see it. My brother—knowing what to expect—insisted that we sit across the theater from our parents. I was 8 at the time, thought the movie was boring, and promptly dozed off. Twenty years ago, the US Library of Congress added Animal House to the prestigious National Film Registry "which selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation." The Library of Congress recently interviewed one of Animal House's stars, Tim Matheson ("Otter"), about the iconic movie:
The script and characters have so many great one-liners. Do you think that is part of the film's longevity?
I absolutely do. We were shooting six days a week. They would run dailies [the unedited footage] on Sunday for the crew. We had a sense that things were working because on Monday morning the crew would come to work quoting lines from the film: "Thank you sir, may I have another"; "Is that a pledge pin?"' "Seven years of college down the drain." This showed us that it was really connecting and that every character had a spotlight[…]
Why do you think the film transcends over so many generations?
One of things that the "Lampoon" did was look at pivotal moments in your life, and in this case, captured the underlying college drama. It was also about change. "Animal House" is set in 1962, and the rumblings of change were coming. If you remember in the parade scene, there is a float with the white hand shaking the black hand and then goes apart, the girls are dressed like Jackie Kennedy, and even the Dexter Lake Club scenes have really racist moments.
It's like "Caddyshack" in the sense of white privilege. Fraternities like the Omegas are an elitist, racist, sexist club, whose point is to exclude people that they don't like. Then you have the Delta House where if you apply, you're in. We take everybody. It was that contrast that people identified with.
"On the Film Registry: "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978): An Interview with Tim Matheson" (via The Signal from David Katznelson)