Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

No 70 - Stand by Me
Director - Rob Reiner

My first real experience with 'Stand by Me' was the song. I had to be the bass line for it in a Saturday morning choir (oh, my youth captured all the dizzy heights of excitement!) and therefore spent many a moment going "doo doo bum bum doo doo bum bum".

I had read the book though and as soon as I turned the DVD on I could see some familiar Stephen King traits. King loves the 50s and there have been several stories which use the 'flashback' technique in order to tell a story from an earlier decade. I think his fascination seems to stem from the 'oldies' - music from the 50s - and the romanticised violence of gangs in the 50s.
The film is very similar (visually and stylistically) to It - following the same idea of a group of young 'losers' on a mission whilst being pursued by a gang of older youths.

There are other similarities to It which I'm not going to go into detail about, but both stories have main characters who are mourning the loss of a brother as well as both stories having a fast talking nervous joker who wears glasses. There are a lot of similarities between It's Richie Tozier (seen here as Seth Green in the brilliantly bad 90s TV movie) and Stand by Me's Teddy Duchamp, played by Cory Feldman. But I think that these staples are just part of Stephen King's story telling.
This talk of Corey Feldman brings me (somewhat abstractly) to my first point. The youth. They are a powerhouse of acting and talk and act like children throughout the film. The child actors are fantastic in this film and it really makes you think about modern times. Of course... River Phoenix is no longer with us (it is very sad) but people like Corey Feldman are just not doing anything (except for things like Lost Boys 2).

Throughout this film, each character seems to be given a scene in which he can showcase his talents. There are scenes of high emotion for each of the 4 lead children. They show that not only can they deliver cutting insults with excellent timing. But they can also act. They do so in a way that doesn't feel precocious or 'screen brat' but in a way that feels genuinely child like.

The film works hard at successfully capturing the life of young boys, before they've discovered girls, and the subjects which were deemed important. Lines like "If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That's easy-Pez. Cherry-flavored Pez. No question about it." fill me with absolute joy. It is such a beautifully innocent line, especially when you see the sincerity and thought with which it is delivered. It is also a wonderfully nostalgic line. Because I bloody love Pez. Surely everyone loves Pez. Or at least loved Pez (if they are boring adults) and it is wonderful to know that that adoration was there in the 50s. As it was there in the 80s as (I'd hope) it is there today.
It also captures the one-up-man-ship and 'your mum' jokes which are also a prevalent and timeless part of growing up.

But the film's real strength is that it can flit from the light hearted banter to more serious topics without feeling forced or hokey. It is in these moments that Rive Phoenix shines. He plays Chris Chambers, the group's leader, and therefore has to be the strong support as other characters break down around him.
His character is played perfectly and shows off the many excellent qualities in Chris. His leadership - a mix of taking no bullshit and being totally understanding and compassionate, and his understanding of his status. He might be a good kid (not perfect, but certainly a good kid) but he is from bad stock and he is poor. Demonised by the adults around him, he becomes a bad influence and has resorted to the fact that he'll never amount to anything.

And BAM. Just like that, we have the central crux of the film. This isn't a film about an adventure to see a corpse, this is a film about maturity, about growing up and about discovering yourself.
The children that go on the initial road trip are very different from the children that return back. It may be the long struggles that face them - the camping, the shortcuts, the leeches, the moments of self revelation. It may be the moment of finding a corpse which makes them come to terms with their own mentality. It may be when they have to face the fearsome Kiefer Sutherland and his gang of goons.
Each of these elements gradually toughen the group and get them in a position so that when they return home they are more adult. They are also (sadly) more solemn, more serious. It is also the last time that group are all together before they slowly drift together.

Incidentally, I like it a lot when the older gang of teens meet the younger gang of pre-teens (complete with flick knife, that old 50s weapon of choice) because we have a moment where Kiefer Sutherland meets up with Corey Feldman. It is like The Lost Boys all over again (only this film came out before The Lost Boys).

After the culmination of these events, Chris and Geordie go to college and remain friends and get proper jobs (until Chris dies... much like River...).
I think it shows a message which is delivered frequently in films - it is not the outside that counts, but what is on the inside. There are a lot of films in which people achieve more than their social standing allow - it is after all, the American Dream!
But this film does it in such a subtle way.

It is all about the way that we see our friends as children. We see them for who they are. Not for social standing - with no preconceptions and no bias... I think THAT is an important message to take from a film.

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