Dear Readers, this post is for “The Stephen King Blogathon” aka “The Halloween Kingathon” which runs throughout October. Darren at Movie Reviews 101 and Rob at Movie Rob co-host the event, be sure to visit their sites for full event festivities and read along as they cover 62 Stephen King films!
Like most horror fans, I read a lot of Stephen King books growing up. My favorites are his Castle Rock stories. Castle Rock is a fictional area where his best stories occur: Needful Things, Cujo, The Dark Half, It, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, Pet Sematary all happen in the Castle Rock area.
One of King’s most beloved films is Stand By Me.
Stand By Me is based on King’s novella The Body and was written under a pseudonym “Richard Bachman”.
Upon hearing of the death of a childhood friend, Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), a writer Gordon LaChance (Richard Dreyfus) reminisces about his childhood.
Flashback to the summer of 1959. A young boy from a nearby town, Ray Brower, is missing. Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) overhears his older brother and a friend who saw the body by the railroad tracks outside town. Vern immediately tells his friends 12-year-old Gordie LaChance (now Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers and Teddy DuChamp (Corey Feldman) who set out on a journey to see the body. What begins as a camping trip and a chance for fame, turns into a journey of self-discovery.
It is a mismatched group of kids, but this disparate group has one major thing in common, they have psychological scars. Each boy takes the journey for a separate subconscious reason. Vern is a loser and nobody respects him. Getting on the news makes him a hero. Teddy’s abusive, ex-military father was institutionalized for burning his son’s ear on a stove. Despite this, Teddy worships the guy, taking a “military” mission allows him to connect with his estranged father. The lunch lady at the school cafeteria stole money and accused Chris. Everyone assumes he stole the money because his family is low-class. As a hero, Chris can reverse the town’s impression, he is not a thief. Gordie lives in the shadow of his deceased older brother Denny (John Cusack) and hometown football hero, Gordie’s family either ignore Gordie or compare him to his brother. By seeing a dead body, Gordie can resolve his grief and emotional issues.
Most striking is the film’s teen and adult characters. Except for Denny whose amber-tinted scenes are the only remotely normal looking moment in Gordie’s life, all the older characters are mean-spirited, such as Ace (Kiefer Sutherland) and his gang, they are neglectful or abusive.
Strangers are inconsiderate, like the liquor store owner discussing Denny’s football career. No one talks to Gordie about Gordie, it’s always Denny.
Everywhere these kids go, everyone knows exactly who they are, and where they came from.
We knew exactly who we were and exactly where we going.
It is a small town and a small minded town. The teen and adult characters keep the town’s pecking order in place, Gordie’s parents brand his friends as “a thief (Chambers) and two Feebs (Tessio & DuChamp)”. Ace and his gang bully the younger boys, even Milo the man at the junkyard:
MILO. I know your name. You’re Lachance! I know all you guys. And all your fathers are gonna get a call from me! Except for the loony in Togus.
Everyone has expectations for the boys. As the film unfolds, we discover it is not really about the adventure. It’s about not allowing others to define who you are.
Two major moments exemplify this:
- “Chopper” the junkyard dog is the town terror because everyone says Chopper is vicious. But when the boys meet Chopper, they discover he is a tired old dog.
Chopper was my first lesson in the vast difference in myth and reality
- Gordie tells a story about a pie-eating contest. A young boy whom the townspeople call “Lard Ass”, he gets revenge by attending a pie eating contest and vomiting all over the place, his vomiting induces vomiting and creates a barf-o-rama. The town labels him”Lard Ass” for over-eating, he gives it back to them.
This movie asks most important philosophical questions:
GORDIE. Alright, alright. Mickey’s a mouse. Donald’s a duck. Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?
VERN. If I can only have one food for the rest of my life? That’s easy. Pez. Cherry flavored Pez. No question about it.
TEDDY. Goofy’s a dog, he’s definitely a dog.
GORDIE. I knew the sixty-four thousand dollars question was fixed. There’s no way anybody can know that much about opera.
CHRIS. He can’t be a dog. Wears a hat and drives a car.
GORDIE. Wagon Train’s a really cool show. But did you ever notice that they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training.
VERN. God, that’s weird. What the hell is Goofy?
This movie is superbly cast and features an excellent soundtrack. Initially, the critics gave mixed reviews:
“Rob Reiner’s direction hammers in every obvious element in an obvious script. The shots of the small boys in the big outdoors are like advertisements for summer camp, and you’ve never seen so much handshaking, so many hands placed meaningfully on shoulders, so many exchanges of understanding looks. What we are really seeing is the director looking constantly at his audience” (Goodman NP).
At times, the film is overly sentimental, but it is intentional. The film is a memory. We do not watch events unfold, we watch events remembered. Memory is imperfect. Denny is perfect, the adults are insane, and Chris is wise.
Stand By Me quickly evolved to a beloved film:
“Reiner has seen that his cast stays honest and his movie marvelously restrained-… it’s a portrait of an age and a moment that its peers will recognize as an unvarnished classic” (Benson NP).
Although I haven’t seen him in more than ten years I know I’ll miss him forever. I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?
In a recent interview for Rolling Stone, Stephen King described Stand By Me as the best movie from one of his books:
I thought it was true to the book, and because it had the emotional gradient of the story. It was moving. I think I scared the shit out of Rob Reiner. He showed it to me in the screening room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was out there for something else, and he said, “Can I come over and show you this movie?” And you have to remember that the movie was made on a shoestring. It was supposed to be one of those things that opened in six theaters and then maybe disappeared. And instead it went viral. When the movie was over, I hugged him because I was moved to tears, because it was so autobiographical.
I am inclined to agree.
You can hear Stephen King singing the song Stand by Me click play on the embedded video below or click Here
And don’t forget to mark your Calendars, in January I host the France on Film Blogathon!
Benson, Sheila. “Movie Review: ‘Stand By Me’ A Summer Standout.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Aug. 1986. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Goodman, Walter. “Stand By Me (1986) ROB REINER’S ‘STAND BY ME'” New York Times. 8 Aug. 1986. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Greene, Andy. “Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview.” Rolling Stone. 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Ciao for Now, Dearies!