09 October, 2006

Those days

I just wish I could go someplace where nobody knows me.

The first time I saw the film Stand By Me was at a friend's birthday party. It must have been 1987 or 88, and the friend, Luke, had only invited a few of us round for what was, for a group of young teenagers, a bizarrely sedate affair comprising a sit-down meal and an evening in front of the TV.

I remember stupidly arguing with him about wanting to watch Octopussy which was on ITV that very same night, but Luke insisting - rightly - that we watch this video he'd got out especially for the occasion. As such I gave neither the film nor the occasion the attention they deserved, which was stupid of me but I wasn't old enough to know better.

The next time I saw Stand By Me was a good many years later, and I reckon at first I didn't realise it was the very same film I'd only half-watched first time around. Either that or I subconsciously didn't want to concede that I'd treated such a masterpiece with such disdain, and revised my memories accordingly. I recall being profoundly moved and affected by the film, its mood, its music, its comradeship, its sentiment and above all its timelessness.

I caught it a couple of times on TV during the 1990s, but hadn't seen it for ages until last night when I watched it on DVD and found myself instantly transported back into that same cloud of emotion I experienced the first time I saw it properly. I let that cloud wash over me and wrap me up in a fog of shameless nostalgia, and I realised again, were it need re-stating, that the film is an example of genius and one of best movies of all time.

It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant.

Why is it an example of genius? Because of the way it so deftly takes universal themes and personalises them in the shape of its four protagonists, who don't know it but are representing the hopes and fears of every single child in the whole world, and every single adult who looks back on their childhood as a period of missed opportunities and dashed dreams.

Because it affords the viewer the luxury of transferring their own past onto that of the collective characters and filtering their own particular take on growing up through the glorious gauze of reminiscence. Because it has ace music. Because it is beautifully shot. Because the four kids speak such profound wisdom and achingly truthful insights one minute then indulge in the most fantastic casual swearing the next. Because it has great jokes. Because it is deeply, deeply human.

Because it reminds you that what you gain by way of experience in growing older you lose by way of innocence and charm.

I guess one of the luxuries of being an adult is the chance to romanticise about your childhood, but it's a far from positive indulgence, and can often - speaking from experience - lead you into psychological cul-de-sacs of reverie you can't reverse out of. Stand By Me is a way of accessing your own childhood at one remove, and therefore can't help but feel a more harmless, even safe, form of historical tourism.

Yet the impressions still run deep and its litany of quotable lines and visceral images touch me in a way not many other films, let alone TV or music or books, can do. It's impossible for me not to measure the scope of my own childhood against that of its fictional foursome and invariably find it wanting.

But then that's surely what such films are for. To afford you the chance to idly rate reality against fantasy and draw succour from the discrepancy. To articulate the sentiments you lock away deep inside you. To give you the emotional tools to excavate your own past so as to better steel you for the present.

And, of course, to make you cry.

Chris: You're gonna be a great writer someday, Gordie. You might even write about us guys if you ever get hard-up for material.
Gordie: [wiping away tears] Guess I'd have to be pretty hard-up, huh.


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