Stand By Me and counting the years

standQuite how it had taken so many years for me to finally watch this film is quite beyond me. Its not as if I never read Stephen King stories or watch the movies based on them- quite the contrary. And yet it has taken so many years- Stand By Me was released back in 1986, which is what, 34 years ago, now. I suppose its nice that even after watching so many films over the years, there are still some genuinely good ones waiting for me to catch up with them. Films are patient. There’s great ones waiting for all of us.

That length of years is frightening, though. For instance, does anybody else think its scary that the length of time since the film came out is more than the distance in time between the films original release and when it was set, in 1959- a gap of just 27 years. So the narrator looking back and telling his tale is looking back 27 years, and me, I’m now 34 years distant from when the film came out. I imagine viewers in 1986 thinking that the films period setting was a distant time ago, and yet here I am now…. crumbs.

It just lends the film a certain feeling, seeing some of those actors -Will Wheaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Corey Fieldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack- all looking so young, not to mention the added poignancy of seeing River Phoenix. Just on the evidence of this one film, its clear that he was an actor of considerable merit and screen charisma, destined to be a future star possibly as great as Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp… who knows where his future might have lead? As it turned out, he didn’t have that future, because he died of a drug overdose just 7 years after Stand By Me was released.

So Stand By Me is like some kind of impossible bubble of spacetime with those actors so incredibly young, the kids with their whole lives ahead of them… and me, sitting here in 2020 watching it for the first time. Suddenly appreciating why people have praised the film and sometimes remarked to me “what? You’ve never seen that yet?” in disbelief. The realisation that I have only watched it now because of something of a whim, having noticed the 4K UHD edition in a sale for £9.99 and thinking, maybe its worth a punt, maybe its as good as people say, and the film might cheer me up. We all need cheering up in these uncertain times. Chalk up one more positive to Covid19 then.

stand2Its a lovely little film. Hardly perfect but still, very good, and certainly one of the better Stephen King adaptations. Naturally it reminded me of American Graffiti, not just because Richard Dreyfuss features in both: the films are cinematic cousins, really, both period films about growing up, and how they used Rock n’Roll songs to form a soundtrack. I thought Jack Nitzche’s score and its use of the Ben E. King song was particularly fine, delicately done. Hey, American Graffiti– now there’s a film I really should find time to watch again.

Me, now, wondering what in the world I was doing back in 1986 that meant I was too busy to go watch this film or catch it on VHS rental or watch it on television showings over the years since. 1986 was the year Aliens came out, wasn’t it. And The Mission, and Day of the Dead, Poltergeist 2, Big Trouble in Little China… and Howard the Duck. Those were the films I watched at the cinema that year. Its funny how I remember years by what films I saw, sometimes its the only sense of perspective of time that I have now.

But that’s how films trick you, and release dates in particular- Stand By Me may have been released in late summer of 1986 in America, but digging around a little I discover that the film wasn’t released over here in the UK until early 1987. We forget it was a bigger world back then, and releases of films were spread across several months over International Territories.I remember one of the most exciting things about having a region-free DVD player when they came out in the late nineties (mine was an American machine with a transformer the size of a house brick) was that we could see films at home that still hadn’t even been released in the cinemas over here. So sure, Stand By Me was released back in 1986 in America but for us in the UK it was 1987, the year I went to watch other films like The Fly, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Innerspace instead. That’s just how I count the years.