Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Reel 30: STAND BY ME

“You guys want to go see a dead body?”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Rob Reiner’s STAND BY ME.

Based on the novel The Body by Stephen King, STAND BY ME, which borrowed its title from the 1961 song by Ben E. King, told the story of four early-teenage boys in a small Oregon town who go on a cross-country journey on-foot to find the dead body of a missing child. Rooted in boyhood friendships and deriving from classic films and literature, it was a new-age Heart of Darkness  or maybe even APOCALYPSE NOW, in which a trek into the unknown tests the bonds of friendship and family, with an episodic nature akin to a Greek myth…all in the setting of a coming-of-age story; in which one returns from the journey unchanged.

With the entirety of the film focusing on the four friends, casting was the most vital task of the pre-production process of the film. Director Rob Reiner, who was coming off consecutive hits with THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984), and THE SURE THING (1985), began the casting process by casting to type; to match the young actors’ personalities with their characters. The important role of Gordie, whose young eyes would be the window for the audience, would go to Wil Wheaton, who projected sensitivity and intelligence. The character of Chris, the rebel of the group who often acted as peacemaker, went to River Phoenix. Corey Feldman, who was fresh of his success in THE GOONIES (1985), another coming-of-age story, was cast as the troubled yet slightly-unhinged Teddy. The clown and yet most sincere of the group, Vern, went to Jerry O’Connell, who was only 11 years old at the time and had never acted in a film before. Veteran actors such as Kiefer Sutherland (son of Donald), and Richard Dreyfuss (as an older Gordie, who provides the narration) would round out the cast.

Rehearsals would double as acting classes, and filming would commence in Oregon, utilizing locals as extras. A pivotal scene on a railroad bridge spanning a river would be filmed in California. The shoot lasted only 60 days, and Reiner kept his young cast from meeting or seeing the dead body (played by Kent W. Luttrell) during production, in an effort to get an honest shocked reaction when the body is eventually found. Jack Nitzsche, who had won an Oscar for the ballad Up Where We Belong for AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMEN (1982), provided the score while utilizing classic rock songs from Buddy Holly, The Del-Vikings, Jerry Lee Lewis, and of course…the title track from Ben E. King.

STAND BY ME would be a box office hit and one of the biggest earners of 1986. It would be nominated for two Golden Globes and one Academy Award. Today, the town of Brownsville, Oregon, which stood-in for the fictional town of Castle Rock, still holds an annual STAND BY ME Day. Rob Reiner would name his own production company Castle Rock Entertainment after the fictional town, and the success of STAND BY ME would propel Reiner into his future hit-films, including THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987), and A FEW GOOD MEN (1992).


STAND BY ME was a film which was introduced to this Blogger and his brother at just the right time. Every summer, we would spend the dog-days at our cousin’s house in upper Michigan, and it was there where we would watch STAND BY ME as often as we could. The film, which was all about boys being boys as they went off on an adventure, was very much our rallying point, as this Blogger, his brother, and two cousins who were also brothers (just like in the movie, girls were never invited), jumped over fences and went sneaking around in wooded areas seeking something or other (never found a dead body). STAND BY ME spoke to us because the characters were our age, but on a deeper level, the different nature of the characters were exactly how we were; there was the quiet mediator, the rebel, the nut, and the youngest who got picked on. We were the characters from the film, and today, remember those dog-days fondly. STAND BY ME holds up today not only as a nostalgia piece, but as a near-perfect film, where characters with strong backstories (the idea to make them all come from not-so perfect families worked very well), were the driving force in the story. Journeys and adventures are the core of storytelling, and STAND BY ME was the film which told it the best way; through the eyes of youth…while graced with that sad melancholy concerning all things which must pass from this world.

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

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