Release: August 22 1986
Director: Rob Reiner
My first recollection of Stand By Me was seeing it in a magazine – Top 100 Movies of All Time. It came in somewhere around the 20s, and the accompanying picture was the one above, of Vern (Jerry O’Connell) pointing out Ray Brower’s dead body. I wrongly assumed that the boys shown were ‘the bullies’, and that’s all the thought I ever gave it (having perused that list many, many times) until my older brother mentioned having to study it as part of a coming-of-age thing. I must have been 11, if my brother was in year 9. Dad was an avid Stephen King lover, he had all of his books and had read them each more than once, so was pleasantly surprised when my brother mentioned off the cuff that he was studying this movie called Stand By Me at school. “Stephen King wrote that,” Dad said, “it’s a short story, you would like it too, Max.” My brother agreed, “Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool, man.”
“Stand By Me? About a bunch of boys on an adventure? Sounds gay if you ask me.”
The very next weekend we were at Dads we went to Whitcoulls, and lo and behold, the Stand By Me DVD is sitting in a bargain bin. Dad and Jed immediately grab it and show it to me, while Dad slips it in to his other hand to meet the other movies we’d be adopting – the “I’m buying you” hand. I don’t know why, but the fact we had just bought it made me even stronger in my fight to ward off this “gay” movie. The slipcover gave me all sorts of material, while Dad smiled to himself and shook his head knowing somehow that I’d end up eating my words, “If you say so…”
“River Phoenix? River Phoenix? That’s a person’s name? Should be Stand Bi Me they all love each other so much. Ugh, set in the ’50s? How boring. Oh look, a treehouse! Wank.”
I imagine at this age I was trying extremely hard to shed my ‘innocence’ because I can’t fathom how anyone who knows me, let alone me myself, could ever make a convincing argument that Stand By Me isn’t up my alley. I even found myself at that stage leaving Star Wars behind, an ever present source of wonder for me, no matter how hard the devil playing Eminem on my shoulder had tried to convince me otherwise. I even think part of it was pure bloody-mindedness. I didn’t want to like it partially because these people just assumed I would; how dare they!?
Dad and Jed put it on when we got home, to prove me wrong. Jed didn’t mind because he truly had enjoyed watching it in class – that was soon to change. And Dad didn’t mind because he hadn’t seen it in years (plus, he collected all the movies based on Stephen King’s work too). I remember the opening sequence with the older Narrator sitting in his car by himself and the score behind it thinking “Pfft, this so isn’t me”, but as soon as the cash register “chings” and we see Gordie’s face for the first time I was in 1959 Castle Rock, and I didn’t want to leave. I still tried to appear weary and not fully sold, but I wanted their lives and I felt honestly duped that I wasn’t able to experience it. At the end of the 90 minutes, they both looked at me exaggerating their points. See!? See!?
I saw. I skipped forward which took me straight back to the main menu of the DVD and again I clicked play. I watched it three times that day, back to back. And when my little brother joined us another weekend, we watched it multiple times then, too. And twice the next day, and the next day – hence Jed’s eternal sigh whenever it’s brought up.
Stand By Me quickly became, and still is, one of my favourite movies of all time. I don’t have an ordered top ten when it comes to movies or music because I feel like I’m being mean to any one who isn’t number one, they all deserve it. Stand By Me, the song, is also one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.
When I first saw Stand By Me it became an instant favourite based on its own merit. The writing, the acting (especially by such young boys), the soundtrack, everything comes together in a completely dynamic and perfectly subtle way to create a real, living, breathing world. You feel like you are experiencing this adventure as opposed to watching it, and it’s only at the end when we are reminded that the ‘narration’, and the story itself, is in fact just The Writer recalling it, and yes, it isn’t real – Richard Dreyfuss is an actor. Hearing Rob Reiner, or even Stephen King, discuss the film in interviews, or the special features which would often bridge the gap between viewings, it becomes clear that it not only epitomises their childhoods and their understanding of coming-of-age, and rites of passage, but once you step back like they are you realise it pretty much epitomises coming-of-age in general. Stephen King who is famously weary of people adapting his work (see: The Shining), has gone on record to say it is his favourite adaptation of any of his books, regardless of noticeable differences in content. People see themselves in the boys and can relate to at least one, or all, of them in a totally personal way. The characters created are so vivid and real that it’s hard not to relate – when you’re watching it you ‘choose’ a character and they’re you’re guy for the duration of the film, you feel like part of their gang.
Stephen King born in 1947 loved it, when it came out in 1986 people loved it, my little brother born in 1996 loved it, I loved it. Film itself does age, it is a physical thing that deteriorates in quality with time, but it also is something that has been in a constant state of improvement ever since it was invented. Stand By Me’s age doesn’t take away from the impact for even a second, which is something that can’t necessarily be said for all ‘classics.’ I would put its emotional impact, even just enjoy-ability, up against any movie, not to mention those that have access to all the state-of-the-art technical bells, whistles, and top talent.
Sure, Stand By Me isn’t like anything filmed today – those ways are mostly redundant – but the content is timeless and could hold its own against anything from ancient Greek poems, to 4k movies so life-like that any emotion less than a close-up of a quivering tear duct slaps the medium in the face.