"Between childhood, boyhood, adolescence and manhood,
there should be sharp lines drawn with tests, deaths, feats, rights,
stories, songs, and judgments"
- Jim Morrison
One of those classic "Movies That Make Men Cry", STAND BY ME, just started up after the Sunday evening news. And, while I planned on turning in at a decent hour tonight, I'm now here for the duration, ... and off on another one of these damned tangents too because, even if you own STAND BY ME, and have watched it a million times, if you're a guy you just can't not watch it again. Kind of like devout folks who can't bring themselves to turn off a movie about Jesus during Easter weekend. STAND BY ME is one that just gets us all.
Something of a thematically revolutionary film when it opened in the summer of 1986, Rob Reiner's coming-of-age film adaptation of Stephen King's 1982 novella "The Body" arrived at the tail end of an intriguing year at the movies. It was the year IRON EAGLE, TOP GUN, HIGHLANDER, COBRA, RAW DEAL, BAND OF THE HAND, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON, LET'S GET HARRY and other testosterone-fueled films (all of which, with the exception of maybe HIGHLANDER, I have to admit I sill enjoy) were kinda / sorta telling young guys what real crotch-scratching, ass-slapping, butt-kicking, hairy-chested manhood was all about. But by '86 there was also a growing filmic blowback to some of this.
It was still the era of the "ass kicker action hero" of MISSING IN ACTION, RAMBO and (right around the corner) COMMANDO and PREDATOR and more to come. And the wave of "smart guy heroes of the 90s", in films like JURASSIC PARK, ID4, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, THE FUGITIVE and others, was still a ways off.
But there seemed to be a fulcrum shift going on in '86 with a handful of "alternately themed guy-centric" releases from studios. With titles like LUCAS, THE BOY WHO COULD FLY, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, SPACECAMP, and even Walter Hill's CROSSROADS and Wes Craven's DEADLY FRIEND, there was a (for lack of a better term) flip-side to Mr. John Q Ass-Kicker going on - with films featuring somewhat "sensitive young guy" protagonists. Grown men weren't exactly yet allowed to show the more mental and emotional side, but mainstream Hollywood was willing to ease into it gently by slowly permitting younger versions of guys on screen to, little by little, eschew the more grab-ass nature of PORKY's-type fare in favor of allowing more intellectual and emotional characterizations to begin seeping through the cracks of commercial filmdom.
The only problem with many of the "young guy" depictions of the day? Well, as refreshing as they were, many of them were also kind of cloying and wimpy. Yeah, the characters of Ferris, and Eugene from CROSSROADS, maybe had a little edge to them, but the others were still very much the guys who, as much as you respected and loved them up there on the screen, when the lights came up they were still gonna be the last ones chosen for the kickball team, and the losers with no dates for the school dance. Sorry, but that's just kind of how it was. Don't get pissed at the messenger here. I'm just sayin'. To me STAND BY ME on the other hand was the breakthrough film that finally "got it right".
At the climax of that one, when Will Wheaton stands up for himself and his friends (his three put-upon surrogate brothers if you will) , and draws down on psychotic knife-wielding bully Kiefer Sutherland, this was the childhood "coming of age" drama I could personally relate to, as it reminded me of a life-changing showdown with a psychotic-assed bully named Nicholas (he and his brother) in a housing project our family lived in many years ago. And as such STAND BY ME seemed to be the springboard which finally allowed the "smart guy" hero to, not just come of age, but to grow up and command a certain degree of respect.
For better and worse film has always been a mirror reflection, an attendant adjunct, of / to the society in which the film is made. And around the time of STAND BY ME a new breed of (call 'em) "X-Men" were evolving into popular culture, and by extension popular cinema. And this evolving breed came to possess the "super power?" of psychological introspection (without tipping over into Woody Allen-like nebbishness), and the ability to feel pain, remorse, suffering, rejection and regret, while also eventually whupping the bad guy, getting the girl, gaining respect and even saving the day.
|30 year heroic evolution from LUCAS (1986) to LOGAN (2017)|
Over the next twenty years three overlapping generations of men would watch this evolution unfurl on screen, and they'd relate to it. And at times they'd relate to it so much in reminiscence to their own pasts it would break their hearts and bring tears to their eyes. Not that many of you dear ladies would ever know about it. But it was a long transitionary road from the Teflon coldness of Stallone's COBRA to the internally tortured hero that is Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Your guy totally "got it" and still "gets it" though. And watching this stuff on screen over the last few decades has torn him up inside because, larger than life aspects notwithstanding, it's reminded him at times of painful episodes from his own maybe "not larger than" life, ... though he probably hasn't allowed you to see or even know about any of this. But that's always been something of the norm between men and women, hasn't it? Now ...
This bit is going to sound sexist to some, but I promise you it actually isn't. In fact I'm certain many women agree. Most women don't know shit about men, ... though they believe they do. No, they absolutely know that they do. As an example, I live in a South Philly neighborhood where women outnumber men almost 2 to 1. Good 'ol fashioned matriarchal moms and grandmoms of every ethnic and religious diversity. Young single mothers, married ladies, gentlewomen, chicks, broads, everyone. Just like your neighborhood I'd imagine.
And the one thing they all (warning: a blanket statement coming here - but the generalization is to make a point; and you'll get it, and it'll make sense, ... it really will!) seem to have in common is a predilection for letting you know how you should be living your life. This runs the gamut from how to find the "right woman", to the best way to prune your trees or even walk your dog. And as such every now and then I've found it necessary to politely but firmly remind one or more, when they tend to unknowingly cross that "good neighbor" line, and get a little too comfortable offering sincere (if irritating) "life hacks", that a) "I realize you're a woman, which means you think you know everything", and b) if they're the older matriarchs, "... I also realize that as an older woman you think you have a right to say anything", but c) "... You don't, and you don't".
Now, I honestly believe this benign, well-meaning, encroachment is because many women - be it at work, school, the supermarket checkout line, bus stop or wherever, have a tendency to treat, or at least relate to, other men in the same way they treat and relate to the men in their own personal lives - be they brothers, sons, students, boyfriends, husbands, etc. Okay, blanket generalization now over.
"Bones heal, pain is temporary, ...
... And chicks dig scars"
- Evel Knievel
|Equal time to "the guy's point of view" in the underrated HE SAID, SHE SAID (1991) |
from the husband / wife directing team of Ken Kwapis & Marisa Silver
Now, many women will say, "Well, guys don't know shit about women either; and that's for damn sure!". And yeah, you're absolutely right! The big difference however is that the vast majority of men realize and admit this, and tend to chalk it up in that, "Oh, well, some things (and people) in this universe are just unfathomnable" column. In fact there's a wonderfully accurate publication I've seen in novelty shops (and even some bookstores) with thousands of pages; the title of which is WHAT MEN KNOW ABOUT WOMEN. And every page is blank. Brilliant! But this is absolutely not intended to be one of those old-as-the-hills-and-twice-as-grey, and "so old it farts dust" He Said / She Said battle of the sexes things. They're a waste of time and energy.
|Arrested developmentals Demo (Bradley Cooper) and Tripp (Matthew McConaughey)|
in the more "guy-centric" rom-com FAILURE TO LAUNCH (2006)
Uh, uh! The point with this one is to try to build a little bit of a bridge between the genders. And I think one of the best ways to do that is to open up one of the doors to the proverbial "private room" which we all have, and which we generally tend to not allow others to peek into. For so many of us guys I believe many women would be surprised to realize that the room (akin to what Matthew McConaughey's father, Terry Bradshaw, calls his "Naked Room" in the guy-centric romantic comedy FAILURE TO LAUNCH) isn't filled with porn, but rather with movies which make us cry like little-assed kids.
|Why we drink. Why we love. Why we long for what we can't have. Why we make war. |
Why we keep it all bottled up inside. CASABLANCA (1942) - the ultimate men's "secret room" movie.
Years ago in a restaurant, I waited on a group of about 20 female teachers in town for a convention. And when they asked my opinion on why men tend to do certain things, ... as well as why we don't do certain things, my response was to give them a key to the "private room" by saying, "Read Hemingway's short story 'The Three-Day Blow', and rewatch CASABLANCA, ... and really pay attention. Everything you ever need to know about men is summed up perfectly in those two". As teachers they appreciated the Hemingway "homework assignment" as much as they were all also surprised that none of them had ever read that particular short story. I wish at the time I'd also mentioned STAND BY ME and / or Stephen King's novella "The Body" on which it was based, because that's another spot-on "what makes us guys tick" piece which has it down pat. So, if any of those teachers are reading this, here's what we DIDN'T get into that night ...
* FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
Arguably always and forever at the pinnacle of that list of "Movies That Make Your Man Cry" is Phil Alden Robinson's story about the never-ending love / hate relationship between fathers and sons, ... but which cleverly masquerades as a baseball movie. Catch your fella in an extremely honest mindset one evening (or get his ass drunk), and you'll be surprised to learn he's got huge segments of dialog from this movie memorized the way religious scholars know and can rattle off sacred ancient text. He does "Dueling FIELD OF DREAMS" lines with other guys when you're not around, you know.
* LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1994) and A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992)
Hey, brothers are freakin' crazy. It's a weird relationship, but an incredibly important one to every man, ... even if (especially if) he claims to absolutely hate his brother. So realize that, if your significant other has a brother or brothers, then these two films (if he's seen them) eat him up alive on the inside, as they perfectly capture the primitive "I'll hate my brother all I want, but if you or anyone else ever harms a hair on his head, I'll burn down the whole world to get to you" link between male sibs which all brothers just innately understand at birth. It's an unspoken (often unrealized as even existing until it explodes to life) ironic and lovingly psychotic "blood is thicker than water" inborn oath of the marrow which will damn well give Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills character in TAKEN a recurring case of the fearful diarrhetic shits if he ever became the obsessive object of a brother bent on vengeance.
Oh, and along those same thematic lines - two other films which perfectly nail that "certain something" about brothers? Honorable cinematic shout-outs to (believe it or not!!!) Marvel's THOR and the ending of the original RED DAWN - where the two brothers decide to die together at the playground were they used to go to as children. Yeah, man. We still get misty at that ending. And the whole Thor / Loki thing perfectly sums up the love / hate / rivalry / protection aspect we were talking about. This theme is a very trenchant one to men even if it's presented in a somewhat fanciful and larger than life manner. As for RED DAWN, say what you will about the rest of that film, but that ending is also one of the truest depictions of brothers you'll ever see. Go figure, huh?
"... The American ideal of masculinity. This ideal has created cowboys and indians,
good guys and bad guys, punks and studs, tough guys and softies, butch and faggot,
black and white.It is an ideal so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden
- an unpatriotic act - that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood."
- James Baldwin
* RADIO FLYER (1992)
Sorry, can't spend too long on this one because, based on David Mickey Evans' (then) unpublished novel "The King Of Pacoima", RADIO FLYER's an emotional killer. Just say the title of this film to your fella, and sit for half a minute. If he's seen it, he'll get really really quiet. Last year we did a podcast show with RADIO FLYER writer / THE SANDLOT writer - director Evans. And my co-host, Jim Delaney, recalled how every night, while working as a theater usher when this film opened, he'd see men of every ethnicity and economic strata, exiting the theater and making a beeline straight for the men's room while wiping their eyes. Powerful stuff!
* RUDY (1993) and HOOSIERS (1986)
Same writer (Angelo Pizzo), director (David Anspaugh), and composer (Jerry Goldsmith) on both films. On every list of "All Time Greatest Sports Films" these two frequently come in at the very top. But they're actually less about sports and more about family, and about believing in yourself when no one else does. Oh, they're also very much about f**king up your past, and about grabbing a second chance to get your shit together and make things right when the opportunity presents itself. And hey, what man can't relate to that?
|(L) Gene Hackman & Steve Hollar - HOOSIERS (1986),|
(R) Sean Astin & Charles S. Dutton - RUDY (1993)
* THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999)
Essentially John Irving's New England update / combo of Homer's "Iliad" and Dickens' "Oliver Twist", every guy, regardless of how cool, how suave, how in-power / in-control and sophisticated he may be, or how "together" he may appear to have things, totally gets the CIDER HOUSE themes of stumbling through life in order to find yourself; and that yin and yang between needing to break away from your parents, and never wanting to stop having parents. Hard to watch this one and not get choked up, especially when Michael Caine (as Homer's surrogate father, Dr. Larch) dies while Homer's away. Yeah, there's a lot more of that FIELD OF DREAMS "Dad stuff" going on here.
And oh, if we just gave away a plot spoiler, ... screw you! I mean, c'mon, this movie's been around for 18 years, ... and Irving's novel for 32. And if you haven't seen one or read the other by now, then it's not our responsibility to tip-toe around things. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of ripe narrative apples we haven't touched upon in what very well may be one of the most perfect tragio-comedies (not unlike life itself) ever made. Particular kudos to Caine's Oscar winning performance (one of the greatest of his illustrious career), Irving's Oscar winning screenplay adaptation of his own novel (which does the impossible in trimming things down while retaining the emotional guts of the book), and Rachel Portman's heartrendingly lyrical (and now legendary) Oscar nominated music score. A class act every which way. And deserving of every tear it draws from every man in the audience.
* APOLLO 13 (1995) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)
WHAT!?!? Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. But, before you make that face, hear me out. I wouldn't necessarily say these two movies "bring tears to guys eyes", but each has one key sequence where I've heard many guys say, with a lump in their throats, "Yeah, I totally GET that". The sense of agonizing eternal longing in APOLLO 13 when Tom Hanks glances down at the lunar surface through the window of the Command Module, and he finally admits, "We've lost the moon, gentlemen". And in ID4, just after Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum blasts into space aboard the captured alien craft, and Smith, who was turned down multiple times for NASA astronaut training, gazes out the window and says, "I've dreamed about this my entire life". Both capture life-longing wishes - one of which is heartbreakingly dashed, and the other which is heartliftingly realized. Two great emotional sequences to which every guy relates.
And, of course, that which started this whole thing ...
* STAND BY ME (1986)
Maybe a handful of novelists throughout history have simultaneously oh-so-accurately / oh-so-precisely captured to the proverbial "t" that combination of larger-than-life magic and equally deep-seeded dark emotional trauma that is childhood. And I'm talking childhood remembered accurately, and not necessarily as we'd have maybe wished it had been. We may have all wanted THE BRADY BUNCH, PARTRIDGE FAMILY, COSBY SHOW, or hell, even THE MUNSTERS or THE ADDAMS FAMILY. But the more lucky ones among us, even though there may have been a great deal of love, also grew up in that which was considerably more messy, confusing, and at times downright more painful than anything depicted in those renditions of family. I'd say some of the best writers at accurately capturing both the light and the deep dark of childhood have been Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, John Irving and J.K. Rowling. But the Heavyweight Championship Belt goes to Mr. Stephen King.
|The young heroes of Stephen King's IT (1990 TV miniseries)|
Stephen King is a great big f**king liar, because he often pretends his stories are about one thing when they're really about something else - usually those everyday dysfunctional family / dysfunctional society things of which we're all so familiar and to which we all can relate. Below the surface of THE SHINING is a more-terrifying-than-the-ghosts story about alcoholism and physical abuse. DELORES CLAIBORNE covers some of that same territory too. CARRIE is about bullying and Columbine-style school violence, ... and it was so long before that sort of thing was acknowledged as even existing by the mainstream news. IT is about missing children, sexual abuse, homophobia, racism, and how these evils grow when normally decent people "look the other way" and "just want to mind their own business, and not get involved". SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (sorry, the original novella's title is too damned long!) is about spending our lives attempting to escape the prison we've constructed around ourselves. And STAND BY ME (as mentioned earlier based on the novella "The Body") is, for all intents and purposes "Hemingway remembering what it was like to be a 12 year boy".
I remember first reading "The Body" (one of the four novellas in King's 1982 collection DIFFERENT SEASONS - which also included SHAWSHANK and APT PUPIL) and, no b.s., crying my eyes the hell out. And it wasn't (to borrow a hilariously un-P.C. phrase from comedian Dave Attell) one of those "Fat girl 'We're all outta ice cream' kinda crying jags". It was one of those "silently wailing from the deepest regions of your gut" experiences, where you felt years of everything (including shit you swore as an adult had no more significance or power in your life) regurgitating from the belly, into your heart, then finding escape through the eyes - in this case those (rain spattered) windows of the soul.
I remember having to kinda keep to myself for a few days after reading "The Body" because (and this is where the power of those "stories that make men cry" comes from) I was still in the liberating slipstream of that catharsis of "Jeez, all these years I thought I was the only one who ever went through that or felt that way!". When I later saw the film version, STAND BY ME, I was wise enough to first see it opening weekend alone. Y'know, just in case. And that was the right move. Hey, call me an emotional pu**y on this one, but I believe most men, same as I, personally knew EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE FOUR GUYS from STAND BY ME while growing up. They were our closest friends. And more than a few of us were Gordy. We just lived in towns and cities other than Stephen King's fictional Castle Rock is all. And we had different names. Other than that we were all exactly the same as Gordy, Chris, Teddy and Verne. Their pain was ours. Their victories too. And the fact that someone else felt the same things we did, and came out winners in the end, still to this day jacks us all the righteous f**k up inside, ... but in the very best of ways.
We'd be much obliged if you'd understand that, dear ladies. It's not something we can always (nor should we) talk about. But the fact that we want, or may need, to keep it to ourselves doesn't mean we don't feel it, or that you aren't important enough to us to share it with you. There are some things which are just YOURS, and which must be treated sacredly as such. And to expose them to someone else, even someone close, is akin to exposing a cherished, preserved and priceless heirloom found in a hermetically sealed temple, to the modern air, then watching as it suddenly oxidizes and decays. Some things we just can't do.
Make no bones about it, guys can be complex too; just a different kind of complex than you, ladies. Get to know the real us. Maybe read the Hemingway short story, maybe see CASABLANCA again. And maybe even catch a few of the films on this list. And, just like I reminded the teacher conventioneers that night, really pay attention. You just may end up surprised at what you see, ... which actually was always already there the entire time. Anyway ...
STAND BY ME just ended, and one of those "Bosley Hair Restoration For Men" mini info-mercials just came on. WTF!!!
We're just a bit more interesting than that. I promise 'ya.
"But men are men; ...
... The best sometimes forget"
- William Shakespeare