The Breakfast Club.
The Lost Boys.
Stand by Me.
I could go on and on, point out movies that some of us may have forgotten, such as Weird Science, or still remember but think are extremely cheesy these days, such as Top Gun. But if you’re around my age, you probably see the common thread here: they’re all 80s movies.
I’ve been revisiting some of them this week, mainly The Breakfast Club and, even more to the point, Stand by Me. I found a copy of that last one at the library (I own a copy of The Breakfast Club) and decided to watch it again, as it had been a long time since I’d seen it.
Both movies are good examples of characters discovering themselves. I hear a lot of people make fun of The Breakfast Club, maybe as being too essentially 80s, or just being a silly movie. But if you’ll really pay attention to it, it’s not silly at all, and just because all the characters are teenagers doesn’t mean they don’t have something to teach us. Each one is a stereotype, but they break outside their molds through the course of their day in Saturday detention, and the payoff at the end of the movie is very moving, as far as I’m concerned.
I suspect that there are a lot of closet fans of The Breakfast Club who are ashamed to admit they like the movie, but I’ll admit it. It’s well-made, well-acted, and just an all-around good movie.
I don’t think the perception is quite the same for Stand by Me. It’s a movie of discovery, too, as the boys evolve over the course of their journey to view a dead body, especially Chris Chambers and Gordy Lachance. They break out of their molds, too, and when I watched the extras, all the actors talked about how much fun they had making that movie.
Maybe it’s retrospect, but it seems to me that a lot of the movies made years ago are deeper than they are today. I’m also sure that someone who grew up on, say, movies from the 50s would say the same thing about movies made in the 80s. Movies change over the decades, and there’s no avoiding that. If they didn’t, they’d stagnate (and there’s a good argument to say that some genres have).
I did a post here while back where I talked about learning from good TV shows. Well, you can learn about story from good movies, too.
Of course, Stand by Me was adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body, and in the interviews that are in the extras, he talks about how it was the first story he did that was outside the horror genre.
Stand by Me resonates with me because I grew up in similar circumstances. I can relate to the rural settings mixed with the small town that was the center of things. And every time I watch the movie (or reread the story), I get this urge to write that type of story myself, if only to see if I can do it. But, as Stephen King says, he wanted to write it for years, too, but had to get out of his own way and let it come to him on its own.
That’s a good lesson right there. I mean, as writers, we get ideas practically every day. The trick is learning to tell which ones to develop and which to just let fly away in the breeze. Or even suggest to someone else. I’ve suggested story ideas to other writers that I felt were more suited to write them, though I don’t know if I’ve ever had anybody pursue one of them.
I may never write that boyhood-type story, and I acknowledge that. If that turns out to be true, I think it would be a little sad, because that’s such a rich source to draw from.
Likewise, I’ve had an idea for a year or two now to try a story that takes place in the 80s. It’s taken on new freshness in the last month or so because my daughter’s best friend has been talking to me on Facebook about some the 80s metal bands that I liked. I guess in the last year or so, she’s really gotten into bands like Metallica and has come to me to educate her on the others. It’s amazing how many of them I’ve been able to dredge up, and it feels good to revisit them, too, because I want my story to center around a couple of metalheads from that time. Revisiting them has also made me think more about that story, and I’ve developed a few more plot ideas for it.
A good example of letting things take their time.
I worried about that for a while, because I haven’t really written much of anything besides letters and blog posts for two or three months now. Any creative person can tell you that that’s a scary thing to have happen. Makes you wonder if you’ve lost your creative talent. It happened to Pete Townsend of The Who back in the 70s when he had a dry stretch where he couldn’t write songs.
I just realized a couple days ago, though, that in the last two years or so, I’ve written damn near four novels and several short stories. That’s quite a creative spurt, when you think about it, so it’s no surprise that I’ve needed to recharge.
It’s starting to come back, thankfully, and I watched Stand by Me in hopes that it might spark something for my boyhood story. So far, nothing, but it’s only been a day or so since I watched the movie.
For those of you who laugh off The Breakfast Club, I challenge you to view it again and look past the trappings of the 80s and I think you’ll see how timeless it really is. Sure, the music and clothing styles are dated, but look at the story, man. Pay attention to the subtleties at work there. And if you can get the Flashback Edition, watch it with the commentary from Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall. You’ll get insight that I think will make you appreciate the picture even more. The way each character evolves is something to watch, and you’ll probably rediscover the movie for yourself. I watched it with commentary for the first time and learned a lot of things I hadn’t noticed before.
There are a lot of shallow movies out there, no doubt. But every now and then, you discover one that you thought was shallow is actually a very good, deep movie, with a lot more going on under the surface than is immediately apparent. These are the ones we can learn from as writers (and often be jealous, or at least envious, of), with a way of incorporating subtleties that we can hopefully pick up on.
Besides, a lot of them are just plain fun to watch.