Wednesday, 30 September 2015

"For it is money they have and peace they lack..."

SPOILER ALERT! But you should have seen this film by now, so it's yer own fault.
"This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. 
It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. 
Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

Most of us are familiar with the whole "If you build it he will come" quote, but "Field of Dreams" is a whole lot more than that. I recently watched it again whilst on holiday (having not seen the movie for at least a couple of years), and I realised something very odd happens every time I view it.

"Field of Dreams" grows in importance the older you get.

That's not to say it held no value when it was released. It was an instant classic back in 1989, comparable to "It's a Wonderful Life" in terms of emotional fantasy. But I believe it to be a far deeper, richer experience.

On the surface it's an easy-going, "gentle" movie with deep sentiments running through it. It made me cry the first time I saw it - I was fourteen, and desperately trying not to blub in front of my Dad (who was also blubbing). A large part could be down to the late James Horner's heart-tugging score,which perfectly captures the emotion of the story. But it has the same effect every time I watch it - and it is intensifying with age.

Why does this film grow in importance the older you get? Having turned forty this year, this 'landmark age' forced me to take stock of where I'm at. What I've achieved. Where I've been and where I'm going. Lots of questions, confusion, self-doubt, sorrows... Things which "Field of Dreams" addresses with great perception.

So what is it about?


O Ye of little faith...

Or: Believing in something when the louder voices are telling you 'NO'.

The story opens with Kevin Costner's Ray Kinsella (his best performance) hearing a mysterious voice in his corn fields whisper "If you built it he will come". Ray eventually deduces that he should turn a large chunk of his land into a baseball field. Of course.

Struggling with mounting debts and the possibility of losing everything, Ray embarks on a journey of faith, of taking huge risks and the likely conclusion of falling flat on his face with nothing to show for it. 

Ray's fears are represented by the 'bad guy' of the story - his brother-in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield). Except Mark, in reality, isn't the bad guy. He's the voice of reason. Everything he has to say about Ray's seemingly foolish decisions is, on the face of things, sound judgment. Mark believes he is doing his best to protect his sister and niece.

But Mark is solidly grounded in unbelief. He's probably never taken a crazy chance in his life. What could have been 'the bad guy' role, Busfield never strays too far into being unlikable. As much as you're rooting for Ray, you can fully understand Mark's reasoning.

During a make-or-break moment, Ray has Mark in one ear informing him the bank will foreclose on his property, counter-balanced by one of the finest speeches in cinematic history.

Faith, in human terms, often makes very little sense. Knowing whether to push on or when to quit never gets any easier. Should you fulfill your destiny; be the person you were meant to be, even if it means giving up your dream for something more rewarding?


Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham
We just don't recognize life's most significant moments 
while they're happening. Back then I thought, 
"Well, there'll be other days." 
I didn't realize that that was the only day.
 On his quest, Ray meets elderly doctor Archibald Graham - an ex-ball player who was full of dreams as a young man, but turned his back on his love of the game for a more noble profession. In one of the many magical story beats, Archie - as a young man - hitches a ride with Ray and Terrence as they drive home. By this point Ray is a dab hand at going with the flow, so he takes young Archie back to the baseball pitch.


Following a dramatic turn of events, Ray's daughter is knocked unconscious - and only one man can save her. Young Archie has to make the same decision again. He knows that if he steps off the pitch, it's over. No going back to living the dream as a ball player. But it's a decision he has made before, and he does it again. Crossing the boundary, young Archie Graham transforms into old Doc Graham; sacrificing his dream to save a life. But the other players - heroes that he aspired to be - congratulate him for his sacrifice. Being recognised and appreciated by his peers is Archie's "reward".

Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within... 
y-you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close 
to their dream and not touch it. God, they'd consider it a tragedy.

Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... 
now that would have been a tragedy.


The story has its share of characters that are burdened by life; the life they thought they wanted, or by the person they thought they were meant to be. James Earl Jones plays Terrence Mann, a reclusive author who resents his legacy as a 60's radical, when his childhood dream was to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. 
Later, Ray explains to Mann what caused the rift with his father, John Kinsella: Baseball. After an argument with his Father, Ray refused to play catch again. A decision he still regrets. Intentional or not, John imposed his love of baseball onto his son - but all it achieved was a breakdown in their relationship.

 I've been told over the years -  by women - that "Field of Dreams" holds a lesser impact for female viewers. They get it, they like it - but it's a film that's 'okay for men to cry at'. At the heart of the film is a father/son relationship.The story opens with some backstory about Ray's upbringing; how his relationship turned rocky with his Dad, and how Ray went off and did his own thing.

 Ray Kinsella:
 "Mom died when I was three, and I suppose Dad did the best he could. 
Instead of Mother Goose, I was put to bed at night to stories of 
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson. 
Dad was a Yankees fan then, so of course I rooted for Brooklyn. 

But in '58, the Dodgers moved away, so we had to find other things 
to fight about. We did. And when it came time to go to college, 
I picked the farthest one from home I could find. 
This, of course, drove him right up the wall, 
which I suppose was the point."
"If you build it, he will come" might be the line that everyone remembers. But what it's really about is the other two lines of dialogue the magical 'voice' whispers:

"Go the distance" and more importantly - "Ease his pain."
 Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It's the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

At the end of the film, Ray finally has peace. Heaven isn't a tropical island or a place of luxurious indulgence - It's a playing field, playing catch with his Dad. But this personal gift from heaven isn't the end. People, in their thousands, begin to arrive at the field; all searching for their own peace.

The story resonates more the older I get, for all of these reasons I've mentioned. And as if it has a life of its own, it will continue to grow in relevance.  Some films entertain, some educate. And some are a gift.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

"There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie..."

Wes Craven was not only one of the masters at creating these rules - but he also broke them.

Following the sad, untimely loss of film director Wes Craven, I've spent some time reflecting not only on his work, the man himself, but also the impact he had on my film-upbringing - which naturally pumps the blood of my writing.

I'm not a fan of horror films per se - that's not to say I've not seen my fair share, but for most part I find them repetitive and a bit pointless (other than to scare the pants off you). It also took me a good few years to realise that if I don't like being scared, it's probably best not to put myself in that position! (Having grown up with two older brothers, there was always that thing of stepping outside your boundaries to prove how cool 'n grown up you were... I was neither, but that didn't stop me trying. Fool.)

He's... er.... They're behind you!
My first introduction to Craven's work was 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Actually, my first introduction was Barry Norman's "Film '85" - a particular show closed with teenager Nancy being chased up marshmallow stairs into her bedroom... "It's just a dream! It's just a dream!" - Cue Freddy Krueger exploding through her bedroom door. What was THAT about?! 

At that time a relative of mine was working for CBS FOX video, so we were always borrowing preview tapes of movies - and soon enough, we had Elm Street. And boy was it scary to a ten year old. (TEN!) It was around this point that I'd become a special effects fan - in the space of a couple of years I'd seen FX masterpieces like "The Thing", "Alien", "An American Werewolf...","The Terminator"... and Elm Street was packed full of amazing visuals and exciting, original, catchy plot ideas. Even back then I could appreciate how the story moved - the story-telling is tight, pacy and full of imagination - even though I wasn't consciously aware of such things like story structure.
It's just a man leaning into a wall of spandex. Nothing more. Oh no.

This week I watched the documentary "Never Sleep Again", which follows the genesis of the 'Nightmare' films, from the low budget, humble beginnings with the first installment, to the, well, low budget-yet-increasingly successful sequels.

It's a fascinating watch, and if you have ANY interest in movie-making or story-telling: You have to watch it. Even if you don't like horror, it's a mine of brilliant stories and information about the process of making a film. (View "Never Sleep Again" here:)
ALWAYS listen to your kids!
Whilst watching the documentary, I began to view the story of the first Elm Street from a totally fresh perspective (I've not seen the movie itself for years). I don't think, until now, that I had fully comprehended Nancy's parents storylines. Being a Dad with two kids, the thought of not being able to protect my kids, but also having been responsible for creating this monster in the first instance really does pack a punch. The psychology behind the 'sins of the parents', who turned vigilantes in order to protect their own kids is one that I fully get. But when the monster returns, the only thing the parents can do is lock their kids in the house and put bars on the windows - ensuring no escape. Much like the later "Scream", Craven sympathized with and understood teenagers very well: They were the ones fighting against the control of the adults. They were not taken seriously by their elders. Grown ups were not to be trusted.

Craven hated censorship. He rebelled against his upbringing - which was restrictive in every possible area. From watching and reading interviews, it's evident that he also had issues with adults; how the young could be put in jeopardy by the lies of 'grown ups'. The inspiration for Krueger came from a 'Hobo' that young Craven had spied from a window. The 'Hobo' passed by, looked up and caught Craven's eye, scaring him off. Young Craven returned to take another peak - the 'Hobo' was still there. His eyes loomed in a threatening manner. The 'Hobo' was taking pleasure in scaring him.

The subsequent 'Nightmare' movies were products of their time, and it's fair to say they progressed into quips 'n kills; surreal ideas that were increasingly outlandish yet far removed from its more psychological beginnings.
Randy explains it all...
And I think that is one of Craven's biggest talents: He understood the psychology of fear. There was always something else going on with the plot and characters, should you wish to dig deeper. Especially in his later works like "New Nightmare" and "Scream", Craven was looking for ways to deconstruct fear. It's a shame that in the final week of Craven's life, his direction of "Scream" was criticized - to me, and a lot of film-fans, "Scream" is not only a masterpiece (not overlooking Kevin Williamson's amazing script), but Craven's direction was genius. There's a vitality to it. He was clearly having a lot of fun (at least that's how it comes across - although it is known that the producer was breathing down Craven's neck for the first few weeks until he saw a cut of the opening scene). "Scream" has a fantastic cast, it's funny, edgy, and certainly inspired me to write my own comedy/horror television scripts "Backstabbers".
Neve & Skeet learn all about corn syrup usages...
Audiences had grown wise to how movies work. "Scream" heralded the era of 'spoilers', as the internet elbowed in on the game. By the time "Scream 2" came to fruition, the fans were way ahead of the film makers. Even the unfinished script leaked on-line, which would be enough to drive any film maker to despair. But Craven had navigated many hiccups throughout his career: thinking-on-his-feet and at times making compromises.

Directing Kristy Swanson on "Deadly Friend".

New Line Chief Bob Shaye insisted on HIS choice of endings for the first Elm Street. "Deadly Friend" was meant to be Craven's own "Starman" (much like when John Carpenter made a departure from scares) - but test audiences felt let down because it wasn't another 'Elm Street': Meaning the gore quota was upped, and the movie became something completely different. Personally I would love to see Craven's "Deadly Friend" (originally titled "Friend"!!!!), because there was quite a sweet film lurking within, especially in the first half an hour.
Robot +...
... + Teen Girl, times by test screening meddling =
Whilst "Swamp Thing" was campy yet fun, and "Shocker" was an attempt to create another Krueger but didn't quite get under the skin. "The People Under the Stairs" is a dark, satirical fairy tale allegory on Regan-era class division and racism involving demented landlords that kept zombie-esque people locked up - yep, under the stairs. The unexpected twist here is it is the "monsters" that must be rescued and set free. They are the innocent victims of the story. A final mention goes to true-story drama "Music of the Heart" - Craven's one departure from scares, and his only film to receive Oscar nominations.

Oscar-nommed once more, Meryl celebrates with a jig...
Innovative, original, and from a lot of accounts a gracious man, Wes Craven delivered his final shock on the 30th of August, 2015. Film critic Kim Newman summed things up perfectly on Twitter:

"Wes Craven reinvented horror at least four times - 
most directors don't even manage it once."

Sidney Prescott: But this is life. This isn't a movie.
Billy: Sure it is, Sid. It's all a movie. It's all one great big movie.
Only you can pick your genre.