Every now and then a movie comes along that speaks to you, that defines you. A movie, that as you watch you can not only relate to the characters of the film, you recognize yourself upon the screen.
On this site I’ve told the tales of my first experiences that helped define the movie geek (some say snob) that I am, I’ve shared the story of my first encounter with a shark named Bruce that has become my favourite film of all time. I’ve recounted my first trip to that galaxy far, far away and how it changed everything about my childhood from that point on to this very day. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire, Jedi, E.T., these films still continue to define who I am and are a touchstone for not only me but countless fans.
Patrick Read Johnson’s new film 5-25-77 is going to go down as one of those films for me. I’m going to remember where I saw it, when and who I was with.
At its core it’s a film about following your dreams, and anyone who has been reading this blog since its inception knows Sue and I are doing that very thing.
But 5-25-77 is more than that, it’s a love story about film, about geekdom and an ode to science fiction.
And as Patrick Read Johnson, the film’s writer and director of this autobiographical tale says, it’s all true, except parts that are even more true.
Shown as part of TIFF’s Next Wave Film Festival at the Lightbox, the film follows Pat (John Francis Daley) a lone sci-fi fan in the tiny town of Wadsworth, Illinois (pop. 750), who dreams of going to Hollywood and making movies, a dream he fosters in his own big back yard by shooting films like Requiem For The Planet of the Apes, 2002: The Return of HAL, and Jaws 2. His best friend Bill Holmes (Steve Coulter) helps him out in everything, though doesn’t understand Pat’s passion for it.
As Jaws is for me, 2001 is for Pat. It was the first movie he saw that touched him, that resonated, and created a love for the big screen. In a small town, that can make you unusual, and different, and as it so often does, being different, especially as a teen, keeps you separated from everyone else, it makes you an outcast of sorts, and outside his small group of friends, and a tolerant, if occasionally bemused family, Pat leads a rather solitary life.
He spends evenings sitting in Donny’s car discussing the meaning of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, building models of Eagles from Space:1999, turning his pool into a blood-filled shooting tank, creating special effects, foreground miniatures, and reading American Cinematographer and Starlog magazine.
When love finally springs for him in the form of Linda (Emmi Chen) his love of everything he’s known encounters the pains and joys of first love.
His divorced mother, Janet Johnson (Colleen Camp) never stops wanting the best for her oldest son, and when he comes up against a brick wall, or monolith, in trying to get in touch with his idol, special and visual effects wizard, the legendary Douglas Trumbull, she comes at the problem from a different angle.
She gets in touch with the editor of American Cinematographer Herb Lightman (Austin Pendelton) and as only a mother can, arranges for son to go out to Hollywood to meet Herb and hopefully Douglas.
A visit to Trumbull’s company Future General Corporation leads to a chance meeting with the wunderkind director of Jaws, Steven Spielberg, (Kevin J. Stephens) watching over the special effects shots for his new film Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Meeting both Spielberg and Trumbull leaves Pat literally speechless, but it’s on a visit to a small burgeoning effects company, Industrial Light and Magic that things really change his life. Shown around by effects master John Dykstra (Michael Pawlak), Pat is introduced to X-wing fighters, land speeders, a freighter called the Millenium Falcon, and then is allowed to view a work print of the movie they are featured in, Star Wars.
It changes everything, and returning home, like a traveller from the future, he knows everything is about to change, but no one wants to listen to him. He knows that maybe if everyone sees it, the communal experience of viewing and sharing a theatrical experience like the one of Star Wars, he might finally belong.
That’s a painful concept to deal with, the concept of belonging when you seem to be the eternal outsider. It’s different for geeks now, we’ve all grown up in a world that has allowed geekdom to become more mainstream, but back then, film fans, kids who wanted to know how effects were created and make their own, they lived on the edges of their peer groups. Never understood, creative, but alone.
The version of the film we’ve seen, still a work in progress with some shots still needing color correction, upgrading, or VFX added ran almost two hours, something Johnson spoke about in the Q&A after the film, saying he may still want to streamline it a bit, and while it could be argued to reduce the runtime, I loved its length. I loved the fact that it takes its time telling the story, letting you get to know the assortment of characters that populate Pat’s life.
It also, currently, as it’s a temp soundtrack, has a kick-ass line up of 70s sounds, this is a soundtrack I would buy in seconds, even knowing I already have all of the songs that would be featured on it on my ipod.
There were so many moments that resonated with me personally that I was misty-eyed more than once (it really got me when Pat visited ILM, and also when they were creating the clouds that encircle Devil’s Tower from the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Despite the fact that Pat was a teen when he saw Star Wars, and I was only 6, I totally recognize a kindred spirit in his character. There were moments I recognize from my own life.
As a work -in-progress the frame size changed constantly, and yet, it didn’t seem to steal anything from the film, it actually seemed to be a reflection of Pat’s character conjured in cinematic ways. It would change from full, wide images, to standard-definition middle of the screen smaller ones, there was temporary viz effects, and matting, all giving us an impression of the frenetic, active mind within the character, not a schizophrenic presentation of self, but a reflection of the continual flow of style and images in one’s own mind.
Daley (Freaks and Geeks, Bones) turns in an honest and enjoyable performance, bringing all the joy and wonder one can take from the cinema, the heartbreak of first love, and passion for all the things that make being a geek so cool.
After the presentation, which was greeted roundly with enthusiastic applause, and Sue and I leaned over to one another and said simultaneously, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”, Patrick Read Johnson gave us a Q&A, and much as I did with his character on the screen, I recognized a kindred spirit. This is someone who still loves the magic of movies, even after some less than pleasant experiences in Hollywood, he is still a geek. He regaled the audience with great stories, revelations about the friends he portrayed on screen, and where they actually appeared in the movie. I love stuff like that.
The film is littered with recognizable pieces of pop culture, the spaceship from Planet of the Apes is sticking out of the pond in the backyard, there are models of Japanese Zeros hanging on zip lines over dog cages ready to make kamikaze runs on the battle fleet in the background, Hooper’s torso, a wall of photos of famous 70s creators and directors, Lucas, Spielberg, Henson…
They are hoping to have this film finalized and ready for distribution in time for 5-25-14, but the film is out there, making the rounds if you can find it, traveling festival circuits, being tinkered with between screenings, and showing all viewers that it’s good to dream, and that you can make them come true.
We were also treated to a look at a documentary that was made in conjunction with the film’s touring of festivals and the tinkering going on around it called Hearts of Dorkness, which looks to contain even more geeky goodness, and deserves to be seen as well.
It was an amazing screening, and I’m totally in love with the film, which brings me to my one big problem with it…
I can’t turn around and watch it again right now.
See this movie if you can! Find screenings talk it up! You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan, you just have to love movies, or be a dreamer!
Follow Heart of Dorkness on twitter @DorkHeart , follow Patrick @moonwatcher1, check out the website here… http://www.heartsofdorkness.com/dorkheart/52577.html – Just get out there and see it! You won’t regret it.
Thank you TIFF Next Wave for bringing it to me!
Did you get a chance to see it? And if you haven’t check out the trailer below…