Animated-film director Don Bluth ("All Dogs Go to Heaven," "An American Tail") once said about the power of movies: "There's a transformation that happens when people go into a theater. They sit in a dark room and the lights and sounds change the way they see things. It's like alchemy."
These transformative properties have lingered in Brownsville for 30 years, with swarms of tourists visiting each year to see the town where in 1985 Rob Reiner shot the iconic movie "Stand by Me." And there is no sign of the spell wearing off.
On Saturday, the Brownsville streets were filled with visitors for Stand By Me Day, which has been celebrated on July 23 since 2013. (It was previously held at different times during the summer beginning in 2007.) The event effectively transforms the town into a movie set; the setting for the classic story of four friends who embark on a summertime adventure in 1959.
Almost like visiting the Holy Land, visitors can look upon the places where key scenes were filmed: the home of Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) and his bedroom window, where he called down to his mother, asking for his canteen. The bridge, south of town, over which the boys, which included Chris Chambers (River Phoenix). Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) and Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), returned from their adventure. The Masonic Lodge featured in the shot where we first see Wheaton onscreen. These are destinations; tangible places where an element of a vivid and life changing story played out for thousands of fans.
Over where Vern found a penny in the street, at Main and Park, there's a real penny embedded in the street, installed for fans to find. One fan, 32-year-old Stephanie Bason of Albany, dashed into the street to snap a photo of the penny with her iPhone. The first time she saw the film was when she was 18, and she said she's seen it more than 100 times since. She's sending the photo of the penny to a friend in California, who she said has seen the movie just as many times and is as big a fan.
In other parts of the town, grown men stroll around with bed rolls on strings slung over their shoulders, replicas of the one Vern carried. It turns out a vendor was selling them, and clearly the souvenir was a hit. Brandon Cruz was carrying one of the bed rolls. He was down from Portland with his young family. At 44, the movie resonates with him as timeless.
Throughout town, cars used in the movie are parked in the spots where they sat during filming.
The transformation that happens, in Bluth's assessment, has added a magic facet to Brownsville, but something else is at work as well. (For example, a YouTube screening of the movie provided research for this story just the night before.) But back when the film came out, people went to see it in theaters. Rather than "watching" movies, people talked of "seeing" them. And maybe the difference is what creates the alchemy in Bluth's description. To see a movie, rather than watch it, is almost the same as to see a UFO or to see Bigfoot. Its a transformative event.
And now, people come to see the town upon which a movie shot 30 years ago left an indelible mark. Quite literally, in fact. The production crew painted the Coca-Cola mural off Main Street, specifically for the film, and they'd assured the town it would wash away after the first rain. But it's still there, after 30 years. And people still come all this way to see it.