The Goonies – 1985 – dir. Richard Donner
I’m a fairly serious film fan. Call me a cinephile, if you like, or go ahead and call me a film snob (I can take it.) I spout opinions and trivia like nobody’s business. I read heady, theory-based film criticism for fun. I get persnickety about aspect ratios. I can, on occasion, be a lot to take.
But before I was a cinephile, I was simply a movie lover, a kid who got high on the movies and gobbled them up voraciously, in whatever form I found them in. That often meant that they were formatted to fit my screen, and sometimes meant that they were unceremoniously censored; or interrupted by commercials; or jumpy and pixilated, subject to the dangers of broadcast television, the whims of the weather and the UHF signal. I was a child of the eighties and nineties, reared on videocassette tapes and the cinematic menus offered by local TV channels. (On WSBK 38 it was “The Movie Loft;” on WLVI 56 it was “Boston’s Big Screen.”) The effects of videocassettes and of TV broadcasts were similar: they lead to repetitive viewing patterns, and thus, fans who could quote their favorite films (and even some of their not-so-favorite films) at the drop of a hat. I grew up in a generation that didn’t just speak about movies; we actually spoke movie, exchanging remembered lines of dialogue in a kind of half-coded language. Movie lovers, like me, and like most everyone I remember growing up with, don’t just watch movies, or analyze movies, or judge them. They absorb them.
When I think about Richard Donner’s 1985 adventure film The Goonies, it’s near impossible for me to approach it as anything other than a movie lover. I first saw it in grade school, when my older brother insisted that we rent it because it had been blessed with our favorite video store ‘s ultimate seal of approval: a starburst-shaped orange sticker that deemed the movie “Worth Seeing!” After The Goonies had unfolded, with its booby-traps and its pirate treasure and its misfit kids saving the day, my brother and I vowed that we would never to doubt a “Worth Seeing!” sticker’s validity.
By middle school, The Goonies was a constant on local television, and my friends and I were mildly obsessed with it. I tuned in every time I noticed that it was on, and I knew that my friend who lived just down the street would be doing the exact same thing. Somewhat unexpectedly, I still found myself braking for The Goonies when I was in college, and I knew that my friends who lived just down the hall in my dorm would be doing the exact same thing.
The next time that you find yourself in the company of eighties and nineties children who speak movie, try this: mention Chunk and his Truffle Shuffle. Mention Sloth and see how many people launch into their best impression of him. You’re likely to find that you’re not just in the company of people who speak movie. They actually speak Goonies. They will tell you that “Goonies never say die,” or, in the words of Cyndi Lauper, that “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough.” Like fellow eighties faves The Princess Bride and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The Goonies has endured in popularity as both a movie and a kind of social phenomenon, a source of instant in-jokes and shared slang for a generation of movie lovers.
The Goonies is now a quarter century old and bumping elbows with Fellini and Fred Astaire on the Brattle’s summer schedule. It is undoubtedly and object of nostalgia for the grown-up kids who can still spout off lines from it, but there’s something new in the equation now. Some of those grown-up kids have kids of their own now, and they’re apt to bring them along to a screening and pass on the obsession. When I go into serious film fan mode, I start to think about the sense of shared experience that has made Goonies an instant ice breaker. I think about the limited video store selections and the local TV stations that helped make Goonies happen, and I wonder if our current proliferation of media – too much of it for anyone, and so much of it discovered and consumed alone –will deny kids born five or ten years ago the chance to find a Goonies of their very own. I hope not. In the meantime, I’ll probably always brake for Goonies when I’m channel surfing, and I suspect that many of my neighbors will be doing the same.