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My TV Dinner

Every Friday The Social's digital correspondent, Jessica Allen, answers two questions we face every day. What should I eat? And what should I watch? The answer for one is frequently found in the other.

What blueberry tarts and Stranger Things have in common

Jessica Allen reflects on her childhood favourite films, nostalgia, and Lard Ass from Stand By Me

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Stand By Me turned 30 last week: I remember that summer of ’86 vividly: It was the summer my friend, her dog Princess, and I packed up some Red Hots and cold pops and hiked along the train tracks behind my house; the summer that my dad took me aside to tell me that the term “pussy,” which I was using quite liberally — just like the four boys searching for a dead body in the Rob Reiner film — meant more than “scaredy-cat”; and it was the last summer that I just played, right up until the night before Junior High. That first day of Grade 7 I got a rude awakening. Somehow my peers received a memo that we were grown up now, only I didn’t get it. I was 11.

No wonder that the film, based on a novella by Stephen King, is steeped in nostalgia for me. And not for the 1950s, the time period in which the film is set, but for who I was when I first saw it. Same for the creators and cast, who spoke with Variety to compile an oral history commemorating the anniversary. Reiner recalled how the film he directed almost didn’t see the light of day because no one in Hollywood thought anyone would watch it.

Others recollections were more selective: “I do remember from the novel, a piece of information that’s given away very early, is that Chris dies (as an adult),” Richard Dreyfuss, who played the film’s narrator recalled about River Phoenix’s character. “I think it’s one of the ways that Rob improved on the story. You don’t know that until the end and it breaks your heart.”

Only that’s not true. While Simon was at work on Sunday, I re-watched the film, which opens with Dreyfuss in a car parked along a country road holding a newspaper clipping. “Attorney Christopher Chambers Fatally Stabbed in Restaurant,” the title reads.

Memory can be a funny thing, especially when you add nostalgia into the mix.

Take Stranger Things, the new eight-part sci-fi Netflix series that people my age can’t stop watching. Not only does it reference Stand By Me — three boys wander on train tracks searching for their friend who’s mysteriously disappeared — but the actors read lines from the film during their auditions.

And there’s enough allusions to the work of Steven Spielberg — Jaws, E.T., Poltergeist, The Goonies — for a mini-retrospective. I silently observed them Sunday night, when Simon and I watched the first episode of the series, which takes place in a small town in Indiana in 1983: the year Simon was born.

Maybe that’s why he was far more interested in the wild blueberry tarts I’d made that afternoon — possibly inspired, now that I think of it, from Stand By Me’s scene where “Lard Ass” triumphs during a blueberry pie-eating contest — than continuing with the show. So I had no choice but to finish Stranger Things by myself during a holiday Monday marathon. Yes, I was entertained. But the appeal to films from my childhood felt laboured at times, even superficial, concealing outlandish and weak plot points. True nostalgia, from the Greek for “homecoming” and “pain,” doesn’t just toy with memory. It makes you melancholy for a time that you’ll never get back.

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