Original release: March 25th, 1983
Running time: 113 minutes
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, S.E. Hinton
Cast: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane
Nothing Gold Can Stay: 00:40:00 to 00:42:14
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1993, we’d just returned to school after the Easter break and while English class wasn’t everyone’s favourite, today I was looking forward to it to see what we’d be reading for the rest of the term. As we took to our desks Miss Kitt issued the worn out paperbacks, one to each student. I turned mine over and read the title on the front cover, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.
Although we barely got started that day, I asked if I could take it home. Miss Kitt knew I was an avid reader and extensive writer, even back then my essays, stories and reading lists were all I lived for even though I was a painfully slow reader. I liked to pour over each word if it was something I was enjoying.
That night I couldn’t stop myself. I lay in bed and instead of savouring each page slowly as I read it, I found myself devouring the story within one night. The next morning I handed the book back to Miss Kitt, she asked if I would like to keep it longer, I replied “thank you, but it’s ok, I read it all last night” and I handed her my assignment as well. She said she thought I would finish it early but not that early. Then she lent me her videotape of the 1983 movie and wrote me a note explaining it was for school, knowing my folks at home would have a problem with me sitting idly at home watching television on a school night.
It was really a surreal experience and it became something I would always remember as it was one of those rare instances when a film visualised everything I had imagined while reading the book. Not only did it capture that golden glow I saw in my mind, but also those magnificently tender moments that rebellious youth seemed to hang so precariously on in a story of social divides, parental negligence and substitute families in an almost all-male environment.
There was no doubt about it, if I were growing up in Oklahoma in 1965 I too would have been have been described as coming from the wrong side of town and if I had a crowd to run with I’m pretty sure it would have been the Greasers, although like Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), I don’t think I’d be carrying a switchblade in my back pocket or be looking to rumble with the Socs. No, we’d be watching sunsets, reading Gone With The Wind and reciting poems:
~ Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay (1923)
It’s my favourite moment in the story. After Ponyboy and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) are jumped by a gang of trouble-making Socs, Johnny finally can’t take it any longer and pulls out his blade to save his friend from being drowned. With the leader lying dead in a pool of blood, the pair go on the run, hiding out in an old abandoned church. One evening Ponyboy watches the sunset and Johnny wanders out to join him.
It’s in that moment, as the silver and gold explodes across the sky around them, Ponyboy realises the meaning of Robert Frost’s poem and recites it to him. There’s a gentle breeze in the air and it softly blows their hair back as they stand there in awe of the simplicity and beauty of the sun dipping beneath the horizon. Despite the awful ugliness of their situation, life can be beautiful.
In their book, American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture, Neil Campbell, Alasdair Kean draw a comparisons to other works such as J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Rebel Without A Cause (1955) where characters like Holden Caufield and Jim Trask yearn to exist in a space beyond the adult world. The world they make for themselves though is riddled with violence, gangs and other divides. Like with Rebel when Jim (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) escape to an abandoned mansion in the hills, Ponyboy and Johnny find that same seductive pull of the outside in their abandoned church, away from the social situations that mould and impose their values on them.
As dense as I’ve always been when it comes to poetry, Stay Gold was one poem I got right away. As I reached my teens people on the outside commented on how serious and introverted I had become. The boisterous boy I had once been was now withdrawn, moody and spent a lot of time staring off into space, lost in daydreams.
They put it down to “just being a teenager” and to a certain extent they were right, but there were things going on I couldn’t talk about. I longed to leave the house I didn’t call home and even though school was a miserable place to spend the day, it was the safest place I knew but I soon grew so unhappy and frustrated there as well that I took to spending those hours instead at the library or sitting on the rooftops of the tower blocks and looking out at the wet grey city that spread hopelessly for miles. I tried to hold onto those moments that Holden, Jim and Ponyboy had come to realise were fleeting but nevertheless important for survival, and to ‘stay gold’.
With his luminous close-ups in this scene, Coppola creates a mood with his use of colour but even without those gold, orange, and soft red hues, as Ponyboy recites that poem it reminded me of George Stevens’ A Place In The Sun (1951).
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor lay bare their emotions after escaping out onto the balcony, away from the prying eyes and eavesdropping ears of partygoers. Once there, they plan another escape from the world of parents and their rules of society that would keep them apart.
Although I no longer sit on those rooftops, I still look out at the sunsets, glad that I not only managed to escape everything I wanted to, but carved a world for myself where divisions and falsities didn’t claim me. There’s a part of me that I know will always stay gold.
Hinton, S.E. (1967) The Outsiders, Viking Press
Campbell, N, Kean, A (2006) American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture, Routledge
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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