PEEPS! How is everyone? Welcome to another Friday and another jaunt with me through the realms of fandom, wherever they may take us.
This week, we’re crossing boundaries again, from fictional to real world, and seeing how a fandom from a beloved 1980s movie interacts with the past and present, all at the SAME TIME. No, for realz. This is not a space-time continuum crazy situation. It involves, rather, the strange nostalgia of those of us who experienced the magic of The Goonies back in the day and who take our Gen X selves to the location where the movie was set.
And because I am one of those thus affected by this movie, I had to merge my past and present fandoms and experience The Goonies in a whole new way.
To that end, I was recently in the Portland, Oregon area with fellow author and Women and Wordster R.G. Emanuelle. We were there to visit Jove Belle, who is my co-admin here at Women and Words, and while we were in this awesomely beautiful part of the country, I dragged R.G. with me 90 miles away to Astoria, Oregon, surely one of the most picturesque places for your jaded eyes, yes?
This was probably my third trip to Astoria, but it’s the first one I’ve made as a fan, and it is a different experience, walking and driving through it and seeing locations from a movie that was one of your absolute faves when you were a teen.
Though I’m not a resident of Astoria, and I only spend a few hours at a time there when I visit, it’s a weirdly familiar place because some of the places in the movie still exist. They may have been face-lifted, if you will, but you can still walk around and remember the scenes in the movie where a particular building may have shown up. So though I don’t know this town, I found my way around — simply because of The Goonies.
Historically, Astoria is a port town where the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean meet, so you get some crazy and horrendously dangerous currents in the area. So much so that there’s a stretch right offshore known as the Graveyard of the Pacific (aka the Columbia River Bar).
Because it’s a gateway to the Pacific, You’ll see giant ships powering past the Astoria piers, making their way up the Columbia toward Portland and back again. Astoria also “feels” like the Pacific Northwest. For those who live there, you know whereof I speak. It’s a certain vibe and ethos that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. For outsiders like me, it’s an undercurrent of adventure, tinged with the almost melancholy pull of the sea and the mystical earthiness of the preternatural beauty of the mountains and the mists that often encircle them. Anything could happen here, your gut tells you. ANYTHING.
So it makes sense that a movie like The Goonies would be set in the Pacific NW, and that it was set in a town like Astoria, which is a cross between fishing village and western frontier, with hills that rival some of San Francisco’s and houses that retain the historic Queen Anne architecture of their initial construction. The Goonies taps into a supposed history of the area, and pulls you into an adventure the likes of which has probably lured most people since their childhoods.
Pirates and treasure, friends. That’s the heart of The Goonies. The soul is the group of kids who go in search of the treasure, beset by various dangers and the outside threat of losing their homes to development.
The Goonies was released in June, 1985. I had just graduated from high school (SHUT UP I KNOW I AM OLD LEAVE ME ALONE AS I NAVIGATE MY 14TH CHILDHOOD) and I love me some movies that have pirates or pirate themes. Nobody really knew what to expect from this movie, as it was kept seriously under wraps during filming (and ha ha no social media to leak stuff on!) but Steven Spielberg wrote the original story and Richard Donner directed it, so I figured back then it had to be decent — though this trailer…omg wtf how much does it suck? SUPER MUCH!
Fortunately, despite the trailer, I loved this movie so much that I went back the next night to see it again. I was still living in the town where I graduated, and the town theater only showed movies, like, Wednesday through Sunday, and it was only an evening show each night. No matinees. So I went Saturday night and then again Sunday because LOVE.
The movie opens in the town jail, where a guy is found hanging in his cell as if he’s committed suicide. The guard goes in and it’s all a ruse. Jake Fratelli is the guy hanging, and he’s totally faked his death so he can overpower the guard and bust on out of the jail with the help of his brother, Francis and their mother. This is the Fratelli gang. A police chase through the town ensues and the Fratellis, in a Jeep Cherokee, race past locations where “Goonies” are engaged in various things — that is, the kids who are from a local neighborhood known as the Goon Docks and stick together. Goonies is used as a derogatory term by the country-club set in this movie, but the kids themselves wear it with pride.
Here. The opening scenes (and credits) introduce you to the characters and the Fratelli part of the plot.
So one of our intrepid Goonies, “Chunk” (the heavy kid) observes this car chase and he’s totally excited about it and he wants to tell his friend Mikey, so Chunk rides his bike on up to Mikey’s house to tell him all about it. Mikey already has friends over, including “Mouth” (the smartass) and “Data” (the gadgeteer). Mikey’s older brother Brand (in high school), is in charge of keeping an eye on things until their mom gets back.
Here we find out another driving theme in the movie: the “Goon Docks” neighborhood, where Mikey and a lot of his friends live, is being foreclosed on for expansion of the local country club (uh-huh — we get the class warfare going, too). So yes, there are some oily businessmen involved.
It’s a gray, rainy day and they go upstairs into the attic to kill some time and because Mikey’s dad is also a history buff, there’s a lot of interesting things. And there they find a treasure map that just might lead them to the riches of One-Eyed Willy, a legendary pirate.
Suffice it to say the map gets Mikey’s brain churning. If they had this treasure, they could save the Goon Docks. So he and his buddies trick Brand so they can leave the house and they race away to start their quest for the pirate treasure, which takes them first to a derelict restaurant on the coast where, coincidentally, the Fratellis are holed up. It’s here that they discover there’s another Fratelli brother, but his family doesn’t care much for him and they literally keep him chained up in the basement. “Sloth” will end up on the Goonies adventure, and become a good buddy to Chunk.
Brand, meanwhile, has to find his brother, and he ends up in the company of Andy, one of the local high school cheerleaders (who is also being pursued by the son of one of the developers), and her BFF Stef (the requisite geeky nerd girl with snark galore). Brand and Andy have the hots for each other, which lends the film a sweet little romantic undercurrent (and the perfect ship name: #Brandy) as the Goonies end up on one last adventure that will take them into catacombs beneath the coastal cliffs filled with traps set by One-Eyed Willy while chased by the Fratellis. And yes, there is a pirate ship in the movie and yes, every pirate fantasy you ever had will come alive when you see it.
The Goonies became a cult hit with a whole generation and every one of us can (and often do) still recite lines from the movie (“Goonies never say die” is one of my personal mantras) with all the right emphases. It resonated for any number of reasons — a group of loyal friends sticking together through scary situations; the scrappy band of funny, rowdy, down-to-earth kids from the wrong side of the tracks trying to maintain their self-respect and dignity in the face of foreclosure; a pirate treasure map that leads them on a wild quest through booby-trapped catacombs; a gang of bad people on their heels…this is everybody’s childhood adventure fantasy come to life, told through a misfit group of kids that probably looked a lot like the ones you hung out with.
The good: pacing, great plotlines, everything tied up at the end, great characters and dialogue. The bad: The “special effects” at the end are totally not that special given technological advances. And yeah, some of it is dated and yes, it does play on stereotypes.
Chunk, for example, is always eating or talking about food and the way Mouth engages with him in the beginning feels like fat-shaming. And then there’s Data, the Asian kid who’s really good with gadgets. And Brand, the jock. And Jake Fratelli, the Italian criminal who sings opera when he works. But when you watch the film, you feel that there’s genuine affection between these kids, and that they push some buttons because they know they can, and they know their friends will push back and will tell them if it’s out of line. That’s a great basis for true friendship — accepting each other’s flaws and good points, and letting you know if you’re screwing up. Even Mouth has a moment of introspection and we realize he’s a sarcastic jerk because there’s real pain that he’s hiding, and he, too, is affected by what’s happening with the Goon Docks.
But when you watch an older film, you have to take into account the tech available at the time, and the context in which the film was made. This was an escapist film during the Reagan era here in the States, and the generation it spoke to — Gen X — was the first generation that was not going to do better economically than its parents due to a number of factors beyond anybody’s control. We were probably the first latchkey kids, who didn’t have a parent home when we got done with school for the day. A lot of us were also children of divorce, so we formed support networks with friends who also didn’t fit in or were disaffected in whatever ways.
It’s not an accident, thus, that the Goonie kids are always hanging out with each other, and that the parents are always seen working or aren’t seen at all. That was a reflection of social, economic, and political shifts occurring during that era, and they had profound effects on us down the line.
For teens like me, who already had the power of the geek and obsessed over pirate tales growing up, this movie was a dream come true, especially since the young women involved were right in the thick of it. It wasn’t the best power grrl rep (and watching it now thirty years after the fact makes me wince sometimes), but it was nice to see that gender didn’t really come up that much as a barrier to being on this adventure, and it was nice to see one of the “popular girls” interested in a not-so-popular guy. I loved how these kids truly were a bunch of misfits and outsiders who accepted each other, flaws and all, and worked together to solve the mysteries of the map. Geeks, every one of them, and they spoke to the geek in all of us.
I thought about all of this as I wandered around Astoria, which is becoming kind of a hip little artsy town, with breweries and distilleries, though the rough edges of the Goon Docks remain. The woman who owns the house that Mikey and Brand lived in shut it down last year because thousands of fans were showing up at all hours and some were not as respectful as others, leaving behind trash and not picking up after their dogs. I’d get tired of it, too, if I were there, but I did feel a pang about not being able to get too close to the house for a selfie, so I had to settle for a quick crap shot (in case you’re interested, here’s a close-up).
I also dragged R.G. down to the piers, which show up briefly in the beginning scenes of the movie, and give you a little taste of what life might be like for people who live in a town powered largely by the water near which it sits. The piers look a lot different than they did in 1985, obviously. One of the owners of the Pilot House Distillery (super good spirits, friends…in more ways than one) downtown told me that within the last few years, for whatever reason, people suddenly “discovered” Astoria and a whole bunch of people showed up and bought up buildings in the downtown area that had been standing vacant and basically created a tourist destination.
And yeah, they also capitalize on Goonies mystique, though that is not even the only movie or TV show that’s ever been filmed in the area. The jail is now a “museum” where you can go and actually make a movie of yourself and whoever is with you. There are a few different sets to choose from, including a pickup truck, so you can sit in it and do a chase scene or something comparable. The jail part was interesting, because they’ve left up photos and information about its history prior to the Goonies — I like knowing that the town celebrates its history separate from the one the movie created among fans, which is why R.G. and I spent some time exploring the magnificent George Flavel house, which also appears (briefly) in the movie.
Flavel, a sea captain, was one of the major movers and shakers in early Astoria, and according to accounts, he wasn’t a big ol’ rich asshat and instead was beloved by the town because he did a lot for it, including starting up a pilot business — that is, he helped pilot bigger ships through the treacherous waters in the area. He made a fortune, and worked to make Astoria a booming community. He was a visionary, and when he had this house constructed, there was no electricity available in the area yet, but he knew it was coming, so he had the house wired for it so when electrification finally arrived, he’d be ready. Sadly, he only lived in the house for seven years before he died of pneumonia, but the house passed on through the family. It was almost torn down for a parking lot, but locals saved it and it is now owned by the local historical society.
I like to think that’s a total Goonies story, right there. A rundown historic house being threatened with foreclosure and eradication for “progress” but scrappy locals persevere and save it. I think Mikey and the gang probably would appreciate that.
Maybe that’s why this movie resonated so much with so many. The heroes were considered “outsiders” by “progress.” They were “misfits,” the kids who maybe got bullied in school, who came from the wrong side of the tracks, but who banded together and persevered and ended up in an amazing adventure.
This movie spoke to those of us who never felt we fit in — the geeks, dorks, and nerds. And anybody who always felt “different.” It showed us that those things were worth celebrating, worth banding together for, worth taking that leap into one more adventure.
So to all of you who came of age with this movie like I did, I salute you. To those of you who discovered it later, you’re in the pack, too. And for those of you who have yet to discover it, well, there’s always a place for you in the Goon Docks.
Happy Friday, all. And remember: Goonies NEVER say die!