Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Peter T Chattaway

Son of Rambow

17 posts in this topic

Link to the trailer.

Link to the synopsis I posted at my blog back in May ("SON OF RAMBOW is the name of the home movie made by two little boys with a big video camera and even bigger ambitions. Set on a long English summer in the early 80's, SON OF RAMBOW is a comedy about friendship, faith and the tough business of growing up. We see the story through the eyes of Will, the eldest son of a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family. The Brethren regard themselves as God's 'chosen ones' and their strict moral code means that Will has never been allowed to mix with the other 'worldlies,' listen to music or watch TV, until he finds himself caught up in the extraordinary world of Lee Carter, the school terror and maker of bizarre home movies. Carter exposes Will to a pirate copy of Rambo: First Blood and from that moment Will's mind is blown wide open and he's easily convinced to be the stuntman in Lee Carters' diabolical home movie. . . .").

- - -

Instant Nostalgia? Let's Go to the Videotape

Since they function as elegies for a departed medium, "Be Kind Rewind" and "Son of Rambow" differ substantially in tone from most other movies that have prominently featured videotapes and video technology. During its lifetime VHS often symbolized alienation and malevolence, perhaps because video quickly became the medium of choice for pornography and surveillance. . . .

New York Times, January 27

'Son of Rambow' gets optimum outcome

After a year in legal limbo following its splashy $7.5 million acquisition by Paramount Vantage at Sundance '07, "Son of Rambow" is finally ready for release.

Vantage has reached a compromise with StudioCanal in their tug of love over this quirky little British movie by writer/director Garth Jennings.

Vantage has sold certain U.K. rights to StudioCanal's Optimum Releasing; and the French major has dropped its objections over the pic's use of material from "Rambo: First Blood," which it owns as part of the Carolco library.

Optimum, whose topper Will Clarke was after the movie from the start, will now send it out wide in early April. Vantage goes a month later in the U.S. with a platform release. Both hope it could be a leftfield Brit break-out in the vein of "Billy Elliot." . . .

Variety, January 30

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Saw this last night with my priest, who was raised in a Plymouth Brethren family. And for what it's worth, he said the film's portrayal of the boy's family was a very accurate depiction of a certain kind of Brethren sect that he had had some contact with, though it was not the particular sect that he himself had grown up within. The one detail he quibbled with is the scene where the boy tells another boy, "We're Plymouth Brethren! it's our religion!" Apparently the Brethren, in their desire to be as biblical as possible, use terms that are found within the Bible itself, such as "Brethren", but do not use terms that come from outside the Bible, such as "Plymouth". Perhaps, if the boy had been aware enough of his external environment and the vocabulary that OTHER people used to describe his religion, he might have used the term, for the sake of clarity with the person he was speaking to -- but the boy didn't seem quite as "aware" as that.

Me, I'm wondering what year, exactly, this film is supposed to take place in. The IMDb doesn't give UK release dates for any of these films, but FWIW, the film makes reference to First Blood (US: Oct 1982, Europe: Nov 1982 - Mar 1983), The Outsiders (US: Mar 1983; Europe: Jun 1983 - Mar 1984) and Yentl (US: Nov 1983; Europe: Mar - Apr 1984), the first and last of which are seen on the marquee of a British theatre at various points in the story. (The Outsiders is merely alluded to when a French exchange student refers to the Patrick Swayze character from that film.) However, we also see a girl dressed up in what looks, to me, like a Madonna-inspired wedding dress -- but Like a Virgin (US: Nov 1984; Europe: Aug 1985) is of a somewhat later vintage than those other pop-culture references.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We see the story through the eyes of Will, the eldest son of a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family. The Brethren regard themselves as God's 'chosen ones' and their strict moral code means that Will has never been allowed to mix with the other 'worldlies,' listen to music or watch TV...

I am not sure where this info comes from, but it is generally not correct. It may apply to a distant cousin of a more mainline Brethren tradition, but what you see in this film is actually an odd pastiche of Mennonite and fundamentalist Christian postures cloaked in exclusivist Brethrenism. Perhaps the screenwriters had in mind a particular local community of this sort they came in contact with? There are some localized Brethren communities that are similar to what you see in the film, but "the Brethren" in general go to great lengths to distance themselves from such fundamentalist ecclesiologies. (The Plymouth Brethren are historically split into the Exclusive and Open branches. Exclusive "assemblies" are very rare these days, and represent the most conservative/fundamentalist strains of Brethren theology and practice. Open "assemblies" are fairly common, and partake in a baseline American evangelical line of thought. The film's representation of Brethrenism is of an Exclusive variety with a few Mennonite undertones tossed in.)

Saw this last night with my priest, who was raised in a Plymouth Brethren family. And for what it's worth, he said the film's portrayal of the boy's family was a very accurate depiction of a certain kind of Brethren sect that he had had some contact with, though it was not the particular sect that he himself had grown up within. The one detail he quibbled with is the scene where the boy tells another boy, "We're Plymouth Brethren! it's our religion!" Apparently the Brethren, in their desire to be as biblical as possible, use terms that are found within the Bible itself, such as "Brethren", but do not use terms that come from outside the Bible, such as "Plymouth".

I am also from a Plymouth Brethren family (as is Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Aleister Crowley), and agree with these criticisms. No Plymouth Brethren, even the most exclusive, would refer to themselves as a "Plymouth Brethren" - especially in a sermon. I also can't think of any exclusive Brethren church that would excommunicate a family based on the actions of a young son. I suppose there may be some nutball sect out there that would do such a thing, but it would be the exception proving the rule. Additionally, most exclusive Brethren would not have their ladies wear headcoverings 24/7. I also found the relationship between Will's mother and the very frequently visiting elder a bit strange. It would be unacceptable for a man to spend so much time with a widow unless accompanied by other elders or his spouse.

Lots of quibbles here, but this is one of the few times I have been able to actually respond to a flawed depiction of some fundamentalist sect with any accuracy. The Exlcusive Brethren are an aberrant form of Protestantism, to be sure. But I am just a bit confused as to why Will needed to be Plymouth Brethren and not just a "Christian."

Besides all this, Rambow is an excellent little film. It is a great period piece, some of its best scenes soundtracked by the Cure and other classic early 80's English bands. It does a great job of letting us stoop down and peek into the childlike fascination these two young boys have with Rambo as a surrogate father. It does end up limping towards a conclusion, but I didn't really mind.

Edited by MLeary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MLeary wrote:

: I am also from a Plymouth Brethren family (as is Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Aleister Crowley) . . .

Ha!

: . . . I also can't think of any exclusive Brethren church that would excommunicate a family based on the actions of a young son. I suppose there may be some nutball sect out there that would do such a thing, but it would be the exception proving the rule. Additionally, most exclusive Brethren would not have their ladies wear headcoverings 24/7.

FWIW, my priest said that, when he was with the Brethren, he worked with a family that DID require headcoverings even within the house. That family did not belong to the same particular Brethren sect that my priest grew up in, but work with them he did, and I specifically asked him if the headcoverings were part of what they did -- and apparently it was. As for excommunication, my priest said he recognized how the elders came to the house to deal with the issue, though I'm not sure about all the details.

: I also found the relationship between Will's mother and the very frequently visiting elder a bit strange. It would be unacceptable for a man to spend so much time with a widow unless accompanied by other elders or his spouse.

Well, just to play devil's advocate, "so much time" implies that what we see in the film is representative of the whole, when in fact the film might be showing us only a small part of the family's life (or a small part of the elder's life), and it happens to focus on the few times when he was over at their house. :) Beyond that, the widow lives with her children AND her mother (or was it her husband's mother?), so perhaps the elderly woman constituted a chaperone of some sort.

: But I am just a bit confused as to why Will needed to be Plymouth Brethren and not just a "Christian."

To explain why he isn't allowed to watch TV, even in science class, perhaps?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...a family that DID require headcoverings even within the house. That family did not belong to the same particular Brethren sect that my priest grew up in, but work with them he did, and I specifically asked him if the headcoverings were part of what they did -- and apparently it was. As for excommunication, my priest said he recognized how the elders came to the house to deal with the issue, though I'm not sure about all the details.

Yeah, of all the many many "Brethren" I have talked with I found one community in which 24/7 headcovering was a social norm (they still maintained that it was not a theological norm, so not required). This particular community was influenced by a lot of local Mennonites. So I wonder if that is where Brethrenism intersects with such practices. There isn't much recorded history on these matters.

Well, just to play devil's advocate, "so much time" implies that what we see in the film is representative of the whole...

Yeah, all these are points taken. And I guess the main point of his character is that he is a completely misguided attempt at fatherhood. Somehow Rambo is still a better dad than him. (And there is no sense of impropriety at all, I should have been careful not to imply that.)

To explain why he isn't allowed to watch TV, even in science class, perhaps?

But that is more a stereotype of fundamentalist Christian or Mormon sects than Plymouth Brethrenism, Stone-Campbell, or related movements. There is no point at which some unique feature of Plymouth Brethrenism becomes the reason why the filmmakers choose this particular strain of ultra-conservative Christianity than a different one. Everything this kid does as "religion" is more Mennonite in tone anway. Doesn't really matter though - in the long run there are a lot of points of discussion raised by the film as it stands. And I did chuckle every time the kid called himself Plymouth Brethren. I can recall many times as a child getting strange looks when I had to say "Plymouth Brethren" whenever anyone asked me where I went to church. It was a bit of an unfair disadvantage in a culture attuned to how odd Christianity can be.

The film really got me thinking about how many father-figure issues are raised by fundamentalist Christian ecclesiologies. I don't have any hard data on this, just loads of anecdotal experience. Is it that such strict and formalized systems make God so distant from children that they have a hard time grasping what fatherhood is all about?

Edited by MLeary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MLeary wrote:

: Everything this kid does as "religion" is more Mennonite in tone anway.

As one who grew up Mennonite -- Mennonite BRETHREN, in fact! (my cousins were all General Conference, i.e. the more mainline wing) -- I'm sure I must have known some families that didn't allow TV or whatever, but it was hardly the norm, at least during the period covered by this film. (Although one of my former pastors told me that, when he was first assigned to our church in the late '60s or '70s, a member of the church came to his house and saw the TV in his living room and said, "So it's true!" But I think prohibitions against watching TV were common in a LOT of conservative evangelical cultures back then, not just the Mennonites.)

And I certainly never knew anyone who wore head-coverings. It's only now that I attend an Orthodox church that I see women wearing headscarves in church -- but only in church, and never all of the women.

So I'm not sure I could say that what the kid in this film does is "more" Mennonite than Brethren. Especially since, like I say, as a born-and-bred Mennonite, I never experienced anything quite like what this kid experiences, while as a born-and-bred Brethren, my priest DID experience what this kid experiences. That's totally anecdotal, of course, but there it is -- keeping in mind that my priest and I both grew up in Canada (though the Mennonite side of my family consisted of immigrants from Ukraine via Paraguay), whereas the film takes place in England.

: The film really got me thinking about how many father-figure issues are raised by fundamentalist Christian ecclesiologies. I don't have any hard data on this, just loads of anecdotal experience. Is it that such strict and formalized systems make God so distant from children that they have a hard time grasping what fatherhood is all about?

Could be, though in this case the boy's father really IS dead. I wonder what kind of heart-to-hearts he had with his dad before his dad died -- assuming he ever had them at all -- and how they compared to the heart-to-heart that he has with his mother here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Especially since, like I say, as a born-and-bred Mennonite, I never experienced anything quite like what this kid experiences, while as a born-and-bred Brethren, my priest DID experience what this kid experiences.

Ha, this is funny. I was picking up on the Mennonite tones from a Mennonite community in the Midwest I had some experience with. Just goes to show how uncharted these fundamentalist waters are. An historian's nightmare! Regardless, I liked the film's period touches, and the way they depict a fundamentalist kid encountering the early 80's. Another parallel in my case, all the music he hears in the film is scattered about the first non-Christian albums I heard as a kid as well.

Could be, though in this case the boy's father really IS dead. I wonder what kind of heart-to-hearts he had with his dad before his dad died -- assuming he ever had them at all -- and how they compared to the heart-to-heart that he has with his mother here.

I wondered that as well, and found the mother's response at the end of the film to be very gratifying or appropriate.

Particularly in the way she refuses him basic domestic courtesies. It is not some sort of bold feminist move, but rather a clear statement that she wishes him to leave her family alone and go back to his own. She recognizes that his attempt at proxy fatherhood is unacceptable.

But my mind did wander throughout the film to the number of famous recent Christian autobiographies that are occupied with father-figure issues, such as Blue Like Jazz or the recent Franky Schaeffer book. Is the film simply leaving us with the idea that Will will now be fathered by a different culture than the church? That his mother will learn how to guide him effectively through the world unsheltered by the false community of fundamentalism?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just saw this and liked it a lot. It is a bit messy at the end, but enjoyed so much of it I wasn't bothered.

I agree with Peter that the depiction of the Brethren is not very much like the Mennonites in my experience, though I can imagine that there are some Mennonites that have some of these qualities.

I too (like MLeary) enjoyed the soundtrack a lot. I stayed all the way through the credits to hear the Cure's "Head on the Door". At the end of the credits,

we hear Lee telling Will that he spelled Rambo wrong, that there is no w in it.

Edited by Jeff Rioux

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I got a chance to see this film recently in a local theater, and absolutely loved it. I'm not entirely sure about the Brethren/Mennonite touches, because I've not had enough contact with either, but I've spent a lot of time with kids. Lots of kids. From family to working as a counselor at summer camps of various kinds. And one of the things I absolutely loved about this film was the refreshing way in which Lee and Will's friendship was handled.

Aside from enjoying it as a sort of period piece, the way this film captured young childhood, and the sometimes tough growing-up part of it, was great. I'm often annoyed by "coming of age" stories in which the child starts out more adult, anyway, and progresses to depression, cynicism, or mere brokenness instead of maturity. This film let the characters still just be kids-- perhaps dealing with big subjects and wanting to grow up too fast, but kids that still knew how to tumble on the grass laughing, and think that temporary tattoos were daring, and were not yet bothered by what other people might think of their imaginations and art. I really appreciated Lee Carter's desperate desire for a relationship with his brother, his hero-worship of him. My heart broke for Will when his mom spoke to him in the shed about their possible excommunication. No one had to tell him that his lying had created problems-- as small as he was, he knew. He still handled that pressure in a childish way, but he felt for himself and his family.

Overall, I didn't necessarily agree with every point of the outcome, but I'm not sure I needed to. I loved it as a film about kids that was willing to let them still be kids as they grew up a little.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seems to me that both Mennonites and Plymouth Brethren congregations vary widely in the areas touched on here. It varies from congregation to congregation with the PB, and seems to vary from region to region with the Mennonites. The Mennonite Brethren church I attend (have been there about a decade) is pretty much indistinguishable from many evangelical churches in terms of worship and practice, though when you dig a bit deeper into the culture, the heritage / history looms large. But Mennonites in some other places are far closer to Amish, Hutterite, etc - other descendants of the radical Reformation. (The last three churches before this one - each a "plant" of the previous one, I'm not a shop-around church consumer - were all offshoots of the Plymouth Brethren. How odd, for a teenage Lutheran...)

MLeary raised the question about the source of this particular element of the film, and "Why PB?" I couldn't help sensing a lot of autobiography in this film, and therefore wonder if the writer grew up in such a milieu. I also can't help thinking that there was an abundance of small, splintery, "house church" sort of groups through the seventies, whether descended from Jesus People, charismatic prayer groups or more "cultish" strands - perhaps this was one of those slightly idiosyncratic groups. (Remember the house church in My Summer Of Love? More charismatic, actually rang a bit truer to me.)

What was the business with the watches? Does anyone know of this practice of checking your wristwatch at the door? Fascinating.

Quite agree with the response of several people who felt the film lost its way a bit, eventually. Seemed to me that as long as the film was just taking its time to closely observe this boyhood friendship, it was pretty much perfect. Once it got plottier, more screen-writerish and event-driven, it stepped wrong far more often. But a darn pleasing little film.

Ron

PS Of course, Regent College has strong Plymouth Brethren roots. Significantly, it was founded in the seventies as a number of Vancouver PT congregations made big changes toward increased openness and cultural engagement.

Edited by Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Seems to me that both Mennonites and Plymouth Brethren congregations vary widely in the areas touched on here. It varies from congregation to congregation with the PB, and seems to vary from region to region with the Mennonites. The Mennonite Brethren church I attend (have been there about a decade) is pretty much indistinguishable from many evangelical churches in terms of worship and practice, though when you dig a bit deeper into the culture, the heritage / history looms large.

This is definitely true. I spent some time talking with a Canadian PB and learned that there is a very concentrated stream of exclusivist (ultra-conservative) Brethren in various places, and the same was our experience in the UK. It really is just in the US that such communities have all but died out. Long story short, there is much merit to the film's depiction of some exclusive Brethren strain, and thus everyone in this thread is right.

From Garth Jennings on where he got the PB stuff from:

"They're called the Plymouth Brethren. There are communities all around the United Kingdom. I grew up next to a family of Plymouth Brethrens for about 25 years and my wife's uncle Pete teaches at an exclusive Brethren school."

Edited by MLeary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been meaning to catch up with this movie for a while now, and finally got the DVD. Enjoyed it very much, found it progressively engaging, once the various storylines converged. It was a bit chaotic, but ultimately I appreciated not having everything explained.

What was the business with the watches? Does anyone know of this practice of checking your wristwatch at the door?

I have no idea whether any real-life Brethren remove their watches before worship, but I once took part in Cursillo (AKA Walk to Emmaus, Awakening, Tres Dias, etc.) and we were asked to surrender our watches for the weekend in order to better experience "kairos" time and not keep checking on "kronos" time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It was a bit chaotic, but ultimately I appreciated not having everything explained.

Likewise, and I enjoyed the way this haphazard stories provides space for minor characters, such as the mother, to make very important decisions. That scene towards the end where

she kicks out the elder

is a great expression of gender and freedom that balances both Christianity and culture.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Saw this last night and enjoyed it, though agreed that the ending wasn't quite right. I felt that the Pastor mother dynamic was just a bit too Saved which made me think about the other ways in which the film was like Saved and then I had to stop doing that cos it was kind of spoiling the film.

But some great laughs, child performances, and as noted above the interaction between the boys feels very real. My family weren't that strictly religious but I could still relate a lot to what Will was going thorough.

FWIW I think the PB have a greater presence over here relative to other radical reformation groups like the menonites etc. I'm not sure whether the PLymouth refered to is Plymouth in the UK, or one somewhere in America.

And I know someone who wears a headscarf all the time.

Matt

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
FWIW I think the PB have a greater presence over here relative to other radical reformation groups like the menonites etc. I'm not sure whether the PLymouth refered to is Plymouth in the UK, or one somewhere in America.

And I know someone who wears a headscarf all the time.

Yes, Plymouth does refer to your Plymouth, where the "movement" began under the tutelage of J.N. Darby and others. Well, it also popped up in Dublin at the same time, but Plymouth Brethren sounds cooler than Dublin Brethren. Actually, no it doesn't. Now I wish I had grown up Dublin Brethren because it sounds like a football gang.

Edited by MLeary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, Plymouth does refer to your Plymouth, where the "movement" began under the tutelage of J.N. Darby and others. Well, it also popped up in Dublin at the same time, but Plymouth Brethren sounds cooler than Dublin Brethren. Actually, no it doesn't. Now I wish I had grown up Dublin Brethren because it sounds like a football gang.

Actually, it began in Dublin with Darby but the largest and most influential group was in Plymouth.

As has been pointed out already, they wouldn't tend to self-identify as Plymouth Brethren, but my wife's family were once part of exactly the group portrayed in the film, and they do use 'peeb' as shorthand. Of course, they're now out, not in, so they may not have used that while still in. The other thing that jarred about this line with me is the 'it's my religion'. That didn't feel like authentic language. Remember, of course, that Jennings is basing this on his experiences of his neighbours, if I recall, so is not going to be absolutely accurate.

The group is generally known as the Taylorites - they are the most exclusive of exclusive brethren groups. It's not a big group - about 140000 internationally, I seem to remember, but there are some sizeable groups in the UK (far less than there were before 1970 when the leader Jim Taylor Jr was found in a morally compromised position - it was the beginning of the end for many of my wife's family). They have insisted on head scarves for women for a long time - only blue or white. Women are not to cut their hair, men must keep it short. Men are not permitted to wear ties. TVs are out - as is anything that uses radio waves. These days, EB children would not be permitted to be part of mainstream education, though they were in the early 80s (now they're not even allowed to share drainage facilities - I've heard of PB families digging up the road to disconnect themselves from the main sewer - the filth of the world - and installing septic tanks). This looked well-observed to us apart from the watches on the table.

The withdrawing or separating from the family because of the actions of the boy (they would never use the term excommunication) is, sadly, entirely believable. The parent is responsible for the discipline of the child, so waywardness like this would not be tolerated. I think the mother would have been 'shut up' first, though - not allowed to meetings or to associate with other brethren for a period of time.

Anyway, this is all quibbling over details. I loved this film and its exploration of its themes. I liked the slightly over-the-top and surreal portrayal of early 80s UK, the integration of Will's doodles, the casting and much more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Actually, it began in Dublin with Darby but the largest and most influential group was in Plymouth.

That is kind of correct. What we know as Plymouth Brethrenism is the result of Darby coming down and stirring things up among like minded people in southern England. All the splits and so on that define the "movement" are distinctly associated with that area. Darby was a very interesting/stubborn person, and if it weren't for the more amenable personalities of Chapman, Mueller, and others, then the "movement" would have evaporated very quickly. But here I am, true to my heritage, stupidly nitpicking about the Brethren. Great. So your wife was an actual Taylorite? A Raven-Taylor, or pure Taylor?

Anyway, this is all quibbling over details. I loved this film and its exploration of its themes. I liked the slightly over-the-top and surreal portrayal of early 80s UK, the integration of Will's doodles, the casting and much more.

This is spot on analysis. It really captures what it is like to be a young, disinterested member of a conservative religious group like this, living a parallel life fed by the images and stories of a different culture. All that over-the-top imagery, the soundtrack, and whatnot, help us enter the childlike nature of the film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0