A cult classic
I have a question for you. What are your favorite recent movies? The first customer said: "Somewhere in Time", the second: "The Elephant Man", the third replied: "Somewhere in Time" - familiar conversation in the summer of 1981, as we were selling cable TV services, door to door, in Plymouth - Canton Michigan. Both movies were soon personally viewed.
"Somewhere in Time" features playwright Richard Collier, who has a bizarre encounter with an elderly lady, then gets obsessed with a photo of Elise McKenna, a famous stage actress of the early 20th century. Both events become amazingly connected. He eventually succeeds in travelling back to 1912 to meet McKenna.Credit: en.wikipedia.org
The screenwriter is the prolific Richard Matheson, who had previously written 1975's "Bid Time Return", which captured serious attention of producer Stephen (Deutsch) Simon, and was re-named "Somewhere in Time".
A seldom seen movie togetherness
The entire cast had worked a labor of love in making this low budget, four million dollar movie. Teresa Wright, incredibly successful as a terrific young actress of the 1940's said: "I fell in love with the story". Christopher Reeve, looking to avoid more action movies, added:
"The notion was so magical - it would work". Jane Seymour revealed: "The role inhabited me. I was obsessed with it. I have to do this. This is someone I know". Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer felt that "I always did like movies about time travel, and books about it too".
Jeannot Szwarc was the French - American director entrusted with engendering the "magic", but was in need of a composer. Seymour suggested the renowned, top of the list, John Barry, who Szwarc proclaimed "would never work for what little we can pay. We can't even ask".
Seymour offered: "I'll talk to him. He's a friend". John Barry read the script. John Barry signed on. Years later, Scwarc stated that "Barry was a major contribution to the movie. Rachmaninoff----It was magic. It worked perfectly.
The secretive actress that made it all possible
There wouldn't have been a "Somewhere In Time" if there had never been a Maude Adams. Writer Matheson had seen her photo at Pipers Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada, and "creatively fell in love with her".
Reeve proclaimed: "There are moments in real life where a picture transfixes you and you want to know more".
Maude Adams had been the most popular and most charming actress of her day - an exceptionally articulate lady, with a stranglehold on the English language - and also married to her career. She was certainly a match for Jane Seymour, with looks just as striking - but sadly, her reclusive private life couldn't have been anywhere near as fulfilling as Seymour's fantastic overall journey.
When you focus on Maude's big, beautiful brown eyes, it's easy to believe what author Ada Patterson perceptively noted in 1907:
"There is suggestion of this isolation in the set melancholy of her face which is pensive and thoughtful in repose and haunted as if by some secret even when radiant with her sweetest smile". Indeed, there was a secret- at the end of the video.Credit: www.thefedoralounge.com
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The magic was Grand
"Somewhere in Time" was shot on location, at the 24 square mile Mackinac Island, in Michigan, with most scenes at the historic Grand Hotel, built in 1886. Christopher Plummer
had referred to the hotel as "a real actor in the story - one with more experience than all of us".Credit: Jim addie
All cast members and crew were forced to travel by foot, bicycle or horse & carriage - as no cars are allowed on the island. This only served to elevate the overall closeness and comradery, which was already exceptional. "A total family experience", as Scwarc put it.
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The film flopped in 1980
The movie had reached American theaters in 1980, to very little publicity and fanfare because an actors strike had legally eliminated promotion of the film, by its major stars, Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. Eminent critics were also savaging the movie.
Vincent Canby, New York Times, October 3, 1980:
"Somewhere In Time", which does for time-travel what the Hindenburg did for dirigibles. The music is largely by Rachmaninoff, whose "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" is played more often than sanity can easily accommodate".
"...We keep getting distracted by nagging doubts, like, isn't it a little futile to travel 68 years backward into time for a one night stand? The movie surrounds its love story with such boring mumbo jumbo about time travel that we finally just don't care".
"But there are never any scenes that really deal with the romance between Reeve and Seymour - and incredulously, the movie avoids the opportunity to exploit in their relationship the fact that Reeve is from the future".
Thirty three years later, Roger Ebert's review seems almost incomprehensible. Every movie, other than a documentary, includes "suspension of disbelief" - the ability to pretend that action heroes, for example, can escape bullets and death probably a hundred times in two hours.
Every single situation comedy involves words, one-liners, action and stunts that would never be seen in real life anywhere.
In 1980, "Somewhere In Time" was a failure at the box office. It had a run of a few weeks only. Producer Steve Simon, on video, has explained that given these facts, a movie dies a quick death - never to really be seen again. He literally cried and cried thinking he was an abject failure in bringing screenwriter Richard Matheson's vision to the big screen.
How did this movie gain momentum?
Amazingly though, no one quite knew how - but "Somewhere In Time" began catching fire in popularity - due to relatively new cable TV proliferation - coupled with huge success in video cassette rentals, another new phenomenon.
The film was decidedly not "Gone With The Wind", "Dr. Zhivago', or "The Sound Of Music". Reeve was not the macho, above-the-fray Clark Gable, or the suave, sophisticated Omar Sharif. It was not a complicated film, with breathtaking landscapes or lightning - like action.Credit: flickr.com
Simon explains: "The spirit of this movie, the soul of this movie - the heart of this movie lived on". Reeve, now in a wheelchair said: " It was rescued by cable, it became a cult classic. It was hard to see it get trashed in the beginning and incredibly gratifying to see our belief in it turned out to be justified".
It is now Sunday, August 6, 2001, 36 days before 9-11. The scene is the refurbished Redford Theater, on Detroit's west side. It is historic, dating back to 1928. The day is festive, alive. The theater is packed for a special viewing of "Somewhere In Time".
The host is Jo Addie, who had bit parts in the movie. She is now president of the movie's fan club. The only other movies with fan clubs are "Gone With the Wind", and "The Wizard of Oz" - heady company indeed.
Soon something is heard for the first time, from the lips of Jo Addie, who is standing on stage; 50% of the viewing audience that loves this movie is men! Really, how many other romantic movies or "chick flicks" can claim this?
How this film can really reach you
It's time to sit down and watch the film. Things are so different from 1981 - 20 years ago. This is the BIG screen - right in your face - not TV. You have a 14 year old daughter along this time too.
In no time at all - oh how different. Bits and pieces, maybe chunks of your life are intersecting somehow with Richard Collier's - and it's all overlaid with John Barry's ethereal, haunting, intoxicating web of a music score. Sand blasted sentimentality is coming right at you. The reservoir is being tapped but you don't even know why.
If you are in your 40's, 50's, 60's...so much has happened to you. Parents, relatives and others have departed. Other people have arrived and departed. This is like a physical exercise program, hardly fun - but rewarding, only this time it's emotional and psychological exercise; truly a subterranian operation.Credit: chrisreevehomepage.com
Who knows? At some very deep level, one may even be contemplating that soft spoken, sensitive, superlative human, Christopher Reeve, looking right at you - the one who actually became the man of steel - trapped in a wheelchair - but sturdy as concrete, in his relentless pursuit of a better future for spinal cord victims. Who knew? You certainly didn't know, on this day, that he had only three years of existence left.
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Why men fell big for this movie
Christopher Reeve, as Richard Collier, was the perfect gentleman, from start to finish. It may well have been his best acting performance; filled with subleties and naturalness. Collier was what so very many men saw in themselves. When he had chances to capture his "perfect woman", Elise, he was entranced, but ever so polite, occasionally a bumbler - as you would be if you went back in time. His kindness and sweetness became evident when he met the little boy "Arthur", who he originally knew as an aging man.
The tension of the drama was always underlying and everpresent. Would this union of man and woman materialize, and rightful universal karma be honored? We want to believe in another dimension. We want to believe in the glorious.Credit: flickr.com
Reeve was the one driving this story. As Collier, he was obsessively consumed in the planning, plotting and reaching for his woman of the ages - the perfect preordained fit. He was doing it as we all could do it - but on a much higher scale. In our personalized portrayals of Collier, we could be just as happy, just as thrilled as he was - but in our own little downsized worlds.
Much of the male viewing public also knew that it was too late for them to be where Richard Collier stood. They were "married forever", or "spoken for forever", or just embroiled in life's obligations. They would have to live thru Collier who would do it for them - and they most gratefully did for the two hour duration.
Whether they realize it or not, this is the way that so many men would want to fall into their "perfect match" - merely trade time travel dilemmas for other impediments, obstacles or boulders to overcome.
The man of my dreams
Jane Seymour, meanwhile, had possibly the most riveting and powerful scene of her long illustrious career. This was the "theatre performance" or "soliloquy" - now famous to "Somewhere In Time" cultists.
She didn't really want to do the scene, having apprehension about succeeding - but fortunately the director wisely intervened. You see, the 29 year old Jane Seymour had never been in love before! Amazing but true.
To this point in the role, Elise had been somewhat aloof and uncertain in interacting with Collier - coming to grips with forces that were unknown to her. In the priceless three minutes of "The Man of my Dreams", she is saying the things that millions never outright say to each other. She's doing it in the guise of a 1912 stage actress, in a play, decidedly, but deliciously, deviating from script. Collier is sitting in the audience - as she stares right at him.
Comfort in knowing they would be immortalized
Many of the major players have now passed on - Christopher Reeve in 2004, Teresa Wright, 2005, Bill Erwin, 2010, John Barry, 2011, Richard Matheson, 2013.
Erwin (96), played the lovable hotel porter, Arthur, and was a seasoned character actor. He had exclaimed: "I love people. Nobody is a stranger to me".
Illustrious composer John Barry, (77), was a winner of Five Academy Awards. He had done 11 James Bond movies and scored bigtime with "Out of Africa'.
Barry's soundtrack for "Somewhere in Time" was not one of these Academy Awards - but it was his all time best selling score. It outsold all of his other soundtracks combined.
Master story teller, Richard Matheson (87), was a writer of 22 novels, and did volumes of TV work too. He considered "Bid Time Return" ("Somewhere in Time") "one of the two best books he's written".
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The fan club prevails
Those folks won't ever be forgotten. In 1990, Bill Shepard created a fan club. It's called INSITE - The International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts. Shepard's goal was to keep the movie alive, and honor it, along with all those responsible for making it. There are magazines, publications, and of course, a website.
Every October there is an annual "Somewhere in Time Weekend", at the Grand Hotel. Everyone dresses as they would have in 1912. Permanent new friendships are forged, many planned events transpire - hopefully surrounded by the "magic" that one would expect.
Also every year, actors from the movie have been in attendance, including Christopher Reeve in '94, and Jane Seymour in 2002. There have been 22 of these weekends.
Seymour had called Reeve "her favorite actor" - and she didn't really have actors as friends. "Somewhere in Time" is her favorite movie that she appeared in.
Christopher Reeve also speaks
Jo Addie - The keeper of the flame
Jo Addie did what all of us wished they could do. In the summer of '79, her and husband Jim had scheduled a trip to the Grand Hotel, coinciding with the making of "Somewhere in Time".Credit: Jim Addie
Jo, with her communicative ability, pleasant personality, and movie star looks - was headed for the movies! She was "discovered" and became an extra for a variety of scenes in the movie.
Addie went on to spend three weeks on the island, becoming friends with Reeve, Seymour and countless others. She was able to fly in Reeve's plane, and their little group went bowling because it was too cold for water skiing.
Really, she was included in many, many off camera activities and conversations. Addie called it "too wonderful for words".
In 1996 she took over as president of INSITE, and Jo has been the ambassador and curator for all things "Somewhere in Time", for a long while now.
The movie and enterprise that generously allowed her to be a part of it all in 1979 - was being paid back - in spades, for decades to come.
"Isn't it nice to know that something that didn't cost a lot - that had everyone's creativity, enthusiasm and love put into it that - that this little jewel not only still exists but is still brilliant and shines to new generations to come - that's what's exciting!"