Friday, May 31, 2019

I Know My First Name Is Steven

Not heard of this title before but picked it up at the local library as a filler.  It turned out to be a mini series released in 1989. Emotionally stirring that leaves one unsatisfied.  It suggests repercussions felt today although I suspect there is not a lot of awareness about it. The impact was such I wanted to think about it further and this is my effort.

Based on true events only makes it more upsetting.  In brief a young boy is kidnapped at the age of 7 and is able to escape back to home at age 14.  He had conflict with his parents before the kidnapping and difficult adjustments after his return.  Although the film has a heavy sexual element it is not explicit so you can really feel the pain without the distractions.  We have a very fuzzy understanding of what actually is happening, but it becomes clearer in the second half.

The kidnapper is a pedophile who decides he wants to have a son and picks a victim.  Steven is a loner whose parents are upset with him and in conflict with one another how to deal with him.  On the day of the kidnapping the father has threatened his son with a spanking and the pedophile somehow can identify that the boy is unhappy and a little afraid to go home.  Mr. Parnell, the pedophile does not use violence at all, but tells a story about being asked to take the boy away and offers presents.  Steven had not been told to not get into cars with strangers and has not been taught how to use a telephone.  These last two items have become a necessity for parents fearing a similar fate for their children.

While in captivity, Steven is mostly unhappy, trying to please Mr. Parnell who gives him a fair amount of freedom.  Changing schools a few times to avoid legal complications Mr. Parnell continues the story that his parents don't want him and it is his responsibility to take care of Steven.  A lie is told that the father died and the mother disappeared.  He had four siblings and both Mr. Parnell and a relative suggest that they were too poor to handle five children.

Steven at about age 14 is involved in the kidnapping of another 7 year old and realizes this young boy is about to go through a similar experience.  He decides to take the boy to the police in the hopes that at least the boy could be returned home.  The effort is botched and he ends up dealing with the police finding out he has also been kidnapped and soon are able to return him to his parents.

That takes the first half of the mini series and we are now dealing with Steven and his parents and his siblings revolving around a difficult adjustment.  Steven is embarrassed and ashamed while his parents are guilt ridden, unable to deal with Steven's behavior.

One aspect that bothered me was smoking.  (see  I have been annoyed that so many movies include smoking as a natural thing to do thereby reinforcing and encouraging young people to smoke.  In this movie Steven smokes as early as 9 years as a tool to deal with his dilemma.  Later he drinks, seeks sex and drives dangerously.  He even contemplates suicide and the viewer is made to feel his impulse.

He is teased by classmates and the court outcome is insulting.  Mr Parnell ends up getting a five year sentence (and in reality gets off early).  

After the events of the film, the real Steven Stayner married as a teenager fathered  2 children and goes onto die from a motorcycle accident at age 24.  His one brother was affected (or claims to have been) and murdered four women a few years later adding to the parents horror.

The parents are presented as loving, but conflicted.  The father seems a little unnecessarily harsh before the kidnapping, but afterwards feels very guilty.  He has trouble facing up to his son's sexual activity and for awhile cannot face him.  The mother goes from being lenient to harsh and to making an effort to understand him.

Steven feels guilt.  At one time he confesses he thought he should have resisted.  After the homophobic teasing of classmates he feels the need to have sex with a girl his brother helped set him up with.  Drinking, smoking and reckless driving are ways he copes with his stress.  One girl is sympathetic and he comes to care for her, but displays temper outbursts that threaten their relationship.  She gets pregnant and we are led to believe they get married.

It is infuriating to the viewer that institutions let him down.  He was absent not only for court time, but also he felt uncomfortable at the school.  He was told he had missed so many days that he was ineligible by California law to graduate even if he pulled up his marks.  He did not want to testify in open court, but was strongly urged to do so.  After the humiliation (in front of parents and his girl friend) the accused  Mr Parnell got an unexpectedly light sentence.  Later the law was changed and years later when Mr Parnell was charged again he was sentenced to over 20 years imprisonment.

I had thought too many parents were paranoid, driving their kids a few blocks to school and supervising most of their activities.  Such scary events may be rare, but children need to be prepared.

Movies with this impact are not accidents.  The cast and crew were of high quality to optimize the presentation.

Larry Elikaan, the director has mostly worked with tv series and movies.  "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" were some examples.

The script had input from three individuals.  W. H. Eschols II did much of the research and had suggested the real life story.  Two years later he published a book about what really happened.  J. P. Miller mostly worked with tv films and had won a Primetime Emmy for "The People Next Door."  Also was involved with "Helter Skelter" and "Playhouse 90."   Cynthia Whitcomb was the third  who had a background in television.  As a team they were nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for this film.

The music was not intrusive, but composer David Shire put out an effective score.  He had won an Oscar for a song in the film "Norma Rae."  He was nominated for a Golden Globe with the Bee Gees for the score for "Saturday Night Live."  He was for a time married to Talia Shire who for me will be forever Rocky's girlfriend.

Eric van Haren Norman, the cinematographer had a successful television career.   He won a Primetime Emmy for "What the Deaf Man Heard." and a Daytime Emmy for "The Big Blue Marble."  Maybe better known for "Desperate Housewives" and "The Elizabeth Smart Story."

Two editors kept a long story with lots of potential complications to an effective 3 hours.  David Ramirez was an assistant editor with some prominent movies, "Cabaret" in 1972 and "The Blues Brothers" in 1980.  Mostly done television work including two Star Trek series.  Peter V White another television editor including "Parker Lewis can't Lose."

Corin Nemec, as the 14 year old Steve and the focus of the film had our sympathy as a confused, conflicted youth.  He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for this role.  He had started with "Webster" and went onto a number of tv films.  He was the lead for "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." Other series included "The Stand," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Stargate SG-1."  He has gone onto some directing and writing as well as an executive producer.  Quote from Corin  "Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious."

Cindy Pckett, played the mother and got top billing.  The role called for her to make lots of adjustments trying to deal with her son's predicament.  Her father, Cecil Pickett was a drama teacher at high school and  the University of Houston with pupils that not included his daughter Cindy, but also Dennis and Randy Quaid.   She played Ferris Bueler's mother and ended up marrying the actor who played the father.  Most of her career has been with television including ongoing roles in "Call to Glory," "St Elsewhere," and Hyperion Bay."  Recently saw her in "TeAta."

John Ashton, played the father and had a demanding role adjusting to his son's dilemma.  He has won theatre award and done a stage tour in Europe.  Some movies he acted in include "Beverly Hills Cop," "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "Gone Baby Gone."  Mostly been in television movies and series including "Dallas."

Arliss Williams for some reason was not given screen credit, but played Mr. Ken Parnell, the pedophile, not a role many would want to be identified with.  He was effective, as a persuasive man conning and then abusing a child.

Minor roles were played by Bryan Cranston who later joined with Raymond Cruz in "Breaking Bad." The real Steven Stayner played a policeman in the background when his actor namesake was being taken back home.

Unless you like tear-jerkers you might not enjoy this movie, but I admit I love movies with impact and this one certainly leaves a long term impression. 

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