Sunday, October 8, 2023

Pennywise: The Story of It (2021).

This is what happened.  According to Bev Vincent,"While (Stephen King, sic) was working on The Stand, he had another experience that was the seed for another long novel many years later.  In Boulder, the family vehicle was an AMC Matador, "an admirable car right up until the day when its transmission just fell out onto Pearl Street."  Two days after the car was towed to a dealership on the east end of the city, King received word that it was ready to be be picked up.  Rather than call a cab, King decided he needed the exercise and walked the three miles to the dealership, eventually ending up on a narrow unlit road at twilight.  He recalls the moment vividly: "I was aware of how alone I was.  About a quarter of a mile along this road was a wooden bridge, humped and oddly quaint, spanning a stream.  I walked across it.  I was wearing cowboy boots with rundown heels, and I was very aware of the sound they made on the boards; they sounded like a hollow clock.  I suppose I should have thought of Randall Flagg, since I was all wrapped up in his life just then, but instead I thought of the story of Billy Goats Gruff, the troll who says, "Who's that trip-trapping on my bridge?' and the whole story just bounced into my mind on  Pogo-stick.  Not the characters, but the split time-frame, the accelerated (narrative plot line) that would end up with a complete breakdown, which might result in a feeling of 'no time', all the monsters that were one monster...(and) the troll under the bridge, of course (80)".

Early on, near the start of this documentary, King is shown elaborating on this brief moment of fairy tale inspiration.  According to the author, after having the image of the Troll from the Brother's Grimm, story flash into his mind: "I thought, "Wouldn't it be a scream if something just reached up now and grabbed me; and pulled me down there, and that was the last anyone heard of old, Stephen King".  To me, it sounds a lot like the rough sketch for a scene that was actually filmed half a century later on as part of a film called Troll Hunter.  The filmmakers there utilize the old folktale idea for the purposes of mere parodic satire, however.  That work (while fine in its own right), nevertheless is unable to display the same level of creative inspiration comparable to the idea that King had that night way back in 1979.  The whole creative idea may have been kicked off by recalling the Troll Under the Bridge, in an old wives' tale.  However, this was just the initial spark point.  The initial flare sent up from the workshop of the artist's Imagination.  Another way to state the whole truth of that ancient situation is to claim that even the Bridge Troll proved to be just another masque for the true entity at the heart of the story.

In fact, it's very much as King comments on that initial moment of artistic inspiration in the documentary.  "The incident stayed in my mind.  And over a period of five years I would come back to that, and come back to that.  And little by little, I began to evolve a story.  Until now it's developed into a novel".  Vincent continues: "The book that developed from these notions is It, which King thought of at the time as his magnum opus and the end of a phase - the last book he intended to write about supernatural monsters and kids in jeopardy.  "The book is the summation of everything I have done and learned in my whole life to this point," he said.  Every monster that ever lived is in this book.  This is the final exam (ibid)".  It was first released onto bookshelves everywhere on Sept. 15th, 1986.  I would have been about one or two years old at the time.  So I would and yet wouldn't have been around to enjoy the initial impact that book created.  Like a lot of 80s kids who arrived too late on the scene to enjoy the ride, I instead wound up having to play a makeshift game of catch-up with that novel.

From what I can now tell, it didn't take long for the book to cement itself as part of a very specific item
of pop-cultural history.  It wasn't just that this story of monsters and children was a best-selling success story.  It was also in the way it quickly seemed to go on to help frame the nature of 80s entertainment in general.  Part of the reason a lot of us 80s kids look back on the decade of our formative years with such fondness is not just because of nostalgia.  It is just possible to make a legitimate case for the level of artistic quality that was churned out during the years when Michael Jackson was the reigning King of Pop.  A lot of it comes down to one crucial factor.  The 1980s seems to have been the last great rebirth of literary Romanticism since the days of Coleridge, Dickens, and Mark Twain.  It was kind of the natural enough result of the birth of the Counterculture, and then that same culture taking the reigns of artistic production for one brief moment of time.  This is the best explanation I've been find for why there was such a growing number of films, books, and even TV series formatted towards the fantastic genres.  Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy all seem to be the go-to genres for a Renaissance.

Hence, you've got your Star Wars, of course, along with films like Back to the Future, and Bill and Ted.  In addition, though, you also find this fundamentally Romantic strain working its way into the corridors of the straightforward dramas and comedies of that era.  Nowhere is this more on display than in the films of John Hughes, who pretty much single-handedly helped codify the notion of what an ideal life in the 1980s was or could be with films like Pretty in Pink, or The Breakfast Club.  This was the collective zeitgeist that King first stepped into, then was taken up by as he first began his career in the 1970s.  By 1986, he'd graduated from the role of a journeyman novelist to pretty much being among the Big Names who helped to create our notion of what an 80s childhood was like, at least in terms of the entertainment we all consumed back then.  Much like Steven Spielberg did first with movies like E.T., and then afterwards with Poltergeist, and The Goonies, King became, or has become one of the authors you turn to in order to get a sense of what life was like back then.  Let's put it another way.  If Spielberg if the poet of suburban dreams, then King was the teller of American nightmares during that decade.

Both King and Spielberg have since gone on to become kind of like the standard bearers for both the light and dark contrasts of that time period, and all the terror and wonder that could sometimes go with it.  Looked at from this perspective, it really does seem as if the publication of It might have been one of the keystone texts that helped set the tone for what the 80s would become first as a lived experience, and later a part of history.  I also think the timing might have been ideal in another way.  Just the year before, Rob Reiner had sent his film Stand By Me (an adaptation of yet another King novella) out into theaters.  And it was already on the way toward becoming another key 80s text, in a matter of speaking.  It was one of those films, in other words, that was fast becoming an entree in the Pantheon, for lack of a better word.  So when King released a novel that contains many of the same themes and ideas in a more fantastic mode of expression, it was very much like all the stars aligning at more or less the right time.

The growing juggernaut of King's success during this period did not go unnoticed in Hollywood, either.  By now, King was also becoming something of a mainstay on both the big and small screens.  So once the studios got a good look at what It was reaping in terms of sales figures, it all became the standard story of how "money talks", and everyone saw dollar signs in the potential of turning the author's monumental novel of fear and childhood into some kind of a film adaptation.  The result and fallout of these creative efforts is the story being told in the documentary Pennywise: The Story of It.  Both the book and the miniseries are among my favorite works, so now is a good time to look back on it all.

An Inadequate Historical Summary.

This whole business really seems to have begun with two elements: a screenwriter and a phone call.  In the beginning (after King's book, anyway), there was Lawrence D. Cohen.  And Cohen was a Hollywood player, and verily, the player had already made a name for himself in the industry by the time the fateful call rolled around.  "I had written Carrie" as Cohen remembers.  "That had put Steve King, Brian De Palma, the actors, and me on the map.  In a way that I became a go-to for Horror adaptations".  Among the other credits Cohen has to his name is another King adaptation, The Tommyknockers, and what can charitably be described as at least an attempt at tackling Peter Straub's Ghost Story for the movie theater.  "I got a call one day", Cohen says, "from my agent in Los Angeles.  Who said he's been approached by producers who'd set up a new Stephen King project at ABC as a novel for television.  And was I interested in that?  The next day, the doorbell rang.  (It was) Federal Express at the door.  The guy is carrying the most humongous package I've ever seen.  I took this unwieldy, bulky, piece from him, and was about to close the door.  He said, "Hang on a minute.

"And he went back to the elevator and came back with these two, giant containers.  Containing the type manuscript of It in it's earliest stages.  I sat down and read the opening with young, Stutterin' Bill, and baby brother Georgie.  And what turns out to be a horrible demise at the hands of Pennywise in the sewer.  I went, 'I'll do it'.  From there, things shifted quickly to ABC television headquarters as the production started getting off the ground.  "We went in for a first meeting with the network", as Cohen recalls.  "And the executive vice-president of movies and for television, and she looked at me.  She looked at me, and said, 'Tell me.  What is It'?.  I said, 'Well, It's an inter-terrestrial beast that has come down eons ago, and has the power to screw with kids minds, and attack their worst fears'.  And she looked at me.  She nodded, and she said, 'Yes, but what is It'?  So, I nodded and went, 'Okay'.  And I tried another answer.  And she asked me, I don't know, five more times.  I looked over at the producers, and went, 'I'm in hell".  It should be noted, that's the kind of scenario any creative type is going to be up against if you want to work in Hollywood, and it never gets much better than anything like that.

For a moment, there, it seemed to Cohen as if this whole thing just turned into just another Hollywood bust.  That's been the major catch in Tinseltown for some time now.  Ever since the passing of the torch from the older studio heads, in fact.  It used to be the major hurdle was putting up with an assembly line process.  Then it was all a matter of getting business suits averse to taking risks to put up good money in the hopes that your project will be able to "make bank", as they say, at the box office.  Now it's all devolved to the point where Hollywood seems to be on it's last legs.  I'm starting to wonder if we might be in a transition period.  One where the focus is going to shift more or less entirely onto a crowd funded, indie filmmaking scene?  That seems the most likely outcome, if I'm being honest.  I just wonder what this means in terms of all the big tent pole franchises, and what their fate will be in an era where everything will most likely have to be on a smaller budget?  This was, in fact, sort of the same fate with the Pennywise adaptation.  After that disastrous meeting at ABC Cohen was flying home.

"I was coming back home to New York.  I'm sitting on the plane, and I see a guy with his back to me reading what is clearly the cover of my script.  It's Bob Iger, who was the head of all of the programming at ABC.  And he ripped through night one.  Went through his briefcase.  Pulled out night two.  Ripped through night two.  Stood up, stretched, sort of smiled, and it said to me It had his support.  I think he decided, in that reading, 'Yeah, let's do it".  From there, the production of the miniseries has a very interesting, if haphazard history.  First, the ABC producers made the interesting overture of offering none other than George A. Romero the chance to direct the show.  There was even a brief span of time where this was considered more or less a done deal.  This left Romero and Cohen plenty of time to work around on the script.  According to Lawrence, "There was never any question that (Romero, sic) thought it was going to be a gross out, lot's of blood, kind of picture.  He understood what television offered was the chance for you to go right up to the line.  His radar was out for what the network would allow".  Somewhere along these planning stages, however, things began to fall apart.

As you might expect, none of this was because of what Romero and Cohen were doing.  Rather, it's the simple question of where Art meets commerce, and that moment where the willingness to take a necessary gamble craters to the opportunity to save as much revenue as possible by cutting corners.  So the network chose frugality over creative risk, and Romero and Cohen's initial plans for the series were tossed to the shredder.  Cohen ruminates on all of this now.  "I think the dream of what we had in mind was absolutely amazing.  I think we were just about twenty years early.  In having it, we would have been Game of Thrones.  That would have been the way to do this piece of material in its fullest possible way".  It's one of those statements that carries its own irony around with, at least as far as I'm concerned.  On the one hand, it's easy to see what Cohen is suggesting, and why he thinks that was the more ideal route that should have been available, yet just never was in the nick of time.  Not whenever he and Romero needed it most, anyway.  At the same time, there's been the ultimate fate and attendant fallout from series like Game of Thrones and its clones, like Rings of Power.  Like I said, all of it is down to the overall health of the industry, and from my vantage point, it looks like even that is no help.

The kind of expanded miniseries Cohen envisions had its heyday during the Breaking Bad era.  While follow-ups like Better Call Saul have fared a lot better than others.  The rest of the story has begun to tell a different narrative altogether, and everything else is in a state of creative free-fall.  All of which is to say that I'm not sure that even this era of streaming series would have been able to help realize the adaptation Lawrence and Romero had in mind.  I almost want to say that if anyone wanted another It adaptation, then they should take a leaf from what Neil Gaiman did with his own Sandman graphic novels, and have the original manuscript translated verbatim into an extended radio drama for services like the kind on Audible.  Or at least this is the best option I think you can offer anyone at the moment.  The net result of all this is just to say that one the whole, I think the makers got the best possible deal that anyone wanting to adapt that story could have hoped to ask for, whether now or way back when.

In any case, the facts remain the same.  ABC TV got cold feet, and felt the idea just wasn't worth all that much of an investment.  The implication of the documentary seems to be that the network never took it all that seriously to begin with, if I'm being honest.  Which means the fact that we got a finished product at all is more or less a miracle in itself.  Still, Cohen was ordered to cut and pair down his initial idea, and Romero left the project.  The producers then reached out to a former protege of director John Carpenter to helm this project.  Tommy Lee Wallace was one of the crew to work on Carpenter's original (and still the best) 1978 Halloween.  In fact, it was Wallace who more or less created the look and feel of the Shape, Michael Myers.  I'd argue that the suits at ABC were perhaps aware of something like this, which is why I'm willing to applaud their hiring of Wallace to direct this miniseries, even if it's clear the choice was motivated by the question of who can we rely on not to go too over-budget here?

In many ways, it is just possible that King fans owe a great deal of thanks to Tommy Lee for what was already becoming something of a thankless task, and turning waste into cult classic gold.  By now, Cohen seems to have had enough, and was ready to take his own leave of the project.  This left Wallace with the unenviable task of having to finish an incomplete script.  It's a nightmare scenario for any film production.  However, in this case, the trouble was kind of exacerbated through a combination of both the network reigning in both the time and the budget.  It resulted in a lot of cutting and pairing.  Though here's where things get sketchy enough to make me wonder if there was more going on behind the scenes than what even the documentary told us about.  It's one of a handful of moments where the presentation leaves itself open to criticism.  Either through the curious oversight of not following up on the details on the production side of the camera, or else it's the fault of an interpretive lens that causes a bit of historical oversight.  In this first instance, Wallace gives the viewer an interesting account of what kind of state the script was in when he was brought on board to direct.  Here's how he describes it.

Wallace says that when it came to Cohen's script, the first act (Part I of the broadcast miniseries as we have it now) was more or less solid enough.  It remains perhaps the most untouched part of the entire adapted drafts.  However, as the director tells it, "I was less enamored with the second night.  Because it deviated so far away from the novel itself.  I didn't know that in the beginning, because I hadn't read the novel.  But I knew something was amiss.  It just didn't deliver the goods.  The husband of Bevy re-entered the picture and became kind of the villain of the piece, being more or less animated by Pennywise.  In dramatic terms, it did what it needed to do to bring the movie to an end, but it had little to do with the book.  I felt like it kind of gypped the viewer.  It was a much more prosaic style TV climax.  I was candid with Larry about that.  By this point, the impetus (of the production) is moving to Vancouver (for shooting the script under budget, sic), and Larry couldn't come to Vancouver to work with me to bring the second night up to the first".  This is followed by interesting remarks from Cohen.

He says, "By this time I'd been working on the project for about two and a half, (to) three years.  Not quite as long as it took Steve to write it, but, the runner-up prize.  We were about to start Carrie with the Royal Shakespeare Company over in England.  And I was owing a draft on something else.  (So) I went, 'I think this is my cue to say go with God.  I'm done".  The result was that Wallace found the job of completing the story falling to him.  He claims to have never been happy with what he considers to be rush job.  However, I'd argue that hindsight is just about everything in life.  With the way the later adaptation handled the second part of this story, I think I can say with full confidence that whatever flaws you might want to find and pick apart with either Wallace's final script, or its execution, it is nowhere near as bad or ridiculous as the way Bill Skarsgard was forced to go with things.  This is definitely a topic I'll have to return to.  For now, it's enough to say that Wallace and Cohen's remarks all kind of leave me asking more questions than when I started.  This might be nitpicking, yet I wonder.

For instance, how or why did Cohen settle on the idea of Tom Rogan (Bev's abusive ex-husband) turning into the final major antagonist of the adaptation?  I agree with Wallace that it just sounds like a terrible idea.  One that doesn't do either the original story and all of its themes any real justice.  What I'm left puzzling over is whether this was the chosen plot point that Cohen's script was working toward from the start, or if the trouble Wallace talks about came around as the eventual result of ABC tightening the purse strings?  Seeing as how there was still enough loose change left around to construct an Eldritch Abomination form for the title villain character, I'm left to wonder if maybe it was more a case of the screenwriter either getting cold feet, or just not being able to find his way into the heart of the story that the script needed to be complete.  It gets further complicated by the fact that I have a clear memory of reading an interview King gave about this project.  In this interview, he praises Cohen's original, unused script through the rafters, claiming that it was something truly epic.  The sad part is I saw and read this all on a now defunct blog site.  So I can't even guarantee that this was properly archived somewhere.  However, I can say that so far it sounds in line with Cohen's initial statements.

However, then comes Wallace claiming that the finished script was lackluster.  Little more than a cheap TV Movie of the Week.  So all the testimony points to this gap in the story where it's difficult to tell just what went down between the first and final drafts of the script, and what was left by the time Wallace got there.  For instance, if King is talking about a version of the script where Tom is the main villain, then I'll have to apologize for saying this, yet it's just not like the novel as he originally wrote it.  Say what you like about Wallace's final draft.  At least he captures the actual content of the book.  So I'm left with this empty space in the jigsaw puzzle, and I'm kind of left wishing the filmmakers had provided me with a bit more information on what sounds like a crucial part of the creative process in helping to birth this project all the way to the TV set.  Like I say, this might just be a nitpick on my part.  However it all just highlights some curious gaps in the chronology of composition.  It's just enough to get me wondering about what I'm not being told is all.  The good news is that Wallace was able to deliver a final draft that did the book justice, and soon King's text was coming to vivid life.

Stories From Behind the Scenes.
The rest of the documentary is what you'd expect.  We get to meet the dual cast and crew who got to portray the core group of protagonists at the center of the story.  Along with none of than the man of the evening himself, Tim Curry.  When discussing both a book and an adaptation like Stephen King's It, we've sort of tackled one of those subjects where it's not possible for just a single article to do the full scope of the narrative justice.  Some stories are of such a nature as to require multiple deep dives in order to gain as a picture as possible of all its dimensions.  Which means whatever I say here will have to be considered a preliminary sketch, at best.  When it comes time to look at the actual King story proper, then it's going to have to be a more detailed subject than what you'll find here for now.  In the meantime, all I can provide is the briefest useful summary of what one critic has termed "the Moby Dick of Horror novels".  From there, we'll just have to rest content with a behind-the-scenes review for now.

The story that Wallace and Company have to tell revolves around a series of strange occurrences happening within a small and sequestered, yet prosperous New England town.  The locale is known as Derry, Maine, and it looks at least something like an ordinary picture postcard on the surface.  It seems the kind of place where the postman delivers issues of The Saturday Evening Post to your door, the kids all like to congregate for games in the nearby park, and the local high school still hires chaperons for the evening.  In other words, a carless glance would lead you to think it's one of those nice, quaint little towns that manage to keep up with the times, while also somehow always managing to exist outside of it.  Derry looks like a town for all seasons, in other words.  The one major off-note in what otherwise sounds like a flawless pastoral symphony is the one blotch the town has going for it.  A lot of people seem to die off in Derry, and most of that list includes little kids, more often than not.  This is something that everyone seems aware of, and yet no one bothers to talk about much.  The basic line of thinking being, well, I guess that's just the price you pay for getting as close to the good life as you can.

However, all that changes when a recent string of murders brings together a group of disparate neighborhood kids who discover the source of Derry's troubles.  What they find reveals a well of unimaginable horrors.  As King fan and critic Stephen Spignesi puts it, "Derry, Maine has a dark soul.  In 1958, seven friends - dubbed The Loser's Club - fight an apocalyptic battle with It, a monster from "outside" who has been feeding on Derry's children in 27-year cycles for centuries.  It is gravely wounded in the 1958 battle and returns to its subterranean pit beneath the town to heal.  The Losers promise to return to Derry if It ever resurfaces and, in 1985 (or 90, as the miniseries has it, sic) they must come together to honor their vow and try to defeat and destroy It for the final time (16)".  In other words, the most basic summary of King's novel is that of a group of kids battling off a monster.  It has to be one of the oldest storybook notions alive, going all the way back to the Brother's Grimm or the work of later Victorian fantasists such as Edith Nesbit.  In fact, a good description of the Loser's Club is that they are merely Nesbit's questing collective of children forced to endure a very dark adventure.

Because of this, it's not out of the woods to claim that King's narrative does contain what has to be termed as certain levels of an Epic quality to it.  This can cause the story to present itself as something of a daunting task for any filmmaker wishing to adapt it to the visual medium.  All of which makes Wallace's efforts all the more remarkable in my book.  They faced down a gargantuan task, and they did it like pros, however you want to think of the final product.  I'd argue that it's something that all the collaborators who came together to work on this film can be proud of.  Beyond this point, the documentary becomes a chronicle of how the main cast and crew members came together to help bring what I'll continue to argue is King's true magnus opus to the screen.  In front of the camera, you had the Loser's Club, portrayed as both adults and children by Richard Thomas and Jonathan Brandis, Annette O'Toole and Emily Perkins, John Ritter and Brandon Crane, Dennis Christopher and Adam Faraizl, Harry Anderson and Seth Green, Tim Reid and Marlon Taylor, and Richard Masur and Ben Heller.

Together, each of these actors were compiled to create what has to be one of the best ensemble performances that I think I've ever seen on either screen.  It really does seem as if Wallace and his crew were able to assemble something like a genuine stock company akin to what Orson Welles once had, at least for the briefest of moments.  In fact, all of the cast, both young and old, make mention of a makeshift summer camp that was set up by the production for the soul purpose of helping both the adult and child actors get comfortable with their roles by allowing them all to grow at ease with each other.  The result was a lot of fun memories for all of the major players involved.  Perhaps the most notable thing that this summer camp allowed was the chance for the actors to more or less organically recreate the essential character dynamics that are found in the original novel.  According to Taylor, Thomas, and the others, what would happen is they'd all come to the set and just pal around with each other like either a bunch of big brothers and sisters, or in other words like the kind of friendship arrangement as initially outlined in King's own words.  All of the Losers, in other words, would just hang out together.

Even Tim Curry got in a bit on this act.  And here is what I mean when I say that a lot of this summer camp was devoted to helping the cast get into their roles by recreating the personal dynamics of the story.  While Masur, Thomas, Perkins, and Green et al where busy chumming around and basically enjoying their childhood, and allowing the adults to rediscover their own inner kids, Curry would often be hanging around as well.  The trick, however, is that he would do so in a way that seems to have been very deliberate in retrospect.  Sometimes he'd chum around with the others.  Yet most of the time, he could be found hanging around either just visible somewhere in the background, just off to the side, or else he'd be somewhere out of sight, but you could still tell he was there.  Sometimes, Curry would just stand around.  At other times, he would be off on his own, yet when any one of the Loser cast members walked by, even if Tim was busy reading a book or paper, he'd stop what he's doing and give them a hiss or a growl.  Other times, a cast member would be alone and feel this soft, menacing breathing down their necks, only to turn around and have Curry be there waiting to basically jump scare them. 

If you take all of these interactions and place them together, then you get this vague, yet more or less accurate enough mimicry of the way all of the central characters in the novel interact with one another.  This is a dynamic that even includes the villain of the piece, and it's kind of easy to see why.  It can all be boiled down to a simple formula, or truism.  No monster, no story.  So of course, Curry's is going to go around the set trying to be as menacing looking as possible.  If there was any drawback to this preparation strategy (something that was kept up even as the cameras began to role) then it might stem from the fact that sometimes having to play the villain could carry some maybe unwanted side effects.  As a character, It or Pennywise is always one of the great, Gothic marginal figures.  He's the threat from outside that's always hanging around the periphery of the action until it is time for him to stop being an observer, and become an antagonistic participant.  Curry to his credit, seems to have realized all of this and played this aspect up to the hilt.  There might be a drawback to playing such a role, however.

A constant implication with Curry's contribution is that having to be the dangerous outsider meant that often his interactions with others could become a lot more lonely compared with the on-set comradery of the Losers cast.  There are even one or two snapshots of the then future Home Alone 2 actor either hanging around, or else trudging to and from one stage to another.  It's there you can tell by the look on his face that committing to the role isn't so much taking it's tole, as it is hitting home just what kind of professional costs this entails.  In a way, you could argue that this makes playing one of the greatest villains in literary history something of an unintended thankless task.  To his forever credit, though, Curry was nothing less than the consummate professional all the way through.  Another implication, in fact, is that the actor knew he had to channel this loneliness into his own performance of the character, granting Pennywise this perhaps unspoken level of motivation towards It's aggression and hunger.

The Historical American Gothic Allegory.

On the whole, this was a very fun and informative look behind the scenes, and it comes as an easy recommendation from me.  It there any criticisms I'd have to spare for it, then it would all come down to just a handful of caveats.  Three of them stem from the judgment calls made about certain visual, plot oriented, or thematic aspects of the film.  All of them amounts to a number of missteps stemming from a lack of insight on the part of the cast, crew, and even a handful of commentators about the nature of the adaptation they were either making or watching.  The best one to get out of the way first is a critical misreading of the title villain.  Because that's the one that could have a lot of negative, real life implications attached to it.  At a certain point in the film, it is claimed that Pennywise fits in with a Queer reading of the miniseries.  As evidence for this reading, aspects of the various disguises the character adopts throughout the runtime are cited as proof that the character is LGBT coded.
My criticism of this take is that if this should ever prove to be true, then it would reflect the worst possible light imaginable on the Gay community.  The reason for this is because if a viewer chooses to see Pennywise as Queer, then they will have turned the character into the worst possible list of stereotypes that have been labeled against LGBT people all in one fictional personification.  If you follow the logic of this thinking, it means that Gay people are treacherous predators who turn on their own.  Somehow, that just comes off sounding like the last sort of message to spread about the Queer community.  That's because a careful close reading of the text (both on page and screen) reveals that far from being Queer, Pennywise, or It, is instead meant as the most clear-cut symbol you can ever imagine for just about everything that is wrong with the American psyche.  In the figure of the monster or Horror at the heart of King's story, what you get is a personification of all the anti-social behaviors that have plagued this Country since before the year 1776 and afterwards.  This includes a list of all the major, know prejudices that includes, among others: racism, sexism, pederasty, child and spousal abuse, misogyny, and also homophobia.  The only vice that isn't on the list might be drug addiction.

Rather than coding him as Queer, I'd argue this marks out Pennywise as one of the best modern examples of the literal, straightforward, classic Gothic villain.  Prof. Michael Collings has written of It as an near analogue of John Milton's villain from Paradise Lost.  However far-fetched such a critical notion may sound on paper or off, I'd argue he at least gets a lot closer to the dark heart of this character better than the commentary from this documentary.  Which is so flawed that it runs the risk of encouraging exactly the kind of prejudice it's hoping to avoid.  I cannot, and do not have any good explanation for why the commentary in this documentary chose to go in such a self-defeating direction.  All I can do as critic is to point out this flaw, and give it the dismissal it rightly deserves for encouraging, rather than fighting against bigotry.  One further thing that it's possible to do here is to go a bit further in correcting the mistake by highlight the true thematic nature of King's antagonist.
Bear in mind, this is the kind of task that calls for the kind of full-length, annotated master's thesis in order to do either the topic or the character full justice.  The best that can be done here is to go for the journalistic broad strokes approach.  It might be valid, though what it can never be is the full picture.  What I believe is true enough, however, is that in the creation of Pennywise, or the monster known as It, Stephen King has perhaps gone as far as he ever can in the creation of a genuine, all-purpose Horror that not only encapsulates a list of prejudices that have constantly served to hold this country back from achieving anything like a true Democratic status, he's also written this figure in such a way that his actions within the drama create a sort of history lesson of what has to be called a chronicle of mistreatment and abuse in the United States.  Here comes the part where a simple essay is unable to do justice to all the problems the story utilizes this villain to tackle in the course of an Epic novel.
Instead, all I can do here is to point out that the story allows Pennywise to commit just about every crime known to man short of actual genocide.  In doing so, both the original novel and it's adaptation hint at the ultimate thematic thread of this story.  If Pennywise is meant as a symbol of the dark side of the American psyche, then both the novel and TV series create what can only be described as a neat and concise history lesson all framed and illustrated in just one character.  Without going into spoilers, the story King tells all points to the idea that this Country's real troubles date all the way back to when the Puritans became the first colonizers of America.  It as a character is portrayed almost as a mere, literal extension of the combined ill will of the small town in which the narrative is set.  By having this story take place in New England territory, a setting which was forcibly taken from its original First Nation inhabitants, who were later subject to the same prejudice and slavery as African Americans, then it's clear that Derry and It mean to serve as a microcosm of the Nation's dark half from Plymouth on up.
It's a very powerful artistic statement King has made here.  I'd even go so far as to argue that it's this grand theme which has not only powered the true sense of Terror at the heart of the story, but has also kept it alive in the public imagination.  Indeed, it's even possible to go further and claim that the past few years might even helped spiked this story's popularity.  Because of the way its message speaks to the combined struggles of our own time.  How could the story of a group of outsider misfits fighting a modern day version of the Boogeyman not resonate in an era that looks as if It somehow broke out of its feeding pen, and directed It's maleficent energies to devouring the entire Country as a whole?  

If this Nation has anything like an original sin, King seems to say, then it all ultimately stems from the first Puritan settlers, who've created a dark legacy of abuse and prejudice that haunts us to this day.  This is yet another reason why I have to give credit to Wallace, Curry, and the rest of the ABC crew.  Because impossible as it may sound, they did a real good job of managing to capture these themes over the course of just four hours, in total, of runtime.  It is perhaps one of the most overlooked yet genuine achievement in the Horror genre, and is another reason this series deserves a lot more credit than it gets.

Symbolic-Mythic Themes, and Their Dramatization.
The rest of my complaints are a lot less dire, and have more to do with the question of how far anyone in the audience is either willing to suspend their disbelief, or else allow themselves see the full import of the story they're being told.  This is also the point that a few readers might have been waiting for (or dreading as the case may be).  I'm going to have to talk about the bloody damn spider and what I think of the ending as a whole.  In other words, this might be the part where I lose the audience a bit.  Well, you know what, I can't help the response this story gets out of me.  Yes, I know for a fact that Wallace and the cast like to poke fun about It's final form as it appears in the last act of the miniseries.  The way the director puts it, in fact, is that "We had champagne ideas and a beer budget".  It's the one element of the production that everyone likes to mercilessly chide and mock like tomorrow doesn't exist, so lets get all the barbs and jabs out of your system while ya still have the chance.  That I can always chalk up to the current nature of "bad movie criticism".  If an otherwise decent script doesn't have good production value, then a strange logic starts to come into play where it's not enough to criticize, but also destroy the offending production like it was the cinematic equivalent of the bubonic plague.

There's something almost tribal in such an approach criticizing any possible artwork that just doesn't sit well with me.  Something tells me reactions like that have less to do with an interest in storytelling proper, and more with the need to bring others down, first to your level, and then beneath it to the point where you can keep your foot firmly on the other person's neck.  It may qualify as a genuine psychological malady.  It definitely meets the criteria of a mental illness.  Hell, it even fits in with the kind of satirical targets King is attacking in his original novel, or even in the miniseries itself.  

Therefore the one thing such vitriol can never be is any kind of measured response and critical analysis of a simple attempt at realizing one of the grandest epic finales in the history Horror literature.  The job of giving an actual, competent critical assessment of the situation is going to call for more measured, or even-handed tones.  The true criticism of the miniseries' final showdown is going to have to be one that can address faults without the need to burn the whole thing down.  We'll start with the facts in the documentary themselves.  While Wallace and the cast are less than impressed with the whole spider sequence, the actual designers of the entire rig are willing to defend their work for what it amounts to.

Here I'll have to admit, the designers commitment to their craft is an admirable thing, in and of itself.  It is refreshing, in other words, to show mechanical craftsmen taking genuine pride in their work.  All this while at the same time wishing they could have gone even further with their designs.  It's the first really even handed approach I've seen whenever people decide to address this particular aspect of the adaptation.  What this leaves us with, however, is a somewhat divided base of operations.  Some are willing to more or less stick up for the giant spider sequence, while others are never satisfied with it.  It's the kind of things that means Jack to the vast majority of audiences.  It's also the kind of creative choice you can't believe in if you don't value it.  This is a truism extends to the very possibility of books and films as subject worthy of merit and consideration.  If you believe that any given work of fiction has no intrinsic value, then it's worthless to you.  This just seems to be the way everything in life works on one level or another.  Nor have I ever seen any conclusive evidence that the vast majority of the audience cares about this kind of thing.  Enthusiasm for the Arts has never been a majority interest.  To the vocal minority who does recognize the importance of stories, however, the question of how to break this ongoing spider stalemate remains.  Here's the best solution I have been able to come up with.

I'll start off by claiming hindsight is everything, and that while time doesn't always tell on a work of artistic quality the way it should, it can offer concerned readers some occasional basis for comparison.  As far as I'm concerned, if you look at the 2019 version of the monster in It Chapter Two, then I'll have to swear on as many stacks of books as you want that it's just no contest.  The TV spider version of It may not look like much, but I'd argue it is able to maintain at least some level of dignity about itself compared to the way it was handled by Andy Muschietti.  I think it's possible to tell which director was willing to treat the material seriously, and which came away so unimpressed in general that they just decided to phone the entire appearance of the spider form in, while throwing a bunch of generic, special effects action sequences at the wall and hoping something would stick.  Wallace was professional enough to commit to the text of King's work.  With all due respect, that goes far in my book.  The way Muschietti handles Pennywise in the movie finale telegraphs that the director can't enter the logic of this story.  In other words, it's a form of writing with which he is fundamentally out of sympathy. 

What this tells me is that a lot of the problems people have with the miniseries ending is that it might not just be the look of It's spider form.  It might also have something to do with the nature of the finale itself as a whole.  It could mean this is one of those deals where the ability of an audience member to go along with this conclusion also hinges on the level of the viewer's imaginative capacity to enjoy a denouement that is fundamentally Romantic at its core.  In other words, whether you're willing to give the overall ending the of the miniseries a pass depends on how far you're willing to acknowledge that King has been writing a fairy tale for grown-ups all this time.  It is the kind of Horror story, in other words, that tackles a lot of real world problems, yet it does so in a total fantasy setting.  It might be an inability of some viewers to allow that fantastical element to rest easy in their minds that acts as kind of like a wall of separation between the story proper, and their ability to "get into" It, in other words.

If this is the case, then it means that It is the kind of story which is written at such a level as to require a greater sense of cultural literacy in order to enjoy it all properly.  In other words, if you want to be able to "get" what both King and the miniseries are doing with the final form of the story's villain, then it helps to understand the literary qualities that make this character such an effect foil for a Horror story.  I've already outlined some of the reasons Pennywise is such an effective threat on what might be termed the allegorical, satirical level.  He's a fictional analogue for all the prejudices of American life itself.  It's the most easily graspable aspect of this figure, and yet it's still not the whole story.  I suppose it "might" be possible to take a life-size human figure and try for the same thematic feat.  However, it seems that a genuine, fantastical creature would make a for a more serviceable vessel for the story's satire.  It's the very fact that the writer has to rely on the trope of the Boogeyman in order to get his point across that is the best pointer to the literary strategy that underpins the entire story to the end.
It really does seem as if King's story is reliant on the kind of literary techniques that were once common to writers like John Milton or Edmund Spenser.  In other words, perhaps it helps to see Pennywise as a modern version of the Giant Despair, or similar characters who are ultimately defined by their symbolical qualities, rather than their concrete plausibility.  In other words, it's useless to complain that the villain's final form is a Miltonic-Spenserian spider, or that the production value it's given in the adaptation looks like it might be cheap.  Because each argument misses both the nature of the story that the character exists in service of, or how the miniseries itself functions as an homage to a certain type of Horror film.  In terms of the character itself, the literary nature (and hence the ultimate story function) of Pennywise is perhaps best described by critic Connie Lippert in the collection, The Many Lives of It.  It's there that Lippert makes what I take to be the correct claim that King's monster is meant in the last resort to be this sort of negative representation of the Trickster archetype.  This almost demoniac, representation of the Dionysian forces that threaten the American psyche with total disintegration.

In the course of her essay, Derry's Subterranean Carnival, Lippert goes on to claim that "Pennywise the Dancing Clown, then, is the darkest possible version of a trickster figure and the Losers oppose it by learning a few tricks themselves (127)".  It's a statement that has come the closest so far to doing the symbolism and final meaning of the title character It's full justice (or maybe "Just Deserts" is the better phrase to use here).  In tagging King's villain a "dark trickster", Lippert appears to have provided the final clue for this character's motivations, as well as the creative choice of a giant arachnid as It's final "appearance".  As to Pennywise' choices of both a clown and an insect as It's final manifestations, Lippert helps us understand the inherent narrative logic of these moments in the finale by pointing out the original, mythic ground or compost heap that Derry's own Boogeyman emerges from, along with the tradition of drawing upon multiple masques, or personas as an integral part of It's characterization.

Going back to her essay, Lippert helps us note that "the trickster figure appears in a myriad of different forms, depending on the cultural background.  In Greek mythology, for instance, there is Hermes, in Norse mythology, Loki.  In Native North American (I would also add African/Afro-American, sic) contexts one can find various forms of animal-tricksters like coyote, hare, raven, or spider (italics mine, 126)".  If we take Prof. Lippert's observations into account, then the final appearance of King's demonic serial killer becomes all the more explicable.  If the story's villain is little more than a dark inversion of the trickster archetype, then of course it makes narrative sense for It to eventually assume a spider form.  Indeed, to do otherwise would be the true anti-climax.  All that either King or Wallace are guilty of here is merely following the traditional contours of a literary archetype to it's logical mythical end. 

To reiterate, Lippert's insights are of such a value, that they will have to stand as the best academic critical commentary I've been able to dig up on what is perhaps Stephen King's greatest villain.  If there is anything to add to Lippert's analysis, then it might be only to make the most minor of distinctions.  I believe she is correct in labeling Pennywise as a "dark trickster".  Nor is she mistaken in lumping him alongside the other literary traditions or "faces" that make up this particular, extended literary tradition.  All I'd like to suggest is that her realization of a negative version of the Trickster topos in turn points to what I'd term a narrative sense of ambiguity and divergence within the trope itself.  If it's true that the myth of the Trickster can fall into either a light or dark category, then I'd argue it helps if we are able to come up with separate name tags for each of these aspects in order to help us differentiate the good from the bad.  Here is where none other than King himself seems to have come to our rescue.

In his non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, King makes the claim that all Horror fiction is a struggle between two opposing forces of order and disorder.  His critical terms for each of these genre dynamics are titled as the Apollonian (order) and the Dionysian (chaos) respectively.  It's the struggle between the desire for an ordered, Apollonian existence against the psychotic, Dionysian impulses that make up what we talk about whenever we either discuss or create Horror fiction, so far as King is concerned.  

I'd argue that if we couple King's terms with Lippert's insights, then we've sort of helped complete a symbolic-thematic literary picture that was always staring back at us, yet was also a bit too well hidden as subtext for us to see clearly without a bit of help.  Thankfully, both author and critics were willing to oblige.  What you get if we add Lippert's essentially hermetic insight to King's is almost a kind of diagram of the three elements of the Gothic genre:  Dionysian - Hermetic - Apollonian.  This in turn acts, I believe, as a more complete diagrammatic representation of the major conflict at the heart of King's story.  You have the Apollonian ideal and order on the one hand.  Along with the Losers who act as its ostensible Hermetic representatives in the microcosm of their haunted small town.  Opposed to them is the chaotic, or Dionysian force of It and all of its masques.  When looked at from this perspective, what we're left with is a battle between two types of Tricksters, both light as well as dark.

I suppose another way to put is that what King has written, and that Tommy Wallace has later adapted is a kind of modern day myth.  In classical, mythic terms it would have been dramatized as a straightforward battle between Hermes and Dionysus.  The conflict being waged by the mercurial messenger of the gods on behalf of Apollo, who seeks to bring order out of chaos.  All King and Wallace have done is to take this basic, mythic concept, and transcribe it into modern day Gothic terms.  Here, it is the Losers who find themselves in the mythic Hermetic role.  Each of them having to combine together in order to counteract It's malign, Dionysian influence.  If this is at all a valid reading, then what it amounts to is that King and Wallace have perhaps come as close as anyone can to successfully dramatizing and translating an ancient myth into a modern day narrative format.  At least here is one good reason for why I'm not bothered by the spider.  It makes too much narrative sense.

Conclusion: A Pretty Good Look Behind the Scenes.

There's at least one other reason for why I'm pretty much cool with the way Wallace both treats and presents the spider at the end.  This time, it has to do with the way the entire miniseries harkens back to the kind of Horror films Stephen King grew up watching, and being influenced by.  Turns out the It miniseries (and even the original book, if we're being honest) is one of those stories that pays greater dividends the more you know about ancient pop culture American history, in particular with regards to the Horror and Sci-Fi movies of the 40, 50s, and 60s.  Critic George Beahm has described King's novel as a "pop-culture monster mash", and that turns out to be a true description in the most literal of terms.

Here, for instance, is how Beahm describes the content of King's story.  "That King also intends It as a virtual encyclopedia of horror is equally implicit in the novel.  Almost every variation on the monster is present at one level or another, if not physically as one of It's many manifestations, then imagistically in the form of metaphor or simile, or verbally as King embeds the language of horror into his text.  As key figures in the story, we become reacquainted with the werewolf, the Mummy, the walking dead, ghosts, things that (quite literally) go bump in the night (and in the drains and sewers), Rodan-monsters, the crawling eye, gigantic beasties, haunted places and haunted people, glamours, and shape-shifters, the unnamed creatures that haunt dark cellars and abandoned houses, and equally unnamed things that laugh as their teeth shred human flesh.  The fact that all of these monsters are one monster that frequently presents itself initially as a clown...only adds to It's ultimate effectiveness.  Most of the monsters in It are not King's original creations.  Among the authors It evokes are masters of horror:

"Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, H.G. Wells, Joseph Brennan, and others.  And where King does not draw on literary monsters, he falls back on cinematic one: I was a Teenage Werewolf, The Crawling Eye, An American Werewolf in London (263)".  It's that final list of three cinematic sources that are crucial to understanding this last element that makes both King's novel, and Wallace's adaptation tick like a fine peace of deliberately retro watch work.  The three films that Beahm lists might sound ludicrous as hell to modern readers.  The kicker is that occasional shifts in aesthetic taste do little to change the fact movies like The Crawling Eye really do exist, even if our current imaginative myopia had rendered them almost impossible for us to believe in, even when presented with irrefutable evidence.  The simple and somewhat sad fact is that movies like Teenage Werewolf and It Conquered the World (another film from the same era that gets referenced in the pages of King's text) are all the products of an entirely different entertainment paradigm, one whose effects are now obscure.

In fact, this obscurity means that it can be difficult for modern audiences to properly understand, and hence "get into" on the level that they require.  This is the paradigm of the Drive-In Movie Schlock Film.  It was an entire, literal aesthetic generated during the end of the 40s, and on into the Eisenhower and Woodstock eras when a bunch of maverick, independent filmmakers like Ed Wood, Samuel Arkoff, Jim Nicholson, and Roger Corman discovered they could churn out genre oriented popcorn flicks for sometimes less than a $100 dollar budget.  It was this discovery that resulted in the release of films such as Wild Women of the Amazon, The Fast and the Furious (yes, really), Night of the Blood Beast, and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.  The complete and perfect irony here is that it was also this succession of poverty row productions that helped usher in the modern face of Horror and Science Fiction as we still know them today.  The inescapable fact (however embarrassing, or otherwise) is that movies like Alien or Jaws couldn't have existed without titles such as The Horror of Party Beach, or Planet of the Vampires.  These are the great grand parents of all that we now hold sacred in terms of Horror films.

Their reputation has been in a constant state of flux for some time.  They're often looked down upon in proportion as it becomes clear there's never any true "getting away" from them.  Films like this are often descried as cheap trash, yet that's also a judgment that always sells them too short.  The real dirty secret is that we wouldn't have had Star Wars or Evil Dead 2 without these B to Z level pictures.  Hell, a careful viewer will be able to observe the DNA of creatures like the Xenomorph in It: The Terror From Beyond Space.  That seems to be another schlock fest which gets honorable mention in King's novel.  The more accurate, yet just as awkward truth seems to be that a lot of these older B genre pictures amount to a lot of hidden gems and underrated and unacknowledged precursors with plenty of entertainment value to offer on their own artistic merits.  The trouble is we've either sort of lost whatever imaginative capacity it is that allows us to enjoy these films, or else we're very much in danger of losing it altogether.  Either outcome would amount to the same result, and be a sad state of affairs.  These films aren't "up to date".  However, that's not the same as saying they are all objectively bad.  Nor is it any cause for them to be forgotten.  Citizen Kane is no spring chicken, either.  However if we apply the chronological critique to that film, then it deserves to join the others in the scrap pile.

All of which is to point out that calling the It miniseries bad based solely on it's production value is to rest easy in a kind of chronological snobbery that is never capable of seeing the whole picture on the screen (or in real life, for that matter) and hence unable to see Wallace's adaptation for what it truly is, or judge it by the proper critical standards that it deserves.  What Tim Curry and the rest of the production crew have made here amounts to nothing less than a Grade B Horror Thriller in the style of Roger Corman, and American International Pictures.  This is an artistic choice that applies to everything about the two part film, from the way it's camera shots are setup, and to the deliberately old school nature of the special effects.  Even the way the film plays around with its gore effects in certain situations is reminiscent of the more low key approaches of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or the films of Val Lewton.  It's the kind of film that acts as an homage to all of these older monsters flicks.  And it does so in just about the only way possible, by more or less becoming one of them.  There's even a way to prove just how far this adaptation leans into it's schlock horror roots, and all it takes is a trick of color.
The next time you decide to pop this miniseries into the Blu-Ray player, before you press play, adjust the color settings all the way to zero, leaving everything in stark black and white.  I think you'll find that draining the color from the images on screen can have a curious, yet genuine liberating effect.  Shorn of its natural hues and tints, the adaptation becomes something less and more than what it started out as.  It's like some vital aspect of modernity has been stripped away, and we're left with something that probably wouldn't have too out of place at a 1950s drive-in.  The kind of picture that could serve as its own double bill.  I call it the Black and White Test, and I like to use it on modern films and productions to see what it can do to reshape whatever story I'm watching.  In the case of Stephen King's It,  what it does is turn a 90s era TV Movie of the Week into one of its own, drive-in oriented ancestors.  It reveals the adaptation as a deliberate throwback to all those American International B level blockbusters.  The kind of films, in other words, that made actors like Vincent Price famous.

This makes Wallace's creative choices ultimately fitting for the final product he was able to churn out.  As I'd argue that rather than being a detriment to the kinds of effect it was going for, Wallace has instead crafted a latter day B Horror that does justice to the content of its source material.  This is because all that King has done in the last resort is to take precisely the same kind of poverty row schlock plot, and dial it up to an epic scale.  I'm starting to wonder if it's that sense of scale that either throws both readers and viewers off, or else just confuses them in a way that leaves us unable to gain a clearer picture of what they're either reading or looking at.  I'll admit that King has created the Gothic genre's own version of Lord of the Rings.  Yet what often gets lost sight of is the pop culture materials he uses to bring his own schlock epic to life.  Any work of literature that features American International's Teenage Werewolf as one of its villains owes just as much to Roger Corman as it does Tolkien, Milton, or William Blake.  With this in mind, I'm starting to think that what's happened here is that over the years, we've sort of forgotten the other components that go together to help create this story.

We've remembered Tolkien, but forgotten Corman, even though he and the DNA of his drive-in movie ilk are on almost every page of King's novel from start to finish.  As a result, it's sort of no wonder if readers and viewers find it difficult to get a proper read on a lot of the essential aspects that power the engine of King's secondary world.  Apparently, critics like George Beahm are more right than they know.  Both the book and its adaptation amount to a literal encyclopedia of cultural literary and cinematic references that have no choice whatsoever except to fly right over the heads of audiences that have no real knowledge of them.  It explains, for instance, why even the director (and a surprising number of King fans) confesses to being confused by the ending.  It's a simple case of the author having all the cultural and cinematic literacy under the hood, and then implanting it in his novel, while the rest of the world around him moves on and away from this store of knowledge.  It really seems to prove the point that all reading and viewing is an act of interpretation, and that sometimes its not possible without a great deal of reading and viewing to help stretch the limits of the audience's imagination.  That's got to be one of the greatest ironies that I've ever discovered about both books, films, or life in general.
As it stands, however, there are a number of inescapable facts that condition the nature of both the book and the TV Film.  The first is that all of the ingredients that go to make up the Losers' final battle with It are both deliberate and inherent by turns.  That entire last sequence is a combination of the epic and the schlock co-existing and shading into one another in equal measure.  It's the precise nature of the combination of the epic and the pulp that both viewers and readers are just going to have to grapple with as best they can.  Though it is possible to arrive at an accurate appreciation of the ultimate nature and content of King's story, always provided you're willing to take the bit of extra time and effort necessary for it.  A lot of folks probably won't go so far.  Though those that do will discover just how many dividends this story is able to pay back if you give it a chance.  The final spider sequence in both the novel and miniseries can therefore be said to not just work, but also stand true as the homage to the kind of quirky, low budget fantastical Horror films that King grew up with at the local neighborhood movie theater as a child.  Same as the Losers.  All that's required to appreciate a story like this is a love of the Horror genre, and an appreciation for the best kind of schlock that 50s Sci Fi and Horror can offer. 

What we have then is a great book with a well made adaptation to its name.  The adaptation has gone on to become something of a cult classic over the years.  King's book meanwhile, more or less is regarded as a literary masterpiece.  I just hope both versions are able to hold onto their hard won reputations.  With any luck, this behind the scenes look into the creation of this underrated small screen gem might just go a long way to help keeping It's legacy alive.  It was made by directors John Campopiano and Christopher Griffiths, with the help of Scream Box and Bloody  It's kind of a giveaway that this is clearly a film made by and for the fans.  That's a real feather in the cap because we seem to be entering a time when it really is going to be up to the fandom out there to help keep both the memory and value of our favorite films alive.  In that regard, Campopiano and Griffith have to be commended for what amounts to an unheralded work of public service.  This is a film that has succeeded strictly on the word of mouth.  So any good press is going to go a long way towards spreading it's reputation.

As a documentary, their film has two goals to meet.  First and last, as a work of non-fiction, it has to both inform and entertain all at the same time.  In some ways, that's an even harder tightrope to walk than straight-up fiction.  At least with an imaginary story you can always go back and delete whatever material doesn't work.  Real life doesn't offer much of an opportunity for that.  The good news is that the directors have nothing to worry about with this particular choice of subject matter.  To start off with, there's a hefty enough fanbase out there for both the It book and limited run TV series.  So it was sure to draw a substantial audience (present writer included).  In the second place, the final results are just plain fun, pure and simple.  That's because Griffiths and Campopiano have chosen one of the many real life subjects that was always guaranteed to be an enjoyable time uncovering and discussing, and that comes through brilliantly as they trek through the production history of a cult classic.  The best parts of their film all boil down to the same number of elements.  It either stems from learning how certain aspects of the finished film came to be, or in the cast regaling in all the fun times they had together on set.

Listening to Curry, Thomas, Masur, and Wallace go on about what it was like to live the making of the movie is always going to be the true highlight of the entire feature.  If there's anything to regret, then it's the fact that there was never a chance to get the input of the late, great John Ritter.  If you go back and listen to the DVD commentary on the miniseries itself, it's clear that Ritter comes off as maybe the true heart and soul of the entire production, and so his absence is a palpably felt presence.  This doesn't detract from the documentary.  If anything, it gives the proceedings an added sense of resonance.  It's just too bad that we were deprived of what was sure to have been a fun bit of extra insights into how things went down.  Beyond all this, however, what comes through the most is the impression that Campopiano and Griffiths are genuine fans in the truest sense of the word.  The whole documentary is a clear expression of their enthusiasm for this little TV Movie of the Week, and the fact that they devoted this much worthwhile efforts to it means that Tommy Wallace should be proud of what he's done here.

In fact, if you want some interesting parting bit of advice, one final fan suggestion might be to try one other interesting experiment.  It turns out Tommy Lee Wallace's creative choices are just enough so that not only does the final film amount to a faithful adaptation of King's book, it's even possible now to go back and try and fan edit the entire sequencing of the miniseries into something that closer approximates the structure of the original book.  King's novel is divided into five acts with five interludes and a conclusion.  It's one of his most classically structured works, in fact.  Something that harkens back to the age of either Milton or Aristotle, believe it or not.  The point is Wallace has given us enough material so that you can now go back and edit the film into as closer approximation the book as possible.  You know, start out with the six phone calls, and then introduce Pennywise after we meet Bill Denborough for the first time.  Don't spend your Curry all at once, in other words.  Instead, you slowly build up to him as a big reveal, like the Shower Scene with Psycho.  From there, you can more or less restructure the film as it was in the novel.  This can be done all the way to the final showdown, intercutting between past and present like King originally did, with adult and child Losers together.  That way you have the cast squaring off against It as Pennywise and spider both all in one.

To top it all off, you'd save Curry's biggest and best over-the-top performance for the very last, and you give the Vincent Price of Generation X a chance to go out in top form if you edit both death scenes just right, so that it looks like past and present have collapsed into one, and the villain falls simultaneously at the same time.  Or at least, you know, there's one idea worth looking into.  Whatever the case, the final results are the same.  Griffiths and Campopiano have done history a quiet service here.  It's the kind of thing that lives and dies by word of mouth, so I think the fans out their owe the filmmakers all they can to help make sure their documentary reaches as many eyes, hearts, and minds as possible.  All I've done here is to try and help spread the word as best I can, however inelegant, because I believe it's worth that great an extent of effort.  It goes without saying that this isn't the last time we'll be talking about a story like It.  Whoever described Stephen King's work as the Moby Dick of Horror novels was more of a prophet than they knew.  That's why there will always be more to discuss about It in the years to come.  In the meantime, we can be thankful to the filmmakers of Pennywise: The Story of It for all they've done.  This is one documentary that is well worth hunting down, and checking out. 

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