If you lived in Spokane during the mid-1980s, you’ll remember “Vision Quest.” Maybe you were among the thousands who stood in line to be an extra. Maybe you actually were selected. Maybe you loved Terry Davis’ novel, which inspired the film. Maybe you had a front row seat as the actors learned to wrestle.
The 1985 movie is coming back to town this weekend to kick off the Spokane International Film Festival. As festival director Adam Boyd said, “Vision Quest” is notable because it’s one of the few feature films that is set and made in Spokane. “You see Spokane as Spokane,” he said.
Emceeing Friday’s event is Matthew Modine, who portrayed Louden Swain, the high school wrestler at the movie’s core. Director Harold Becker was scheduled to attend as well, but Boyd said he has a scheduling conflict. (Davis is set to return, and novelist Jess Walter will host.)
In an email interview, Modine talked about the lessons he learned making “Vision Quest” and its enduring appeal.
Q. You came back to Spokane a few years ago to help raise funds to rebuild Ferguson’s and the Milk Bottle. What was it about filming “Vision Quest” here that engendered all this goodwill on your part?
A. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to work in cities all around the world. None of the cities I’ve worked in have the warmth and sense of community that Spokane has. The memory of the town and the people always evokes positive memories.
Q. What was it about “Vision Quest” that attracted you to the role?
A. Well that’s very hard to sum up. Terry Davis’ book on which the film is based is so rich with detail and characterization. All of the characters are well drawn and say interesting things. Darryl Ponicsan did a terrific job with his adaptation of the book. For me, as an actor, it all begins with the writing. So we had a great foundation on which to build a film.
Q. Do you remember training at Mead High School with then-wrestling coach Cash Stone?
A. Do I remember!!? Ha ha. The question should be, will I ever forget training! And the answer is, no! Wrestling is one of the most difficult sports I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. If you want to get to know who you are, really are, take up wrestling.
Q. Michael Schoeffling was already an accomplished wrestler when he was cast as Kuch. But you didn’t have that background, and have been quoted as saying “Vision Quest” was one of the hardest films you’ve ever done. What was the hardest part about learning the sport in such short order?
A. Actors have to learn a lot in short order. That’s what we do. Acting is not just memorizing lines. It’s understanding why the character is speaking. Why is the character reacting the way they are to a given situation. Learning has to become believing you are the character. So I had to commit to believing that I was a wrestler. I had to believe I could climb that peg board. Believing you are, that you can really do something, is the most important aspect of success. Uncertainty leads to uncertain success.
Q. What did you learn on that movie that has carried over into your career since?
A. As I mentioned before, wrestling introduces you to who you are. That is the “Vision Quest.” It is a Native American ritual, a very spiritual journey, that a young person will make to discover who they are. I’m happy I took the journey. I know who I am.
Q. In case you haven’t noticed, Spokane loves “Vision Quest.” Is the film as well regarded elsewhere?
A. Well, yes. It’s wonderful to go to different cities and have people call out to you lines from the film. I was walking in Venice Beach, California, recently and the driver of a car, literally, stepped out of his moving car, and marched toward me saying “Dude. Dude, you have no idea. You have no idea how ‘Vision Quest’ saved my life. I was a drug addict and a total mess. Louden Swain saved me.” His car had smashed into a wall. He was so emotional. I gave him a hug. “Forget about the car. Who cares. Dude, you have no idea.” We shook hands and spoke for a moment before he (almost in tears) went back to his car.
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