It is easily the most beloved of all the movies ever filmed in Spokane.
The 1985 film tells the story of Louden Swain, a high school wrestler who gets it into his head to drop two weight classes to wrestle the best wrestler in the state. Along the way, he meets a woman who schools him in life and love.
“Vision Quest,” set in Spokane, based on a novel set in Spokane and written by a Spokane author (Terry Davis), is quite likely the most “Spokane” thing ever on the big screen, at least until someone manages to make Jess Walter’s “Citizen Vince” or “The Financial Lives of the Poets” into movies.
“Vision Quest,” which filmed here in 1983 and ’84, is being released from Warner Archive remastered on Blu-ray on Tuesday. To mark the occasion, here are six things we still love about the movie – and one thing that hits us wrong.
1. The music. Sure, “Vision Quest” marked the film debut of Madonna, who performed two songs for the movie, “Crazy for You” and “The Gambler,” but “Vision Quest” memorably opens with Louden (Matthew Modine) running over Spokane’s bridges to the sounds of Journey’s “Only the Young.” Then there’s the frequent use of “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider, and a score by Tangerine Dream. What’s not to love?
2. Digging the geographical confusion. There’s the time when Louden meets Carla (Linda Fiorentino) at a used car lot, which appears to be downtown, judging from the tall buildings seen behind them. He then walks her to Ferguson’s Cafe, on Garland Avenue – roughly 2.5 miles away. That’s some walk. Then there’s the drive to Louden’s grandfather’s cabin in the woods that has Louden and Carla tooling around Peone Prairie for a day before they camp for the night. Then there’s Louden’s profoundly indirect run from North Central High School to his job at the Ridpath Hotel, a run that takes him back and forth across the river several times and has him running in circles through Riverfront Park.
3. Matthew Modine. Modine came to the role of Louden Swain with some good film credits to his name, including his starring role in Alan Parker’s “Birdy,” a small role in the sprawling and star-studded Tony Richardson film “The Hotel New Hampshire” and the leading role in Robert Altman’s “Streamers.” The actor would go on from “Vision Quest” to appear in films by Stanley Kubrick (“Full Metal Jacket”), Jonathan Demme (“Married to the Mob”), Altman again (“Short Cuts”) and Oliver Stone (“Any Given Sunday”). Modine looks back at his time in Spokane fondly, and has returned in recent years to raise funds to rebuild Ferguson’s Cafe and the neighboring Milk Bottle and to participate in the Spokane International Film Festival.
4. Forest Whitaker. Long before he played Saw Gerrera in “Rogue One,” or scared the crap out of Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart in “Panic Room,” or won an Oscar for best actor in “The Last King of Scotland,” Whitaker played Bulldozer, a wrestling teammate of Louden’s in “Vision Quest” who barely had a line. Still. It’s cool he was here.
5. Playing “Name that character actor.” Roberts Blossom, he of the deep voice, blue eyes and cool name, plays Louden’s grandfather. He’d made a career as a stage actor and appeared in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Slaughterhouse 5” and “Escape from Alcatraz” before coming to Spokane. Afterward, he would become instantly recognizable to a new generation of film fans as Old Man Marley in “Home Alone.” Then there’s Ronny Cox as Louden’s dad, who made his film debut in “Deliverance” and went on to co-star in “RoboCop,” “Total Recall” and many TV series. Finally, look quickly for gravelly voiced James Gammon, who was already a well-established television actor when cast as the abusive father of Kuch (Michael Schoeffling). He’d go on to memorably manage the hapless Cleveland Indians in 1989’s “Major League.”
6. Playing “Looking for familiar faces.” An open casting call for extras before filming resulted in hundreds and hundreds of people standing in line for a shot at film immortality (myself included). Scan the wrestling scenes for friends, teachers and others who populated those scenes. Area high school wrestlers, and anyone who went to Mead High School, will recognize Cash Stone, the former longtime Mead wrestling coach who served as a technical adviser on the film and played the referee in the final match.
7. The wrong note: Daphne Zuniga. OK, I love her in “The Sure Thing.” Love her. But as Margie Epstein, the super earnest and eager high school newspaper editor? Ugh. It’s not the performance, per se, but it’s that her character is so unrealistic. She lets the star wrestler (a smart kid, sure) write an essay about a certain female body part? And is surprised when it’s rejected? And then inexplicably she and Louden are actually punished with trash duty for their transgression? No, no and no. The wrestling stuff may have been pretty accurate for a Hollywood movie, but for this former high school newspaper editor, “Vision Quest” gets this part wrong.
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