New Yorker Arthur Barron had established himself as a documentary filmmaker in 1969 thanks to his 119-minute-long docufilm Birth and Death, before taking a shot at feature filmmaking in 1973 with a romantic coming-of-age drama entitled Jeremy. And even though Barron emerged victorious at the Cannes Film Festival that same year, winning the prize for Best First Work, the movie’s authorship has since been disputed. Barron reportedly based his film on John Minahan’s novel of the same name, which the author showed the director before getting it published. After writing the screenplay, Barron cast the film and got his friends George Pappas and Elliott Kastner on board as producers, so that they could sell Jeremy to the production company United Artists. But composer Joseph Brooks claimed to have been the one to come up with the idea, write the majority of the screenplay, cast and direct a large portion of it before Kastner laid him off and hired an assistant—Barron—in his stead. Kastner, on the other hand, argued that Barron had been working as co-writer and co-director and that Brooks was let go because he fired the leading man and exceeded the budget. Whatever the truth may be, Barron was the only one who got credit for writing and directing, whereas Brooks was fully credited for writing the film’s theme song Blue Balloon (The Hourglass Song).
Barron’s movie follows Jeremy, a gawky, bespectacled fifteen-year-old who attends a performing arts school. He is on the school basketball team, gets straight As, makes a bit of cash by walking other people’s dogs, has a gift for picking winning horses at the races (even though he never places any bets himself) and last but not least, plays the cello. Music is the art form that brings the real him out into the open and something he wants to excel at. But on the one hand, he has his cello teacher telling him he does not have what it takes to be great (good maybe, but not great), and on the other his father claiming that it is impossible to do two things at once and do them well. If you asked dad, a jack of all trades really is a master of none. Yet, even though it seems that Jeremy is going to be a film about a prodigy beating the odds and showing the grown-ups in his life that he is going to do life his way, this turns out not to be the route Barron’s gem ends up taking.
Little does Jeremy know that it is precisely his cello playing at a school recital that will get him the much-desired attention of the new girl, one he previously crossed paths with and instantly took a liking to, but was too shy and insecure to do anything about it. From that point on, the movie ceases to focus on who Jeremy is in terms of the things he does, but rather puts a magnifying glass on who he is becoming based on how he feels. His love interest, aspiring dancer Susan, grew up without a mom and has been lonely and friendless for most of her young life. But when she hears Jeremy play, she is deeply touched and thinks to herself—this must be someone special.
The two form a bond so tender and pure that it proves impossible for the viewers to suppress the inevitable goofy grin of recognition and fondness while witnessing this heartwarming story of first love unfold before their eyes. The undeniably realistic awkwardness of the pair’s initial encounters, Jeremy’s inability to call her for the first time without writing down exactly what he is going to say (including “Hello!”), their honest conversations about who they are and how they feel in the world, the gentle, childlike curiosity with which they explore each other—it simply does not get any more wholesome than that. Rarely does a movie portray the internal worlds of young people, as well as their blossoming relationships, with so much compassion, patience and nuance.
It would be an understatement to say that Jeremy is not a plot-driven film. Deep affection and fragility form the emotional core of Barron’s drama, shot by Paul Goldsmith in 16mm, giving it the feel of a documentary. Other aspects of the protagonists’ lives that are usually extensively explored in films about teenagers—such as friend groups, problems with parents, social and/or economic issues—are of little significance here, providing quite literally just a backdrop against which their love story can take flight. The titular hero is played by Robby Benson, who would become a teen idol in the late 70s, whereas the character of Susan was Glynnis O'Connor’s first movie role. Not only were both practically the same age as their characters at the time of filming, but the young actors ended up dating for a few years, as well as co-starring in the 1976 drama Ode to Billie Joe. The two also sing the movie’s main themes—Benson’s is the voice heard on the aforementioned Blue Balloon (The Hourglass Song), while the song Jeremy is sung by O’Connor.
Jeremy’s cultural significance would go on to transcend the realm of film, gaining the attention of behavioral scientist Brian Gilmartin who was researching the concept of love-shyness in the 70s. His study showed that the majority of love-shy men had a particular film they returned to over and over again because they could both relate to the male protagonist’s love-shyness and enjoy the female protagonist’s physical appearance. And that movie was Jeremy. But you do not have to be love-shy to appreciate Barron’s “big small film” —your willingness to surrender to and witness a delightfully authentic piece of unpretentious moviemaking will do just fine. So be sure to get your hands on it on Blu-Ray as part of Fun City Editions, Vinegar Syndrome’s new partner label, dedicated to designing deluxe home video editions of timeless films whose value is not bound to the time period of their initial release. Although the movies Fun City Editions will be releasing are very diverse genre-wise and originate from various countries, with the first set of releases being films from the New American Cinema, the common denominator is that they are all forgotten cinematic gems. Vinegar Syndrome will produce and supervise every restoration presented by Fun City Editions, which will also include extensive extras meant to examine and highlight each film’s value and significance.
Robby Benson Remembers His First Onscreen Love Scene in JEREMY
Robby Benson & Glynnis O'Connor Recall Singing the Songs from JEREMY
Robby Benson's Fun City
Robby Benson Talks About How JEREMY Came to Be
Glynnis O'Connor on the Lasting Appeal of JEREMY