Medford’s story, whether by book or film, is waiting to be told
DUBLIN - A few years back, I suggested to a friend that the time had come for our hometown of Medford to get the Hollywood treatment. South Boston and Charlestown may have gotten there before us, showing they have international box office appeal in “The Departed’’ and “The Town,’’ respectively. But that’s no reason to give up on the idea. The way I see it, Medford also has the embattled history, the larger-than-life personalities, and the film-friendly surroundings to produce an Academy Award-winning motion picture.
As it happened, my grand plan for Medford came about innocently enough. It was late January and I was home for a brief visit. One afternoon as I was strolling through the snow past the historic houses on South Street, I began reminiscing in my mind about old times. There were long-ago fishing expeditions with neighborhood pals along the banks of the nearby Mystic River, and pickup baseball games with the same crew at the Little League diamond on the other side of the Winthrop Street bridge.
While I was walking, I pulled a cellphone from my pocket and called an old friend now living in Stoneham. My intention was to arrange a meeting later that evening, but my earlier recollections came to influence the conversation. Joe and I started to recall characters and incidents from years past, all of them colorful, all of them worthy of being committed to the public record.
That’s when inspiration struck.
“You know, Joe,’’ I said. “Where’s Medford’s Martin Scorsese when you need him? I mean, this place has more characters and stories than any of his movies.’’
In retrospect, maybe my pitch was a bit over the top. But Medford does deserve a storyteller of the highest order, someone to sing the city’s praises and hang out the townsfolks’ soiled laundry for a wider audience to enjoy. There’s certainly plenty of material in both departments. In fact, my junior high years alone could provide the dramatic impetus for a successful TV miniseries.
Of course, there was a time when you’d only admit to being from Medford as a prelude to a brawl, or as an excuse for a perceived lack of social graces.
Medford is now Cambridge once removed, home to young professionals as well as new immigrant communities. And, like its more illustrious counterpart on the Charles, it enjoys the benefits of being a college town.
But despite its richly checkered past and an intriguingly bright future, Medford has rarely, if ever, been featured in fiction or in film.
Novelist and travel writer (and occasional script doctor) Paul Theroux, who is the city’s most accomplished literary son, has engaged his local roots in his work, recalling the distinctive images and episodes of his youth in north Medford, near enough to the Sheepfold that he often tramped the woods there.
Theroux’s most convincing portrait of Medford comes in a 1979 essay called “Traveling Home: High School Reunion.’’ His fictionalized excursions back home - in “My Secret History’’ and “My Other Life’’ - are less compelling. Even a writer of his considerable talents, it seems, is unable to bring the Medford experience to life on a broad canvas.
So where are we to find the fiction writer or filmmaker who can do the city justice?
I’m afraid the required work will not come from somebody born and reared in Medford and who continues to reside there. By the time “Dubliners’’ was published in 1914, James Joyce was 10 years removed from Ireland, and he made only four brief return visits, the last in 1912, before his death in 1941.
Likewise, an enduring work about Medford will have to be undertaken by an ex-pat author or director possessing the clarity of vision that exile brings, not to mention the sublime turn of phrase and selective recall that a good novel or film demands.
So let the word go forth to my fellow Medford émigrés. It’s worth our while to get cracking, because there’s a best-selling book or a box office smash just waiting to be made about our hometown.
Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “This Thought’s On Me: A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics,’’ which is available from The Book Oasis in Stoneham. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.