Let’s just take a look at the poster for 1987’s Gold Through The Fire.
Wow, exciting poster, right? At the top of the poster, we’ve got the Kremlin and a sinister looking soldier firing a gun. One thing about Russia is that it doesn’t matter when the film was made or who was in charge of the country at the time, the Russian government always makes for a good villain.
The film’s tag line reads, “Peter’s American dream came true but the trial of his faith had just begun.” So, we now know that Peter (who we presume is the backpack wearing guy at the top of the poster) is probably going to escape Russia and come to America. And, just to make sure that there aren’t any doubts, there’s an American flag prominently displayed on the poster. There is also what appears to be a small town church and a few two-story houses. Peter’s heading to the heartland and good for him. Small town America comes under a lot of criticism but I’ve been to and lived in a few small towns and I usually had a pretty pleasant time. Despite their reputation, small towns are often more hospitable to newcomers than big cities.
Hey, so far, so good! The villains are Russian. The setting is small town America. Peter appears to be a totally decent teenager. This poster features a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Or, at least, it does until you look in the bottom left corner and you see that Peter appears to be playing soccer….
OH NO! IS THIS A SOCCER MOVIE!?
Well, fear not. Yes, the film does involve some soccer but, to be honest, the inclusion of soccer kind of makes sense. When Peter enrolls in his new American high school, he struggles to fit in. He can barely speak English. He is confused by most American customs. When someone asks him if he has any “records” from his previous school, he says that he enjoys music and this leads to the following comment from one of his classmates:
Poor Peter! As we saw at the start of the film, Peter has not had an easy life. He was born in Russia and when the communists discovered that his family was secretly Christian, Peter’s parents were shipped off to a reeducation camp and Peter was tossed into an orphanage. He eventually escaped, running all the way to Finland and then on to the American embassy. He defected and briefly became a celebrity. After being placed with a new American family, Peter enrolled at the local high school and discovered that American teenagers can be cruel.
But, we were talking about soccer, right?
Eventually, the few friends that Peter has made encourage him to try out for the team. Peter does start playing soccer and it turns out that he’s the best player in the school. And again, it makes sense as he’s the only student in the school who was born in a country where soccer is more popular than American football. (Of course, today, it seems strange that any high school would only have one student who wasn’t born in the U.S.) Unfortunately, since Peter insists on carrying his Bible around with him everywhere that he goes and trying to lead a prayer group on school ground, the school’s principal is not sure that Peter can be allowed to continue playing. The principal’s office is decorated with a print of Normal Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech, just in case you had any doubt that the school was being run by a Lefty version of Frasier Crane.
Not only does Peter have to deal with the school and its rules but the KGB is also after him. And his foster brother has lost his faith! Peter has a lot to deal with. Fortunately, his new foster family has a station wagon that he can drive around town while he’s thinking.
The best part of Gold Through The Fire is the beginning of the film, when Peter is trying to escape from Russia. That part of the film moves at a steady pace and, even more importantly, it captures the feel of living in a situation where you’re not allowed to think or speak for yourself. It perfectly captures the drabness of dictatorship. Unfortunately, once Peter gets to America, the action starts to drag, the actors are a bit less convincing in their roles, and the film gets bogged down in trying to convince us that America is just one step away from turning into Russia. There are also few too many awkward pop cultural references, as if the filmmakers were desperate to convince us that they understood what high school students were into despite not being in high school themselves. Today, the film works best as a time capsule. Everything about it, from the cars to the clothes to the hair to dialogue, simply screams 80s. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine.
And hey, the soccer stuff isn’t actually that bad. That said, it’s hard for me to watch anything featuring soccer without being reminded of this: