Thursday, December 3, 2009

Growing Up with the Movies


The blogger known by the handle The Kid in the Front Row has instigated a blogathon, which states that the participants recount an experience at the movies that's particularly memorable. Now, I'm much too indecisive to pick just one solitary night at the movies; so many incredible experiences are so ingrained into my psyche that I'd feel bad leaving so many out. So, in chronological order, here are some experiences at the movies that have helped define the person I am today (take that as you will).

We probably all had a time when we started to appreciate movies differently, more substantially, when our understanding of movies become more enriched. If I could draw it to a point, I'd say at the start of High School is when I began to expand my cinematic horizons. I began to watch older movies, foreign movies, or generally anything that was canonized in any way. Due to this, as I got older and older I could feel that my taste was out of sync with those of my peers. Some of them didn't like going on to movies because I would dare be critical of them. Also, when I hit High School, I began to take myself to movies and didn't rely on my parents to drop off and pick up, so going to the movies became less of a special, once in a while thing, and more an ingrained part of my day to day existence. Due to this, from 2002 and onward there are plenty of movies I saw that left a great imprint on me, but this list will only cover pre 2002, thereby reflecting the time in my life when my going to see a movie was a rare occurence --- and the true great experiences were few and far between.

Beauty and the Beast
Circa Christmas 1991

This is the first movie I have clear memories of seeing, and thus it warrants an inclusion on this list regardless of quality. That it happens to be the last watchable, let alone good movie that Disney's hand drawn animation studio made is beside the point, but it certainly doesn't hurt. I was like 3 years old at the time, so my memory is hazy to say the least, but I remember getting very, very upset when Gaston plummets to his death from atop the Beast's castle. I mean, that had to hurt really bad.

Jurassic Park
Circa Summer 1993

Again, I was 4-going-on-5 when I saw this movie, so my memories of it are hazy, but they're more clearly defined than my memories of Beauty and the Beast. This was the first non-Disney, non-animated, non G-rate movie I saw in a movie theater, and I remember being very excited to be seeing something that wasn't expressly 'kiddy'. I remember being scared shitless during the film's claustrophobic, expressionistic opening sequence, being in awe when we got our first glimpse of dinosaur's (the Brontosaurus sequence is quintessential Spielberg --- human beings eclipsed by technology), and then spending the rest of the movie scared shitless when all hell (not to mention carnivores) breaks loose. Most people find the T-Rex sequence to be the scariest and most memorable, but it was the Raptors that had me watching the movie between my fingers --- I had nightmares about being chased by Raptors for years and years afterward. Besides, the T-Rex is basically the hero of the movie, saving our protagonists from certain, painful death (one of the most glorious Deus Ex Machina's in modern movies). Those Raptors, on the other hand, were real bastards.

Every movie lover has that movie: the movie they saw at just the right time in their childhood that will always stick out as being the one that showed them the real power of movies. For me, Jurassic Park is that movie, in that it's the first movie I remember having a visceral, intense reaction to, and for that it will always have a place in my heart.

Toy Story
Circa December 1995

Not many movies have the distinction of being the first of a kind, but Toy Story certainly is that; and a thoroughly charming, clever, and incredibly economic one at that. I remember before we left for the movies, my parents gave me the choice between seeing this and Jumanji, for whatever reason. I chose wisely. Little did I know at the time that I'd seen Disney's swan song, their last truly great contribution to the moving image, nor did I have any conception that Pixar would some day become my mortal enemy. I just loved the movie to death, and still do.

Star Wars (none of this A New Hope shit)
Circa early 1997

I was late to the whole Star Wars party, about 20 years late, to be exact. I hadn't even heard of the movie before I started to see advertisements about the re-release of the so-called special edition of the movie, just in time for its 20th anniversary, and to help build anticipation for the upcoming series of prequels. The experience is memorable for me for many reasons; it's one of the few movies I saw in a theater as a child that actually tapped into a childlike sense of awe, and I went into the theater with virtually no expectations, because I had no idea what this movie was. I loved the movie's sense of adventure, the action, the characters, and it's sense of fun. But this is not the only reason it was memorable; I wanted to sit in the front, because I knew this was going to be a big movie, but my parents opted to sit in the middle/close to the back, so I got to sit by myself. Now, I know this seems relatively inconsequential, but to a 9 year old, this is a big deal. I felt so independent, and I remember sitting between a guy who was probably about 20 and some kid who was like 7, and chatting it up with them before and after the movie. Man, I felt so cool.

Titanic
Circa Christmas 1997

I know, I know, James Cameron's epic blockbuster is everything that's wrong with Hollywood film making: bloated, reliant on special effects, and hijacks history to tell a trite love story. Or at least, that's what I've been told, but it's hard (nay, impossible) to erase the impact that this movie had on my 9 year old self. I was always something of a history buff, so I was fascinated by the Titanic since I was about 6 years old. I remember the first movie I saw on the subject was the Clifton Webb version from the '50s, which is everything that Cameron's film is so often accused of being: overblown, tawdry melodrama that uses the ship as a backdrop for a trite familial drama. One thing that I don't think can be argued about Cameron's film is that the ship itself is the star of the show, and it's the humans that serve as the backdrop to the grandeur and tragedy of the ship, instead of the other way around. I also saw A Night to Remember a few years before, and though I enjoyed it for its factual recounting of the events of April 14, 1912, there was no dramatic grab to the movie, at least for me (the book is truly great, though, for precisely that reason).

And then, I remember hearing whispers of this huge Hollywood movie that was going to be about the Titanic. I remember hearing that this was going to be the most expensive movie ever made, and that painstaking attention was paid to every last detail of the ship. The recreation was going to be simply unprecedented. I remember it was due to come out in July of 1997, and then it being abruptly pushed back because the movie wasn't ready. I just had to see this movie, come hell or high water.

So, when December of 1997 finally rolled around (and it felt like a long wait --- this is the first movie I remember looking forward to for more than a year before it came out), and the movie became a phenomenon, my anticipation grew. I'd heard stories of people going to see the movie and being forced to stand in the back, I'd heard stories of people going to see it and then getting on line for the next showing, of people (especially teenage girls) walking out of the picture sobbing. This was the first time I remember living through a movie that captured the popular zeitgeist. Like it or not, this was a movie everyone just had to go see.

When I finally did see the movie, it was everything I could have hoped for. I would have been more than happy if the movie just provided a recreation of the ship that had captured my imagination, but I found the love story that is the film's dramatic center to be extremely involving and moving as well, and an apt representation of the tragedy of the ship. I also remember crying like a baby from the time the ship sank to the final shot, and all the way home. But I was always a giant sap. It's also the first movie I ever saw twice, once with each of my parents.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Circa December 2001

Being a 13 years old sucks enough, but the period after 9/11 was especially rough, what with my living in the Metropolitan area, and some good escapism was sorely needed. I couldn't get too terribly into Harry Potter, but I was intrigued by the upcoming Lord of the Rings movie, the first of a trilogy. I remember checking its IMDb page a day or two after it had come out, and was floored to see it had been voted to number 1 on the top 250! (when I cared about such things) Now, I was definitely curious. I hadn't read the books, and wasn't particularly familiar with the story, so I walked into the theater more or less cold, having no clue what was about to unfold before me. I was taken in by Jackson's film in the same way I was taken in by Star Wars just a few years earlier; I was seeing a complete, self contained, spectacularly detailed cinematic world. This was also something of the end of an era for me, as even by the time Jackson's incredibly inferior sequels rolled out, I found myself mostly bored by the movies (I tried watching The Two Towers the other night, and was struck by how incredibly silly and insubstantial it is --- what you see is what you get, if that much), but the first one, due to good timing as much as anything else, will always be a night at the movies that I treasure. Plus, The Fellowship of the Ring is full of promise, except I don't feel that Jackson's vision for the saga ever realized that promise.


If I was going to stretch this list into my adolescence/early adulthood, there would be dozens and dozens more movies listen, but I figure I've rambled enough for today, so I'll leave it at that for now.

19 comments:

Greg said...

That's quite a list of blockbusters there. And that's fine of course, I mean, Jaws was one of my first really intense theatrical experiences in 75, but what was the first movie that showed you movies could be intensely personal, or ambiguous or mysterious? And I'm not calling you out because I didn't write about that either, I'm just curious. I think for me it was 8 1/2. I saw that early on in my cinephilia along with Last Year at Marienbad and Shoot the Piano Player and it really struck me as something so different from the Hollywood fare I had seen that I spent most of my teens taking in nothing but foreign films.

Anyway, great post Ryan and nice to have you blogging again.

Ryan Kelly said...

Yeah, it is indeed a list of blockbusters, what else is a young'n going to go see? I was thinking of dividing it into two lists, one being the big 'event' movies I saw as a kid, and the other being the more artistic movies you speak of (not that I think the films on this list lack artistry in any way) , but that was way too much work, so I opted for movies that struck a chord with my pre-12 self.

Now, are you asking me which is the first movie I saw in a theater that struck me that way, or the first movie I saw that struck me that way period? Don't forget I grew up in the home video/TCM generation, so I've had a lot of access to movies over the course of my little life.

The first director I was aware of was Steven Spielberg --- E.T. was literally my first movie, bought for me before I was even born, and even as a child I understood that it was a deeply personal work, that there was something more personal to it than other movies. The first time I feel like I understood what a director actually did was when I watched Goodfellas in middle school. I feel like that's the movie when I first understood what a vision was.

But I would have to guess it's 2001 that really showed me that the medium is capable of being the things you describe. At that point I hadn't seen anything so singular, ambiguous, and awe inspiring --- still haven't, as a matter of fact.

Pat said...

Ryan -

Nice post. Those movies we see as kids certainly have a lasting influence on us, don't they?

I still have powerful memories of films like "Mary Poppins" and "Funny Girl" - they aren't necessarily considered classics, but they were huge to me at the time.

The movie that turned me into a real cinephile (at age 15) was "Nashville."

Adam Zanzie said...

WHAT!?? The LOTR sequels inferior???

We're not friends.

Ryan Kelly said...

Pat, those are the movies that really get us going, and even if they're not great they're kind of an ingrained part of the way we watch and appreciate movies.

Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, somehow, I'll survive.

Miranda Wilding said...

Well, I'm ever so proud of you, young man...

You finally posted something new after a month or so...? Way to keep us all on edge with fevered anticipation.

Glad you're back.

Your post represents one of the most enjoyable things about reading other peoples' writing. Everyone has a story. Being part of someone else's existential scenarios (however vicariously) is fascinating. You get to understand what's important to them and why.

Your own experiences are cumulative and incremental. They really do make you what you are today. The grand thing is that they're totally unique and personal. They can never be duplicated and someone else's take will always be a wee bit different.

I've seen most of the films you referenced theatrically. BEAUTY & THE BEAST and STAR WARS (in an 80s rerelease) were absolutely sublime.

I must confess I laughed out loud over this line: Those Raptors, on the other hand, were real bastards.

Mighty fine, Mr. Kelly. Mighty fine.

I'm exceptionally impressed...

Ryan Kelly said...

Miranda, so good of you to drop by.

Yes, my hiatus was much too long. Don't think it wasn't a hole in my heart. The fact that there were people who expressed that they missed my writing only deepened the hole, but at the same time I find that very touching.

It is good to be back. Hopefully I'm getting back into the swing of things. That's what it feels like, anyway.

Yeah, that's one of the great things about blogging, because however unprofessional it is, the depth of human experience lay at our fingertips. You realize that there are more good stories than you could possibly have the time to consume.

And yeah, those Raptors scared the piss out of me as a kid... and I still get a little uncomfortable during those sequences. The whole kitchen sequence in JP is just brilliant.

Sean Aloysius kilmartin O'feeney said...

"as I got older and older I could feel that my taste was out of sync with those of my peers."

Oh yeah! Well why don't you take a long walk off of a short pier... hard faced aesthete


Very interesting list. As much as you loved Spielberg Mr. Glynn, do you remember when a certain bushy browed pale face sat in on a discussion we were having in middle school about who our favorite directors were?

When he declared that his favorite director was Steven Spielberg we both laughed and ridiculed him saying he was far inferior to the likes of Hitchcock and Kubrick etc...

What a bunch of hipsters you were...

And Lord of the Rings can never equal Star Wars regardless of whatever happened to you in September.

I'd like to quote several Philadelphia fans on New Yorkers and 9/11 but even I am too tactful for that.

However it is nice your' back? I guess you needed a break after those last few exhausting posts. I think the last one consisted of zero words and one number.

But yeah I had just started to think you had called the blog thing quits.
And about Jurassic Park, I too was scared during that opening sequence and actually left the theatre and went home only to come back the next week to watch it with my folks.

Tony Dayoub said...

Welcome back to blogging, Ryan. Enjoyed your personal confessions very much.

About STAR WARS, I always feel bad for younger generations who didn't see the version of the film before Lucas fucked around with it. Han shot Greedo first!

Ryan Kelly said...

Well, Kyle, it wasn't easy going to movies only to be called a killjoy because you didn't like every worthless piece of junk dumped in multiplexes.

Yes, there was a time when I wasn't huge on Spielberg. It's actually a big part of why I love him so much now. I can't deny, at the beginning of the decade, I wasn't huge on him; he'd just gone through the 90s, which was simultaneously when he received the most praise (both critical and within the industry), and when he was most endeared to audiences. On the whole, I still feel the '90s is his weakest decade, output wise.

When my turnaround with respect to Spielberg really started was with the one-two punch of War of the Worlds and Munich. This kick started what I like to call my personal Spielbergaissance.

The first Lord of the Rings picture I feel DOES deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the original Star Wars pictures, because I feel they're both fantasy worlds perfectly realized. And they both have sucky installments.

Well, you know those Philadelphia sports fans are just resentful of New York. They have no one to hate, so they hate us because we're the great evil. That they could be so thoughtless as to imply 9/11 was specifically a New York thing isn't too terribly surprising.

No, that last post had a Seinfeld quote. Not exactly the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it's still more than zero!

Speaking of Jurassic Park, it's playing at the Sunshine January 22 & 23rd at midnight. You know we are so there. Must continue our tradition of seeing at least one Spielberg a year!

Ryan Kelly said...

Tony, indeed he did, and while I'm not hung up on it in the same way a lot of people are, it is representative of the way Lucas started to neuter the franchise post Return of the Jedi.

rob humanick said...

You pulled that Beauty and the Beast image from Cinemania '96, didn't you? O_o XD

Ryan Kelly said...

Nah, good old google images. Though it's very possible that the person who pulled it pulled it from Cinemania!

I actually never had that ROM.

MovieMan0283 said...

Ryan,

I'm soliciting bloggers' favorites (of their own posts) for my year-end round-up at The Dancing Image. Here's the explanation (with a bit of a mea culpa):

http://thesunsnotyellow.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-of-blogosphere.html

Feel free to leave your own selection there - links to all submissions will be posted around the 30th, but I'll certainly be taking them after that too.

Thanks & happy new year!

P.S. I really enjoyed this post - maybe I'll take a crack at it too. Jurassic Park was also a formative experience for me, but I was a bit older - 9. Surprised your parents let you see it at 5 years old! Lord of the Rings didn't mean so much to me, but I enjoyed the first one and am glad you share my antipathy to the sequels.

Ryan Kelly said...

Hello MovieMan, and a Happy New Year to you.

I'll certainly be taking part in that --- there are a very small handful of things I'm very proud of, so picking one shouldn't be too hard. Thanks for inviting me.

And thank you for the kind words on the post. I'll actually be getting to see Jurassic Park on the big screen in about a month for the first time since my formative experience and I'm certainly gonna try to put into words exactly what I think is special about the movie.

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