Sunday, October 3, 2010

Unreliable Narrator Goes to the Movies

As I announced on Thursday, UN is getting an extreme makeover*. Starting next week I will write about a movie a week for a year.

Before you click away in disgust, let me explain:

When I was a kid, I went to the local movie theater every weekend—often on Friday nights—to see whichever new movie was out that week. I loved the gestalt of movie going. The one-sheet posters in the lobby and out front. The lobby cards (photos of scenes from the movie—which I haven’t seen used in years). The smell of the lobby: gum, popcorn, butter: both fresh and stale. Waiting in line at the concession stand to buy Pom Poms, Milk Duds, Twizzlers, or popcorn, and a large Pepsi.

Every movie was a hoot—the good and the bad. Movies were an event. Each week was a small Christmas. Going to a movie combined many of my favorite things—candy, soda, friends, and getting out of the house without adult supervision. Going to the movies was, ultimately, a celebration of the mighty Friday night when school was over for the week and the weekend lay ahead, unadorned (until Sunday afternoon when I had to buckle down and do my homework).

This weekly devotion to movies was planted early. The first movie I saw in a theater that I remember was a David Niven movie from the late '60s called The Brain. The theater was in Manhattan. Why were we all there? The whole family? Mom, dad, me, my three older sisters? In a building that was many blocks long and as tall as the tallest skyscraper. The inside of the theater seemed many stories high, the aisles as long as a football field, the screen stretched wide and convex.

My sister, Cindy, loved movies and shared this love with me. She took me to see The Sting, which I didn’t really understand. Was it funny? Scary? Sad? What happened at the end? I didn’t get it. That didn’t stop me from loving movies, and the experience of movie-going. She took me to see all the disaster movies I could stomach: The Towering Inferno, Airport ‘77, Earthquake. She was excited to take me to see Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I begged her to drive me and my obnoxious friends to see the King Kong remake. The one with Jeff Bridges. And Jessica Lange! Va va voom!

When The Exorcist came out there was a furor in the mainstream media. The trailer played on TV and it was the most frightening thing I ever saw. Or heard, since I hid behind the couch or ran out of the room when it came on. That movie, and the ideas behind it which I never understood when I was growing up, just twisted through my malleable young mind and gave me nightmares for months. In a weird way, that experience of thinking about a movie so hard that it affected the way I thought solidified my attraction, my repulsion, my non-stop love affair with movies.

So much so that when I graduated high school I went to film school. I learned all about how films were made. I learned how to shoot and edit and light and direct actors. I learned that an extension cord is called a stinger. I crewed on student films and struggled to write a script for my senior thesis. And I watched a lot of films (no longer movies, but films). Deconstructing and reconstructing films was an unforgettable experience.

I didn’t consider it at the time, but it also scraped away the mystery of the movies. When I moved to Los Angeles for 16 months in 1990-91, I learned more about the business of the movies. In L.A., Hollywood is front page news, not relegated to just the Calendar or Arts section. It wore me down. It ruined that initial little-kid excitement I felt growing up. Movies had been larger than life. Now they were just a business. I didn’t last long out there.

That was twenty years ago. I still watch a lot of movies. Mostly I watch movies on DVD. I go to the theater occasionally. But very seldom catch that movie-fever feeling I had as a kid. I’m not blaming film school, or Los Angeles. There is no blame, because there is no problem. I learned what I wanted out of both experiences, and met some great people, made lifelong friends, some of whom are still in the business of making movies. But this last point brings me back to my first point.

I’m going to watch a movie a week for a year and write about it. Mostly new movies. These will be more than reviews. I’ll write about the entire experience. I’ll mention who I went to the movie with. And the theater I saw the movie in. And the trailers they showed. There may be spoiler alerts because what’s a discussion about a movie if you don’t include the entire enchilada?

But, finally, I’m doing this because I want to catch that feeling I had when I went to the movies and it was like celebrating a birthday and opening gifts and dating the hottest girl in school. Why did going to the movies change? And why do I not care about 95% of the movies that get released, when as a kid I was egalitarian? Did I get big, or did the pictures get small?

Give me a year and I’ll give you 52 movies. We’ll find out together.

* Note: I will still post about literature, books, publishing, and writing if something strikes me. So, like a book featuring multiple narrators, not all of whom you sympathize with: if there's a post you're not enjoying, wait a couple days next one.


Liz's Mom said...

Yes! This post is a great essay about loving movies, and your plan to write movie reviews is a wonderful idea.

I always got Milk Duds too, because they lasted the longest.

Dell Smith said...

I liked Milk Duds better than Pom Poms but Pom Poms were softer. I can remember what all this tasted like so vividly.

Glad you are up for a year of movies. I'll also be writing about watching DVDs, and maybe there is a movie we can all watch together.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I love, love, love this idea!! My passion for movies has also waned over the years. I look forward to following you on your journey for the next 52 weeks. :)

(For me, at the movies, it's popcorn and Pepsi)

Dell Smith said...

Twizzlers are my favorite. Although I don't partake that often anymore.

Laurie said...

Why am I not surprised? I should have known, Dell. This is a great idea and I can't wait for the first review to come out! I love going to the movies, too. There's nothing quite like watching a moon picture on the big screen! Here's looking at you, kid...

Dell Smith said...

I think all us Smith kids got the movie bug.

Robin said...

When Neil read your announcement about changing your blog, he said "Hope Dell writes about films." He must have read your mind. One of my all-time favorite things to do as a kid was a visit to the movies. I remember going with Dad to see "Romeo and Juliet" at age 12. Wonderful!
My favorite movie snack: twizzlers.
Least favorite: missing the first five minutes of a movie. Last movie seen: Avatar. Bring it on!

Dell Smith said...

Twizzlers rock! Yes, if I miss the first five minutes of a movie...let's just not think about it.
Last movie seen...was last night. And I can't tell you because it's next week's movie.
Glad you guys approve of stripe change.

Robin said...

Movie snacks -- I forgot Snocaps. Ross remembered them when I described them. We went to see "The Social Network." Great movie! It also brought back memories of my time visiting first boyfriend Greg at Harvard.

Anne Mini said...

I love this idea, too -- and I can't wait to see your post on Days of Heaven. It's one of my all-time favorite films.