Movies: the Early Years

There are two things that are true about my relationship with the movies. First, I love them. Adore them. Nothing makes me happier than sitting for two hours watching somebody else’s weird dream float across a screen the size of a small whale.

Second, I am a philistine. My taste in movies is the very definition of mainstream. And let me tell you why. Arrested development.

The actual psychological condition, not the TV show.

Arrested development. I fell in love with film through Disney, Christopher Reeves being Superman, Star Wars, obviously. And, although I’m not one of those 40 year olds who spend their summers dressed as minor aliens from the Mos Eisley cantina, I do know enough to not need to check how to spell Mos Eisley. I’m a 70s child, a teenager in the 80s. Spielberg, Lucas, the Man of Steel. And a Man of Bronze. But we’ll come back to him later.

Two movies mark my movie-going childhood: Star Wars and Superman. My dad would take me. We would walk to the cinema, although it was far enough away to make a bus journey not unreasonable. And we would dress up. Not just a flannel wiped around my face: clean clothes. Trousers, not jeans. Smart. Proper shoes.

I know. It was weird, even then; this isn’t some letter from the past telling you how we all did things. No one dressed up to go to the Monkseaton Classic cinema. No one except us. To see Star Wars.

Star Wars was the most fun I’d ever had at the cinema up to that point. I thought it was a comedy. I didn’t care about the princess in peril, or the existential angst of the farm boy. I liked the Wookie. I was especially impressed by the scene where Han Solo and Chewbacca chased a stormtrooper around a corner, waited a beat, then came running back towards the camera, an army of troopers chasing them.

Comedy gold.

I acted out the movie for my mam as soon as I got home; then over and over with my friends. I got a lightsaber for Christmas. Bought the action figures (opened the packets, played with them, pulled off the occasional arm…sorry nostalgia investors…). I took to wearing my dressing gown around the house, like Luke Skywalker did. Hey, maybe that’s why Hugh Heffner does that, too.

In short, Star Wars grabbed my imagination just like it did with every other boy I knew. Superman, though. Superman left a lasting mark. Again, I saw Superman with my dad. Then we took my brother, six years older and not patient when his little brother kept nudging him because this bit’s really good – watch! I don’t think he loved Superman as much as I did. I don’t think Christopher Reeves’ mam loved Superman as much as I did.

I remember seeing Doc Savage: Man of Bronze with my oldest brother. It was a double feature with a movie about submarines and dinosaurs. Google has suggested The Land That Time Forgot. It might be that. Obviously, whatever it was, it didn’t make anything like the impression that Doc Savage did. It was indeed the movie that time forgot.

I’m sorry, but I was only saying what you were thinking. And no one ever went wrong by doing that.

Doc was my attempt at being a hipster, ironically enough, before hipsters were born – Oh, you like superheroes? Have you heard of Doc Savage? He was big in the 30s. He’s cooler than Superman.

I knew superheroes before they were cool. (Which, let’s be honest, was any time before Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.)

Doc Savage was mine, though. I didn’t have to share him with anyone. No one else had heard of him. I loved the super-manly hero, the way he rode on the footplate of his impossibly cool vintage US car. I loved his wacky team of side-kicks, the exoticism of the villains, the high-tech special effects.

Everyone knows never to return to childhood passions. The A-Team was not the greatest show on TV, the Dukes of Hazard was not hilarious, Adam West didn’t deserve a medal for services to acting, and KITT was not the epitome of English sophistication. (Wonder Woman and Daisy Duke were everything you remember them to be, though…)

More recently, I got a little nostalgic. I got it into my head that true happiness could be quite simply attained by owning a DVD of Doc Savage: Man of Bronze. I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. There was a VHS, but I needed DVD. It had to be digital to see Ron Ely in all his Doc glory. Then, one dark day, I signed up to streaming. And there he was: Doc Savage. For $2.50, I could go back in time. And not alone. I could take my son along with me. He trusted me. Hadn’t I introduced him to Batman? The X-Men? Lord of the Rings?

I was the King of Good Taste.

And so we spent the money, spun the wheel . . .  and watched in horror. Occasionally, as we sat in silence, allowing the movie to unspool in front of us, he’d look at me out of the corner of his eye. Really? This is the…really?

OK, it is empirically bad now. But it was great then. It was great when I was ten and all I knew was that comic books were cool and comic book heroes were the only heroes to be. And it’s one of the reasons I love movies so much now, 30 years later.

Don’t rent it though. It’s bad. Not so-bad-it’s-good, but so-bad-I-want-my-$2.50-back.

The last film that I remember from my childhood, I didn’t actually see. Blade Runner. Blade Runner was my oldest brother’s idea (not the film; going to see the film). I was maybe 10 at the time and there was no way I was going to be let in. Blade Runner was an R, I think. I’m not entirely clear why it would have such a restrictive rating, but we certainly were less worldly in 1982. At least, I was. Nevertheless, we made the long walk. I was there in my nice shoes and my pressed trousers. My dad and my brother lined up for the tickets, me half-hidden behind them. The girl behind the ticket counter was young and looked liked she didn’t want to refuse anyone a ticket. I thought, for a brief moment, from the panicked look in her eye, that she’d avoid the confrontation, sell us our tickets, and we’d be in. To see a Grown Up Film. I didn’t know what would be in a Grown Up Film, but boy I was ready to learn.

But then she glanced at the old lady checking the tickets at the entrance to Cinema A. (She was probably younger than I am now, but to 10-year-old-me, she looked ancient, fierce and forbidding. She must have looked the same way to the ticket girl, too. There was no way she was going to sell me a ticket and then have Fierce Old Woman turn me away – and probably get herself fired as a result.)

So that became the Film I Didn’t See. And I wanted to see it all through my childhood. And, gentle reader, I did indeed get to see it. On TV, on VHS, on DVD, and on Blu-Ray. I’ve bought as many copies of Blade Runner as I have of the Purple Rain soundtrack album. (Which is to say, three or four copies. That’s quite an investment. Although they keep changing Blade Runner, while Prince is showing uncommon good sense by leaving the greatest album of all time – I’m not going to argue with you – in all its original glory.) And all because the young girl at the ticket counter was (understandably) scared of getting into trouble.

A lifetime of obsession (or “fandom”, which is what we call the obsessions we have that other people can make money from) so often springs from tiny, easily missed, almost inconsequential beginnings.

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