I’m not particularly fond of Jell-O, especially red Jell-O, an idiosyncrasy I attribute to one of my earliest movie experiences. I was an impressionable eight-year-old when The Blob, a science fiction movie starring Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut first frightened movie audiences across the nation. The storyline of the movie is uncomplicated: a red blob of goop from a meteor devours people. Sounds lame by today’s mega-special effects standards, but it was a terrifying classic in its day and still has a following. Just Google The Blob and you’ll see what I mean.
The Blob wasn’t the first movie I ever saw, and it certainly wasn’t the only scary movie experience I ever had. Those monkey creatures in The Wizard of Oz had me shivering for weeks! I wasn’t worried about the witch coming to get me, but those monkeys could’ve been anywhere- under the bed, in the closet. I could never be too careful. Later I had bigger worries, like The Birds and The Thing.
Movies have always entertained and fascinated me. I was still very young when I first realized that the movies were an “escape” from real life. I remember coming out of a dark theater, blinking and confused, and thinking “I don’t want to go home!” I wanted to stay in the dark and watch the images on the screen forever. Everyone up there was so much MORE than reality…more beautiful, more scary, more daring, more powerful, more heartbroken. After I watched a movie I would sometimes relive that “world” for weeks and envision myself as the heroine or even the poor hapless victim. I loved Gone With the Wind, Marnie, Vertigo, Lost Horizon, Hatari , and Casablanca and still watch them whenever I get a chance.
That’s another great thing about movies. You can enjoy them even if you know every scene by heart. Hatari is one of my favorite “comfort movies” if I’m sick. I can’t even tell you why. Perhaps it’s the ridiculous scene with everyone chasing the ostriches, or the fact that I adore elephants, or the irony of a film where every other scene starts with a cigarette.
Going to the movies used to be an occasion, an event, an experience. If we went to the indoor theater there was someone to play the organ while people were being seated. Then a man walked out and made announcements. Then there was a newsreel and cartoons and the movie, or movies if there was a double feature. During intermission we could get something to eat or visit with friends and neighbors. And the theater itself was beautiful. I remember going to one that had plush red seats and twinkling stars on the ceiling and gorgeous light sconces on the walls. When I was in the eighth grade my mom used to drop a bunch of us off downtown and we’d see two or even three movies. I remember huddling with my best girlfriend during one of those Alfred Hitchcock scenes where everyone was saying “don’t open the door, don’t open the door!”
Cary Grant was one of my favorite actors. Sophia Loren was the most beautiful woman in the world. I fell madly in love with a Japanese leading man, and now I can’t even remember his name. I do remember hugging his theater poster!
My family didn’t go to the indoor theater much after my brothers began to arrive. Instead we went to the drive-in movie. The drive-in had all the comforts of home, plus the sounds and sights of the movie. Mom filled the back seat of the car with quilts and pillows, made a jug of Kool-aid, and packed a basket of food. If we arrived at the drive-in before dark we could play on the swings in front of the screen. One drive-in in Texas even had a small train that wound around behind the screen and then emerged in front. If we were going to arrive near dusk we just dressed in our pajamas. Dad knew he’d have to carry us straight from the car to bed later, although I have to admit that a couple of times I just pretended to be asleep so Dad would carry me.
I still love movies. Our little town has a first class movie theater. It was the focus of my limited social life when we moved to Oklahoma in the sixties. Then it was forgotten and abandoned for years, and recently restored by a local couple. It’s a wonderful step-back-in-time experience to go there again. I also go to the theater in other towns occasionally, but mostly we just rent or buy movies.
I’m more discerning about what I watch these days. I still like a good scare, but I go for true science fiction or psychological thrillers, not that stupid horror stuff that is based on how much blood and gore they can show in one scene. I went with a friend to see The Grudge. It was so awful we ended up laughing at it! I like a good love story, but it’s difficult to find one these days without a lot of sex. One of my favorites is Sense and Sensibility. I also like a good comedy, but most seem to rely on what I call “bathroom humor”. Drama often resorts to lots of cursing and swearing instead of good writing. “Action” movies mean plenty of hitting, shooting, car chasing, and blowing up things. I guess you have to “kiss a lot of frogs…” to end up with anything worthwhile. I can overlook a bad word here and there. After all I hear them on the street and even in my classroom. I can sit through a sex scene, although my imagination is usually better than what they end up showing. I’ve even indulged my “guys” and watched some dumb comedies and brainless action movies with them. What I wait for, what I long for, is that one movie that comes along and makes me wonder about life, makes me genuinely laugh or cry or worry, makes me feel something remarkable that stays with me. I ridiculed the people who bragged about watching Titanic twenty times when it was first released. Now I’ve joined them! I just bought a DVD because my video tape was destroyed last year by a dying VCR. Why did I need one? I can’t begin to explain it. I just knew I would want to watch the movie again. Just like I know that I’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life this Christmas, just as I do every Christmas. Just like I know that the next time I have a cold I’ll pop Hatari into the VCR. I’m a movie fanatic, and I don’t mind admitting it.