In college, a film teacher I had showed us “A Trip to the Moon,” said to be one of the first motion pictures ever made. Released in 1902, it is a silent film about some folks who go to the moon by climbing in a giant canon. A film about young pioneers. There was nothing like it at the time, and it clearly had an impact on modern day culture. It must have been astonishing for the first people to see it. I’ve tried to imagine, but with little success.Things were different for me. At 9, I asked my mom to take me to a little independent film called Jurassic Park. “The Dinosaur Movie” I called it. I’m not sure what convinced her that this was a good idea but we went. My mom screamed when the goat leg hit the roof of the JP Jeep. It was 1993, and for me this was the birth of cinema.
My family saw a lot of films at Mariner Mall. By then, the mall was run down and only three businesses operated in its halls. Walking to the theater, you would pass a lingerie shop and an arcade with a door that looked like a whiskey barrel. We went there because it was cheap and we didn’t have much. My parents and my two sisters, we would all go together and see movies like 1994’s The Lion King.
Of course, there were movies before The Lion King and Jurassic Park. My mom tells me how I must have watched Dumbo 100 times. She was so sick of it. I remember too that I could quote movies at a young age. I could recite A Goofy Movie in its entirety. I’m not joking. I knew every word. Standing in line for amusement park rides, my friend Clayton and I would name quotes and try to guess the movie. I recall one particular he stumped me with a quote from American Beauty.
“For you, Brad, I’ve got five!”
Quoting movies would get me in trouble too. I was asked to stop playing Super Mario Bros. when I said my first curse word, a line taken from Back To the Future. “Let’s see if you bastards can do 90,” I shouted at tiny Mario. Oh, to be young and ignorant.
I saw so many movies at that mall. In 1995 I saw Casper, during which my little sister threw up and my mom took her out of the theater. In ’97 was Titanic. Although it is rated pg-13, it is one of the first times I remember seeing a naked woman on screen. Chuck Palahniuk tells a story in his novel Fight Club about the early films containing nudity. He says that projectionists would steal individual frames out of film reels for their own private collection. This happens enough times, and there would be nothing left of the woman exposed in the film. He was very poetic in that regard.
There were four other theaters in my home town, and by high school going to the movies had become a special passion of mine. Clayton was largely to blame for this. He loves movies more than I do and was always on the up and up of what should be seen. At the University mall, another shopping center that now is laid to rest, we saw Memento. It was 2000 and I had never seen a movie quite like it. I have since seen every Christopher Nolan movie on the big screen except Inception. Somehow I missed that one.
2 years later, Clayton would drag me along to see Punch Drunk Love. I didn’t even know the film existed until we were in the middle of it. If you have seen this movie, then you understand that it is a bit odd. Sitting there in the dark I wasn’t even sure when the movie had started. The experience was a like a strange drug trip while the film itself depicts one of the closest things to the uneasy feeling of falling in love.
My Brother-In-Law David (left) and Travis (right) waiting to see who-knows.
The very day the film released to DVD I bought it. The electronics cashier, a guy I worked with named Travis, asked me if it was worth watching. That first conversation led to a long lasting friendship. A few days later, Travis lied and told me he liked the film even though he really didn’t. We have been friends for over 10 years, and now he loves Punch Drunk Love.
Near University Mall was the Silver Screen. This theater was old and run down too. The type of discount theater that plays movies 2 weeks after their initial release. It had flat floors and tables where you could eat pizza and drink beer. I saw many of the early Pixar films sitting in those swivel chairs. In 2001, I went on my first date with Alyson Brown to see Monsters, Inc. In 2007, I went on another date with Alyson to see The Pursuit of Happyness at the Regal in Winter Park. That night, I asked her to be my wife.
Though it was our first date, Monsters was the third movie I saw with Alyson. We went to see Jurassic Park 3 with our friend JP at the Carmike on 9 Mile Rd. She had already seen it once before. Upon reflection, I understand that she must have liked me then. That movie is not one you see twice.
I had been interested in dating Alyson for a long time before Jurassic Park 3. I went to see the Mummy Returns with another friend of mine. For an unknown reason, I was forced a second viewing as the third wheel during my friend’s date. The girl was not thrilled that I was along for the ride so the situation was already awkward. To make matters worse, at the theater I ran into Alyson who happened to be seeing the same film with a date of her own. My group sat 5 rows behind her while I soaked up every detail of the film, trying to escape from the dismal place I found myself in and the boy who sat next to her.
At home, I managed to get an old television and VCR that I set up in my room. I worked for a local grocery chain that was next door to a Hollywood Video.
[Now kids, when I was young there were stores that would let you borrow copies of popular films for a small fee. We called these magical retailers “video stores”. We would rent things called VHS tapes then string together two VCR’s (machines for watching VHS tapes) and make copies of these movies (which is an illegal activity that I do not condone). It was all very archaic.]
Every week I would cash my paycheck at the store then walk to Hollywood video. My routine was to buy 1 movie each week that I had never seen before. There were a lot of duds, but my habit yielded many favorites such as The Cable Guy, Fight Club, and Dogma. I loved to hang out and talk movies with the staff. Now my VHS tapes sit in a Chiquita Banana box somewhere in my garage.
Another theater I visited was at Cordova Mall. This was the better theater in town and a popular place for young hellions such as me. There I saw X-men, Forrest Gump, The Truman Show, Notting Hill, Toy Story 2 and many more. In fact, this was the theater where I first saw Jurrasic Park.
My senior year of high school, Rave Motion Pictures was built 15 minutes from my house. They had digital projectors and real stadium seating. This became the near exclusive place to see movies. I saw Spider-man there 3 times and was involved in a lightsaber duel on the front steps during opening night of Star Wars Episode II. We were on the news. During Episode II, a Vietnam vet sitting in front of me told me how Star Wars saved his life. I don’t remember the details. I was there with Alyson and my friend Jake who went on to be the bass player for the screamo band Norma Jean.
When I moved to Orlando in 2002, I had to find new theaters. Waterford Lakes was the closest but was always so busy. Our regular theater would be at the Oveido Mall. The first time Alyson and I saw a film there, which was Adaptation, we got lost on the way. I accidently exited onto the 417 toll road and watched the mall pass by me in the distance. We didn’t have any change so I shoved a One Dollar bill in the coin machine of the paystation. We almost missed our show time.
A few years after, a theater was built at the Fashion Square Mall, a place I would visit weekly on Wednesdays for comic books. One of the few times I went there, I saw The Man With the Screaming Brain and met Bruce Campbell. He bestowed upon us on his own commentary of the movie and praised the independent filmmaker.
It. Was. Awesome.
Coliseum of Comics would often give away free pre-screen tickets to regular customers which allowed us to see films such as Waiting, Dawn of the Dead, Saw and others. At Dawn of the Dead, my brother-in-law met a guy wearing a Green Lantern shirt standing near us in line. This fanboy would randomly pop in and out of our lives in the most unexpected places. I can still hear his voice when we visited a new comic book retailer in town, “Welcome to a Comic Shop. We sell comics in a shop!” Another time he asked us if we had any hot friends who would like to sell comics. The future of comic book retail.
There was another Hollywood Video in Orlando close to where I worked. I signed up for a membership that allowed unlimited rentals for $15 a month. I binged on all the films I had never seen but always wanted to. I watched all Five Rocky films in five nights and cried when Rocky lost to Apollo Creed. On one occasion, I grabbed Howl’s Moving Castle by chance. I had been looking for Akira which was out of stock but I happened across this one instead and took a shot. Today, Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite directors. We took our son to see his final film, The Wind Rises. My son loves airplanes and he was so sad when I explained how Miyazaki was no longer going to make films.
I left Orlando and moved back home. One of the first movies I saw when I got back was Away We Go. Now my favorite film, it hit me at a perfect time in my life. I saw it with my wife and two of my closest friends, Allen and Bethany. Alyson was pregnant at the time and, for me, this film represents the birth of cinema for my children. At 2, the first movie my son saw in the theater was Toy Story 3, the sequel to another one of my childhood favorites. My daughter’s first film was Despicable Me 2. I want my children to have the same pleasant memories of film as I do.
It seems that film has woven its way into many aspects of my life in one way or another. The stories surrounding these films are so glued to the films themselves that they are inseparable by nature. There are so many. On the way home from Kung-Fu Hustle, my friends and I watched a truck lift into the air and slide on its side to a stop in the middle of the highway, the driver climbing out the passenger door and throwing his case of beer into the woods. I finished watching Night of the Living Dead on my old yellow couch and immediately started it over to watch it again, fueling a love affair with the undead that began with The Evil Dead. The first time I watched the The Evil Dead was at a friend’s house on laser disc, sitting on the floor. The first DVD I owned was Cast Away, given to me as a present during the first Christmas I spent with Alyson. Across the Universe made me fall back in love with the Beatles while This Is Spinal Tap taught me a British accent.
I’m also a huge 007 fan. When you watch the James Bond films, starting with 1962’s Dr. No, you can see time passing before your eyes. The decades literally shift with each new actor portraying the same character. I look back on the films of my life and I can see time. I see it fading away and wonder how many portrayals of me have been and will be.
I have met very few people who have no interest in film. Most people are very keen to talk about what they want to see or to list off their favorites. My friend Zach says movies are the story telling of the modern world. As a people, we relate to stories and love it when our stories get told. That’s why we love going to the movies. We love to relive every moment on screen in Technicolor and high definition with surround sound. We love to live our fantasies and see them flash at 24 frames per second. Stories about and within stories.
Zach (left) and James talk about movies on their weekly podcast. http://www.cinereelists.com/