Thursday, March 30, 2017

MAKING A MEMORY: CINEMA & THE CULT OF LONGING

In this photo by Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco Chronicle photographer Joe Rosenthal (of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima fame), the marquee for The Castro Theater advertises the double-feature It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Far From The Madding Crowd. I saw this very double feature at the Castro, sitting through both films twice (a real butt-buster if ever there was one) so I'm placing this photo around 1970/1971

In Walt Disney’s The Parent Trap (the good one with Hayley Mills) there’s a scene where the twin raised in California greets her Boston grandfather (Charles Ruggles) for the first time, and as they embrace, Susan (Mills), prolonging the hug, buries her face in the lapels of the old man's jacket.

Grandfather: “What are you doing?”
Susan: “Making a memory.”
Grandfather: “Making a memory?”
Susan: “All my life...years from now when I’m quite grown up, I’ll remember my grandfather and how he always smelled of (sniffs his lapel again) tobacco and peppermint.”

Apart from always giving me a case of waterworks, that scene fairly sums up for me what moviegoing was like before the days of cable, satellite, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and online streaming. When there was no telling when you’d ever have an opportunity to see a favorite film again, a standard part of the moviegoing experience was learning how make a memory. Developing skills, rituals, and habits by which one could hold onto the memory of a movie for as long as possible.

For the devoted film fan it was practically a survival tactic. By the time I reached my teens it had become second nature for me to take detailed mental pictures; subconsciously log, file, and catalog significant sequences for later recollection rewind; and to keep seismic record of the goosebump moments of every movie I liked.  Even on those occasions when I’d I sit through a movie twice in one afternoon, the subconscious goal was always the same: to have the film make as indelible an impression as possible on my psyche so that thereafter, the film became “mine.”  A memory of an experience I could relive and draw upon at will; be it to inspire, lift my spirits, or see me through any number of then-earth-shattering adolescent crises.
I fell in love with movies in the late ‘60s, back when there were only three TV networks and movies could take as long as two years to reach the TV screen. Then, lacking the technology affording one the opportunity to watch and rewatch a beloved movie in the comfort of one’s home—ad nauseam, ad infinitum, to the point of torpor—one had to rely on extended memory. Deprived of having the easily-referenced details of a film at our fingertips (not to mention the demythologizing, demystifying, explain-every-subtlety-and-detail contribution of DVD commentary tracks), the memory of movies were all you had. And even then often only in the form of fractured recall, subjective reminiscence, and hazy, emotion-diffused impressions of the sort that made it easy to misquote and misremember entire scenes.
But in the end, all of this goes to explain the origins of my subjective/emotional philosophy of cinema: In lieu of being able to possess a film in actual fact, I came to base my love of movies on how they made me feel.
The most coveted (by me) part of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle was the entertainment "Date Book" section, known to locals as "the "pink pages." Here would be found all the info on the upcoming week of releases. The movies advertised for Wednesday or Friday release I wouldn't get to see until Saturday or Sunday, affording me a full five or 6 days to get all worked up over a particular film.  This issue is dated June 16, 1968, a week after Rosemary's Baby ( my #1 favorite film of all time) opened on Wednesday, June 12th.

But even fond memories require the occasional bowl-stirring, so a big part of film fandom for me as a youth involved finding new ways to prolong the moviegoing experience.

For example, my predilection for watching the same movie repeatedly is rooted specifically in the fact that when I was growing up, once a movie finished its original run at the local theater; there was no telling when it would appear again. Back then revival theaters (those that didn't specialize in underground, foreign, and art films) served the same purpose then as TCM does now; providing access to uncut classic films like Dinner at Eight & My Little Chickadee from Hollywood's Golden Age. When it came to mainstream releases like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Up The Down Staircase, after their initial release (which was longer then and not so saturated) you had to scan the newspaper movie section waiting for them to reappear on the bottom half of  a double or triple bill at some 2nd or 3rd-run neighborhood movie house. Short of that, there was waiting for them to appear—butchered, censored, and commercial interrupted—on network TV.
The Stepford Wives is one of my best-loved films. While I don't recall the year this 1975 film made its network television premiere, I do remember being disappointed (but not altogether surprised) that the ending had to be trimmed, muting its overall impact. Having to endure the subtle censorship or total excision of favorite moments in beloved films was a common part of the old-school "luxury" of having feature films broadcast into your living room.                                                           Image: coolasscinema.com

Since I liked to read, there was always the option of going to the local library and checking out the novels from which some of my favorite films were adapted (I especially liked the movie tie-in paperbacks which always included loads of stills). A rare and mostly last-ditch effort on my part to keep a movie memory alive was the paperback “novelization”—a marketing device reserved for films adapted from original screenplays. I recall my experience reading the novelization of Thoroughly Modern Millie mostly in terms of the great pains I took not to let the boys at school see what I was reading. The paperback’s gay-as-a-goose cover art was bad enough, but the exclamation! packed! purple prose! on the back made it clear women and teenage girls were its targeted readership.
Fake novel / Real Novel
Because I was shy, I always had my nose buried in a book at school. When reading Millie, I dreaded the day (which, mercifully, never came) when one of my classmates would ask me what I was reading and I'd be forced to witness the color drain from their face as I summarized its cotton-candy plot. On the other hand, Cuckoo got me some unearned points from my English teacher who, upon seeing it on my desk, misread it as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and thereafter never missed an opportunity to commend me on selecting Ken Kesey for recreational reading "At a high-school level!" (I was eleven)

One of the more accessible in-home ways to sustain the excitement of movies (thanks to an older sister who spent substantial hunks of her weekly allowance on issues of Rona Barrett’s Hollywood, Movie Mirror, Photoplay, and Silver Screen) was the movie fan magazine. While other kids my age were reading Batman comic books, I was reading about why Liz was too sick to satisfy her man, and what new heartbreak The Lennon Sisters were having to endure. Before People magazine and ‘round the clock “entertainment news” channels convinced folks that non-stop celebrity gossip was actually real news, these mags served their fandom purpose by keeping pop-cultural ephemera where it belonged: on the sidelines amongst the scandal sheets and teen-celebrity magazines.
Screen Stories was my favorite movie magazine because each issue contained
complete, spoiler-filled synopses of all the latest flicks. With pictures!

I eventually gave up raiding my sister’s stash of movie gossip rags once I discovered the “serious” movie periodicals section of the library. There, magazines with chi-chi names like Sight and Sound, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, and Films in Review not only fed my adolescent pretensions, but fostered my lifelong love of movie criticism and film analysis. Feeding my equally keen adolescent fondness for looking at pictures of naked men was British-based Films and Filming magazine, a self-billed “sensible magazine for serious film-goers” that was loaded with intelligent film reviews and could always be relied upon to feature the most salacious and homoerotic stills culled from even the most harmless movies.
When it came to helping me convince my parents that all the nudity in those age-inappropriate movies I so wanted to see was actually "artistic" and "significant to the plot," serious film periodicals (doesn't that sound better than movie magazines?) like Films and Filming proved invaluable.

Reading about movies or rewatching them to the point of memorization is all well and good, but those are but mementos of the mind. I don't know of a movie fan worthy of the name who at some time or another hasn't longed for some sort of concrete, tangible, take-home token of a film. 
For me it was through the collecting of movie-themed souvenirs. Not so much when I was very young (because I had to wait for movies to come to the neighborhood theater) but in my teens through to early adulthood I loved it when first-run movies would offer some kind of chintzy promotional giveaway to the first 50 to 100 patrons at selected screenings. The thrill of being one of the few to take home a small memento of a movie (not to mention the silent, mean-spirited joy to be had in gloating over empty-handed patrons 101-plus) is what prompted my then-annoying penchant for dragging my friends to theaters way too early, making them stand in long lines (something which I quite enjoyed).

Over the years I’ve sold or donated the bulk of my movie souvenir collection of buttons, T-shirts, banners and posters, but stashed away somewhere in my apartment I still have a few items of interest to nobody but me: the pinback button from the opening day of Alien (sounds good, but it's a dull graphic that merely has the words "You Are My Lucky Star" [the song Ripley sings to herself moments before the final attack] printed over a starry background); the sample soundtrack LP handed out at the premiere (and Joan Tewkesbury autograph signing) of the forgotten 1979 Talia Shire film Old Boyfriends; and a poster given out at an early screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon.
Although my original "Pray for Rosemary's Baby" button is the pride of my collection,
I still possess quite a few promotional pinback giveaways 

Another favorite of mine was the souvenir program. Big-budget movies and roadshow attractions traditionally sold “official” souvenir programs at the theater lobby concession stands right next to the Jujubes and Milk Duds. Crammed with photos and PR puffery, these glossy brochures were little more than glorified pressbooks. But there was no better feeling than coming home from a movie, excited and tired but not wanting the evening to end, settling into bed and reading yourself to sleep while poring over all that prepackaged publicity material, the film replaying on a loop in your head.
Of the many souvenir programs I purchased when these films opened in
 San Francisco in the '70s, these three were my favorites

Pop-art pinup posters were all the rage during the late ‘60’s & ‘70s, and while I loved having blow-up posters of old-Hollywood movie stars like W.C. Fields, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable on the walls of my bedroom (ironic nostalgia was in), I really wanted contemporary stars. My sole concessions to modern times were my posters of Peter Fonda on his Easy Rider bike, and a twin set of Liz Taylor and Richard in their The Taming of the Shrew costumes.
Liz  & Dick: The "It" couple of my youth graced these individual 
posters it felt a crime not to buy as a pair

But shyness, concern that my sisters would tease me (and the ultimate fear that my mom wouldn’t let me keep them anyway) prevented me from owning the two pinup posters I most wanted and which always caught my eye when I'd walk past the head shops and record stores on San Francisco's Haight Street: Jane Fonda in full Barbarella gear, and one-flop-wonder Ewa Aulin posed provocatively in an airplane cockpit as Candy
Tame by today's standards, these were popular and racy posters in 1968. And only being 10 or 11 at the time, I was certain I had no chance of owning them. It then never occurred to me that my father might have been encouraged as hell to have his quiet, non-athletic, bookworm son ask to post a little female T & A on his bedroom wall.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned civilians could actually purchase the posters, stills, and lobby cards displayed at movie theaters (detailed in my essay The Show Began on the Sidewalk). Thereafter, for several decades, movie posters remained my preferred, all-time favorite motion picture collectible.

But so far, all the modes of movie memory-making I’ve covered have been of the visual-aids variety: items that work like sentimental signposts designed to jog my memory along a recollection map whose coordinates and points of reference it remained largely up to me to determine (i.e., they could only trigger memories I’d already backlogged).

Movie soundtrack albums were another thing entirely. I speak not of the soundtrack albums for movie musicals, which are both culturally accessible (the source of many top 40 hits) and require no real affinity for the film itself (e.g., the double platinum LP success of the otherwise flop musical Xanadu). No, I speak of the limited, almost cult-like appeal of the original soundtrack album devoted to the instrumental, chiefly orchestral, musical score composed for a dramatic or comedic film. Not everybody has the stomach for long play records devoted to the non-diegetic (outside-of-story) thrills of background themes, melodic excerpts, and music categorized as incidental or transitional.

Listening to music composed for the express purpose of (imperceptibly) enhancing a film's mood and influencing the viewer's emotional response to images on a screen may not be everyone’s taste, but whether it was music for a chase scene, bar fight, suspenseful moment, or comic interlude; for the longest time motion picture soundtrack albums were the only way to really take a movie home with you.

Some of my happiest memories are of lying on the living room (shag) carpet in front of our wood-paneled TV/Radio/Hi-Fi record player console behemoth (with space for album storage!) listening to soundtrack albums I rented from the public library. Remembering a film is nice—and that’s where memorabilia and souvenirs come in—but listening to a movie’s soundtrack LP, with eyes closed and headphones on, is more than recollection; it’s rediscovery.
By listening to music you most likely felt but never really heard (if the movie did its job of keeping you engrossed), you got to replay and relive a cinema experience in your mind There’s a definite geek element to this method of making a movie memory (the scores to a great many ‘60s comedies sound like music for a cartoon or bad TV sitcom), but nothing compared to soundtrack albums for their ability to inspire new dreams while revisiting the old.
I don’t know if it’s a music industry fact, but it always felt as though I grew up during the golden age of movie music. Themes songs from motion pictures were all over the radio and TV variety programs. My earliest memories of the kind of movie music played around my house are not of movie soundtrack albums, but albums devoted to cover versions of popular songs from movies. My mom had a crush on Tom Jones, and though she played his What's New, Pussycat? album to death, I don't remember a single other song on it.

My dad's crush was on Nancy Wilson, so I heard this album quite a lot. It included the songs EVERY popular singer of the time recorded—Moon River, The Days of Wine & Roses, and Alfie—plus the ubiquitous More (theme from Mondo Cane), which to this very day always makes me think of the 1963 film Toys in the Attic. You see, my folks took us with them to a Drive-In movie to see the Dean Martin starrer Toys in the Attic (Dino was another of my mom's crushes...she really had a "type" didn't she?), and it was there that I was traumatized by the trailer for the gross-out shock documentary Mondo Cane.

As much as I loved movies, when I was young, thanks to the proliferation of light classical and easy listening LPs like these, movie music carried the stigma of being Muzak and "elevator music." You really couldn't go anywhere without hearing Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago (Somewhere My Love), or the Theme from Moulin Rouge (Where Is your Heart?), and torture around our house was any time my parents popped on one of the above interchangeably bland recording artists who majored in sound-alike covers of popular tunes.
I now have all of these on my iPod, the only album unable to withstand the test of time being Barefoot in the Park. Nothing evokes 1969 San Francisco for me like The Magic Christian soundtrack. Midnight Cowboy is perhaps the best score of the four. To this date I've never seen The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom, but when I was 10, I was a fan of The New Vaudeville Band (Winchester Cathedral) so their presence on this LP was enough to make the gamble worthwhile

TOP 20 Motion Picture Soundtrack Albums
(not a list of the "best" albums - a list of albums that made me happy)


I simply marvel at all that technology has made available to the modern film buff. Movies can be viewed in laser-sharp Blu-ray within months of their theatrical releases, complete with deleted scenes, alternate endings, informative commentary tracks, and director’s cuts. There’s untold online access to stills, posters, storyboards, soundtrack cuts (no need to listen to the entire album!) early script drafts, interviews, poster galleries, and all manner of behind-the-scenes trivia and factoids. I could never have imagined even a fraction of all this growing up.
And while I’m sure my 12-year-old self would have been over-the-moon enraptured had any of this been available to me during my formative film fan years; my older and wiser present-self knows better.

I know that my lifetime love affair with movies has always been nurtured by the courtship phase: the anticipation, the counting-the-days-until-release excitement...followed up by the exquisite agony of wondering when you'll get to see the movie again and how you could sustain your memories of it until then.
The elemental unavailability of movies (no attendance allowed on school nights, had to take a bus to get to them, seen only in cavernous movie palaces resembling churches) is what gave them their mystique and made them special. All giving way to what I call the cult of longing—those myriad rituals I engaged in (posters souvenirs, memorabilia, records, etc.) to best make a lasting memory of a favorite film. 
Over the years I've found that what this method lacks in instant gratification has been more than made up for in its ability to create a bridge linking the magic of cinema to the durability of dreams.
The Alhambra Theater on Polk Street in San Francisco - Site of my first job
I moved to LA in 1978, but took this photo in 1981 during a visit

BONUS MATERIAL
Excellent companion-piece article by Joe Meyers at Joe's View:  When Movies Were Big


Copyright © Ken Anderson

47 comments:

  1. I see our latest posts both recall our childhood love of movies! What a wonderful essay, Ken.
    And I'm always a bit envious of your childhood. Growing up in Upper Michigan, I didn't have access to a fraction of the movies and popular culture you did--though I realize it wasn't all fun. I also hid the books or movie mags I was reading from fellow students, knowing it would define me even more as a "sissy."

    Growing up, the TV Guide and the local librarian were my best friends! And then watching my favorite movie host from Detroit.

    Like you, it was a thrill to hunt down and find a favorite movie, book, or album, whereas today the internet, with Google and Amazon, makes everything so easy...maybe too easy.

    This is one of your best, Ken. In fact, I think it would be a great opening chapter to the book of autobiographical film essays we all keep nagging you to put together : )

    Cheers and thanks for the great read,
    Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      I just finished reading your post (I encourage any others who enjoy a little nostalgia kick to do likewise) and it's funny how we both were in a reminiscing mood.
      No matter where one grows up, it seems as though certain things remain the same for kids who fall in love with movies. Although it served as escape, I also liken it to an exploration of self, for in my exploration of film I certainly discovered a great deal about myself.
      Knowing how my adult personality responds to all that the internet makes available, I think it would have been a disaster for me to have movies at my fingertips 24/7. When you're young, shy, gay, and prone to being a fantasist, I don't know that a steady diet of images and escapism at your disposal is the best thing.
      Going to the theater, library, various film-themed events at least got me out of the house (and I certainly didn't have a little screen in my hand that I could stare at nonstop to avoid engaging with people).
      No, I'm really grateful for the time I grew up. Not only because one had to be very pro-active to be a film fan then, but because (and you know this about me) I think the late 60s and 70s was our last Golden Age of cinema, and to be a burgeoning film fan at the time the old Hollywood was making way for the new was as exciting as can be.
      Thank you, Rick, for being so kind in your praise, and I'm glad that, in our love of movies, we share a commonality in our very different upbringings.
      (And thanks for the nagging! One of the reasons I didn't post more this month is a writing project I'm working on. So thanks for the encouragement!)

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    2. Well, Ken...I think this piece was quite the writing project, you covered a lot, very eloquently. I could see it as a movie in my head.

      And of course, now you got me curious about your writing project : )

      And if any readers here want to read about what lengths an Upper MI gay boy would go to watch movies or read movie books or mags, here's my version of a film education: http://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-king-of-tv-50-and-his-most-loyal.html

      Look forward to any writing you do,
      Rick

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  2. OMG. So much to think about here. You and I are very nearly the same age, so many of the things you post here align perfectly with my own experience. I will come back with more complete thoughts, but I could not stop myself from jumping in.

    Those Liz and Dick "Shrew" posters! I know them well. A good friend had them hanging in his living room, beautifully and expensively framed. He was one of the world's foremost Liz Taylor fans. As I recall, in the photo of Liz, she is looking slightly to her left. In the photo of Burton, he is looking slightly to the right. My friend had them hanging on the wall, looking at one another.

    And then they divorced.

    Soon after the divorce was announced, I was at my friend's home and the posters had been repositioned. Reversed, so that they were looking away from each other. He was really angry that Burton would break Liz's heart and allow the marriage to dissolve.

    And then they remarried.

    The posters were immediately restored to their original position, with Liz and Dick gazing once again at each other.

    But then they got divorced again. The next time I saw my friend, Liz was now hanging solo in the middle of the wall. I asked what happened to Burton. "I threw him in the garbage! I broke it up and put it in the trash can. He's not coming back, I don't care what they do. I love Liz, but Richard Burton... I don't want him in my house."

    This same friend was beside himself with joy when it was announced that Liz Taylor was playing Desiree Armfeldt in the movie version of "A Little Night Music." "And she's going to do her own singing and dancing," he exclaimed to a small group of us over dinner. One friend spoke up and said, "I know how they could dub her singing, but how could she not do her own dancing?" We all agreed it was not possible. As it turned out, that's not Liz dancing in the opening waltz. They dubbed her dancing. That's a double. The double's dancing and the back of her head is intercut with a bunch of close ups of Liz. The same thing happened in "The Only Game in Town," but I had not seen it at that point and was unaware that anyone would dare to try it.

    I haven't thought about those posters for years. But when I saw the reference, it all came flooding back. You made the morning.

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    1. Given the vividness of your recollection of those posters combined with the picture-hanging roundelay the Burtons put your friend through, I felt it would be a disservice for readers of this section to be in the dark about the posters themselves; so your anecdote inspired me to add the images to my post, and i have to thank you, for seeing them again really brought back a flood of memories for me, too. I'd forgotten until now that these posters hung on opposites of my bedroom door, giving the impressing that Liz & Dick were giving the once over to everyone who entered or exited.

      Thanks for sharing what has to be the funniest and most
      relatable story ever to revolve around posters.
      (oh, and thanks for jogging my memory about The Only Game in Town. The diminutive Taylor as a Vegas showgirl was bad enough, but when they cut away from longshots of the dancers to a close up of La Liz just standing in one place bouncing up and down - unconvincingly - I just howled.)

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    2. https://youtu.be/lzTPHXJNv0g?t=47

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    3. Thank you for this. If I knew how to make a Gif file (I'm not even sure I'm spelling that right) It would be of Taylor "dancing" in place like she's on a pogo stick.

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  3. Dear Ken: A wonderful essay. Your sentiments are the kind that separate the movie "liker" (watch them to pass the time) from the true "movie lover," where having an emotional connection with a film is practically a spiritual experience.

    Once in college, after seeing the Bette Davis-Leslie Howard version of "Of Human Bondage" at the campus revival house, I wrote an essay for my non-fiction writing class about my emotions while experiencing the film. A friend in the class commented to me afterward, "I wish I could feel that way about seeing a movie."

    What is it that for some of us makes viewing a film such an intense experience? I think being shy growing up (I was, too) has something to do with it. I think being a developing gay person in a non-comprehending and non-accepting environment also has something to do with it.

    But I don't think "movie love" is a negative or maladaptive thing (as my therapist colleagues would say). Being able to have an emotional experience with a film has led to some of the most meaningful moments of my life, even though today I have many close and fulfilling relationships.

    And even though in the DVD age I can own practically all of my favorites in pristine prints, I still am at pains to make the viewing process something special. For films that are closest to my heart (something like "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the 1946 Frank Borzage romance "I've Always Loved You," or "Come Back, Little Sheba") I will watch them only once every three years or so, and around holiday time or some other special time of year. Experiencing those movies again is an EVENT for me, not just a way to kill a few hours.

    Growing up in the suburbs in the early/mid-1970s. I didn't have the chance to experience films on the big screen in those glorious old movie palaces (there was nothing particularly romantic about seeing movies in a barn-like auditorium at the mall). So many of my most loved movies were experienced first on TV, often in a late-night showing (when I was small, one of our local Eastern Iowa stations showed "Millie" for a few years in a row on New Years' Eve, and ever since that is the day of the year on which I must watch that movie!).

    I didn't have much exposure to souvenir programs, posters, soundtrack albums either when I was growing up. (Although I am the proud possessor of the 1954 Columbia 10" LP "Music for Jennifer," by Paul Weston's Orchestra. The liner notes state it was the first album devoted to musical themes from the films of a single star, in this case Jennifer Jones).

    http://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/paul_weston/music_for_jennifer/

    Something else I've noticed is that in some ways, the experience of replaying sequences from a favorite film in my mind is more emotionally resonant than watching the film itself. Does it ever feel that way to you, too?

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    1. Hi David
      You make many excellent points and bring up some interesting issues. I could never speak for anybody else but I do feel (know, in fact) that my love of film grew out of my circumstances. Gay, African-American, shy of disposition, serious-minded, the only boy in a household with 4 sisters; my external life had so little recognizable “me” in it, I drew in to myself and developed an inner life that I was lucky enough to convert into an outer transformation.
      I always feel that the coping/survival mechanisms of the outsider are where artists are born, and I wholly feel that were I more of an “insider” growing up, I don’t think I ever would have developed the interests, sensitivities, and empathies that have made my adult life so happy and fulfilling.

      You make reference to the fact that movies can provide meaningful emotional experiences. I think that is at the core of what real film love is about: having an experience. I’ll paraphrase, but Liv Ullman once said that when one sees a film they should leave the theater with a little more awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the human condition than when they arrived.
      And whether that understanding takes the form of pure escapist joy reminding you that life is beautiful, or an emotionally painful film that takes you vicariously to a place you’d rather not venture to in real life; I think it all adds to my certainty that movies, at their best, contribute to the quality of one’s life –not numb it, shield you from it, or replace it.

      I relate very much to your observation that, as one ages, it’s sometimes necessary to take pains to keep films special. Like you, I try not to watch those films most special to me too often.

      My partner and I rarely go out to movies anymore, but when we do, they tend to be “event” movies. I honestly don’t think we’ve seen a film at a theater since “Into the Woods”, but that was exactly the kind of old-style moviegoing experience I loved: reserved seats, an enormous restored old theater, organist playing before the screening, a lower floor exhibit of props and costumes from the film.
      The biggest irony I find today is that movie seats have never been more lush, stadium seating sightlines more ideal, food and drink available more deluxe…but the movies suck! (I’m overstating to make a point.)

      I think it’s wonderful that you have fond memories of seeing favorite films on TV first. I think every film that means anything to me is never merely an experience of the film alone; it always seems to include the where, when, and how. The entire experience.

      And serious thanks for the information about the (unknown to me) “Music for Jennifer” album and its history! A fascinating bit of film history there. I see that some of the selections are on YouTube, so I am looking forward to giving it a listen.

      Lastly, I too find, on occasion, that the replaying of a movie scene in my mind is emotionally more resonant. I’m puzzled as to why, and it’s certainly not true with all my favorite films, but certain scenes…most definitely yes.
      Thanks for contributing so thoughtfully to the discussion here, David!

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  4. What a post! Fantastic, Ken. As a comment above stated, "so much to think about here!" Memories of memories. Sigh...

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    1. Thanks, Thom
      Yes, the older I get, the longer and more pleasant the journey down Memory Lane becomes. I must say, sometimes it feels like the mind giving one's spirit a testimonial dinner. It's hard not to feel proud to have simply survived, but it's a real icing on the cake revelation to recognize how one-time survival tactics turned out to be the seeds of our creativity.

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  5. Great piece Ken.
    You had to work a lot harder to see movies back in those days, but that was part of the fun. In my case, it meant traveling to theaters all over Philadelphia (all of which had huge screens!)
    I remember where I saw most of those 1960s movies because there were no multiplexes then, and the marquee and the posters and the stills in the lobby were part of the experience.
    Movies on a big screen simply make a stronger impression. (Don't get me started on my first viewing of "2001" in Cinerama at the Randolph Theatre in downtown Philly!).
    Not enough critics have written about the way the experience of seeing films changed with the end of large single screen theaters. Bravo!

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    1. Hi Joe
      Thanks very much for your comment (which disappeared into my spam file somehow!)
      I too think the "effort" it took to see a movie in the old days contributed to their specialness. To grow up at a time when one ONLY associated movies with large screens and ornate moviehouses is quite nice to think back on.
      Such an insulated "world" was created for the moviegoer that I remember the one time i felt my spirits suddenly dip after spending the afternoon at the Castro watching "Casino Royale" -being lost in the scope and size and silliness of it all- only to have to step out into the afternoon sunlight (reality) so I could take the bus home. The level of immersion in fantasy the old movie houses afforded was a big part of the thrill experience.
      I never saw "2001" on the big screen, but BOY, I can only imagine what an experience like that was.
      Thanks for the memories, Joe, and for the kind words!

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  6. Beautiful piece, Ken. I can't imagine there's a film lover anywhere who won't deeply relate to this reflection on what cinema has meant to you, given you, throughout your life. Wonderful.

    It was in San Francisco in the early '70s that I encountered foreign classics at the (seemed like) many art houses: Cocteau's La belle et la bete, Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes. The beginning of a lifelong love affair with world classics. And the revival houses. Not to mention what a great decade it was for contemporary films/filmmakers.

    Have I mentioned this before about Rosemary's Baby? When it came out, we (my then-boyfriend/future husband) went back and back and back to the theater during its run. No idea how many times we saw it. And, once again, thanks for pointing me in the direction of Polanski's Ghost Writer.

    By the way, when I was very young I used to pore over movie magazines, too, Photoplay, Modern Screen, others. Loved reading plot summaries for the films I was (according to mom and dad) too young to see.

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    1. Thanks very much, Eve!
      You're correct in your recollection of all the art house and revival theaters proliferating SF in the 70s. I failed to take as much advantage of the foreign film theaters then as I should have, it was a great opportunity.
      I didn't know (or have forgotten) that you were a Rosemary's Baby fan! It still strikes me as such a remarkable work. I'm always so glad I saw it at a time when I was still young enough to take Catholicism so seriously, and to see it in the city where there was Anton LaVey's Church of Satan (just the idea terrified me then).
      i'm thrilled that you enjoyed the Ghost Writer so much. I saw Polanski's Venus In Fur (I think that was his last one), but it didn't leave much of an impression on me.
      As for the movie magazines, it sounds like you were like me, uninterested in the gossip stuff, but enjoyed "reading" the films you weren't allowed to see.

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  7. I would been too mortified to show my parents a picture of Malcolm McDowell's hemorrhoid inspection.(or was he booty smuggling contraband?)

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    1. It helped a lot that whenever the subject of nudity in movies came up (with my parents, friends, or siblings), should anyone balk at the frankness or find the flesh display inappropriate for one so young, I would adopt a superior, Jean Brodie-esque "The philistines are among us!" attitude. Hinting that, as an aficionado of cinema, I was above taking notice of such things. Remarkably, it worked. Either that or everybody had me figured out and didn't want to burst my bubble.

      Oh, and Malcowaell's scene is indeed a pre-incarceration inspection for contraband.

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  8. Man, does this piece ever take me back. It’s just uncanny. From the soundtrack of The Baby Maker and The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom to the novelization of Thoroughly Modern Millie to the “pink pages” of your newspaper. My newspaper had the “Peach Section” and every Friday I couldn’t wait to see the ads for Me, Natalie, Blackbeard’s Ghost, Virginia Woolf (“This is Adult Entertainment Only!”), side-by-side with ads for “Toledo’s Premier Burlesque House.” It was all so dreamy.

    In addition to novelizations and soundtracks I had two favorite ways for “making a memory”: after my mother finished with her movie magazines she’d give them to me so I could rip out the full-page movie ads. I must have been only about eight-years-old because I remember, for instance, gluing an ad for Lana Turner’s Madame X to the headboard of my bed. The other favorite way for me was to sneak my clunky cassette recorder (about the size of a toaster) into theaters so I could record the movies: Bonnie and Clyde, Sweet Charity, The Stalking Moon, The April Fools, and Three in the Attic are a few I can recall off the top of my head.

    Movies are so intertwined with my youth that it’s sometimes the only way I can associate when and where and with whom something happened. My best friend breaking his leg? 1968, because he and I had just seen Planet of the Apes together. My first dog? The Christmas I saw the 1967 reissue of Gone with the Wind. When did my father get a hernia? Wrong, dad! That was 1965—Billie was playing at the Clinton Theater that weekend! Recently an old friend asked when we’d first met. When I told him, without hesitation, that is was 1977. He asked how on earth I remembered that. “We went to see Looking for Mr. Goodbar!”

    Thanks for letting me go on, but in writing about movie memories, you stirred up a lot of them!

    Thank you, Ken.

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    1. Hi Max
      your comments took ME back! A newspaper ad alerting me (“This is Adult Entertainment Only!”) was like telling a child not to put beans in his ears. And your mention of “Toledo’s Premier Burlesque House" made me think of all those "pink section" ads for the topless clubs in SF'North Beach, particularly Carol Doda's and Big Al's.
      That was the back part of the paper, and those ads for the Hungry I and the drag club Finocchio's always felt like sophisticate high life to me.

      I love the idea of a kid gluing newspaper movie ads to the headboard of his bed (particularly "Madame X" there's something so perfect and cute about that!) and carrying a tape recorder into a movie theater! It's weird but I honestly have a dim memory of one of my friends from school doing that very thing. He always carried one of those army surplus backpacks, and i remember the buttons on that damn thing was so loud, I was sure we were going to get kicked out or arrested.
      That was a lost memory until you mentioned your criminal past...thanks for reviving it!

      I got a good laugh out of your associating life events to movies. A totally reasonable memory guideline, and makes me think of how Shelley Winters in her autobiography was able to do a similar thing, only with meals.
      I don't have any children in my life (thank God) but I wonder if the internet and social media has changed what I'm noticing in these comments: When i was a kid i thought I was the ONLY one doing these things, and of course, reading all your comments, I realize my past was very much like others'. Does social media now make young people feel less alone and more likely to get in touch or know about other like-minded kids?
      My isolation made me feel special and built up my self esteem (and ego), but I do wonder if I would have had more fun sharing some of my memory making rituals with others?
      Thanks Max for a fun and memory jogging read!

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  9. Loved reading this Ken!

    Love how varied your movie going experience was as a kid. I lived in the boonies so my movie viewing of contemporary films was extremely limited to whatever my folks thought appropriate-we're talking Pete's Dragon, Fitzwilly territory here-which is why I had to go on a journey of discovery later for 60's & early 70's film and have always leaned more towards 30's to 50's cinema. That's what was available to my hungry little movie lover's heart on TV so I immersed myself in them and collected memorabilia from that period, mostly in the form of books.

    I had to rely on those chopped up TV premieres for any newer film and though I sensed that I was missing out on some of the film's impact if that's all you've got you make do. I can recall at least one instance where it colored my impression of a film, Far From the Madding Crowd. As I discovered later it's not the sort of film that does well by interruption which I think is why I was indifferent to it the first time I watched it on commercial television. It would seem to get going and then there was a Dristan commercial followed by an Alka-Seltzer commercial telling me "Mamma Mia! That's a mighty spicy meatball!" to break the mood. Now I love its deliberate rhythms but it was years before I gave it another chance. By the way that's some wacky double feature with it and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World! Talk about your tonal shift!

    It was great reading your reminiscences of the movie music, we had soundtracks but rarely just instrumentals, except Dr. Zhivago. Also all the movie giveaways which was something I never experienced, by the time the films got to us the initial release phase was over.

    I did read a few of those novelizations though for the life of me I couldn't recall what they were now. I just read The Sterile Cuckoo last year, I liked it, and while it might not have the cache of the Kesey book I'd say for an 11 year old it was still advanced reading.

    I did however live for Rona Barrett's Hollywood!! Unfortunately though she was the only game in town, I never had access to any of the higher brow "film periodicals".

    A marvelous essay.

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    1. Hi Joel
      It was very funny seeing the film "Fitzwilly" in you comment because, although that was one of the film age-appropriate films I saw as a kid, in spite of sitting through it twice, i don't remember a single thing about it. It was on cable TV recently and I tried watching it, waiting for at least one scene or moment to trigger a memory, and it was like seeing a film I'd never seen before. AND I couldn't make it all the way though. The high-key lighting, plot contrivances (and a very young Sam Waterston) drove me to distraction. Still, how is it I don't recall a single frame of it?

      Anyhow, what's great is reading how you came about developing an appreciation for older films at a young age. TV offered a wealth of films from the 30s and 40s, but I was so into contemporary films I regarded them the way a great many young people think of movies from the 70s (many express they can't get past the hair and fashions to get into the stories).
      It may be just me, but it always seemed like the rhythms of those films from the 30s & 40s lent themselves to the commercial interruption. (I suppose I felt that way largely because that's the only way I saw them until cable came around). Commercial interruptions in movies like Madding Crowd, and even Mad Mad World always killed pacing and mood.

      If anything, I envy your exposure to so many classic films at a young age. I was an adult before I discovered the earlier work of Stanwyck, Davis, or Hepburn. The only old movies I remember liking on TV were Fred and Ginger musicals and those 50s juvenile delinquent/rock & roll/hot rod exploitation films.

      My partner grew up in a small town, too, and hardly ever saw any films growing up, and had little interest in them on TV. Now (after 20 years together) he sounds like he's a film school graduate. His tastes are certainly more refined than mine.
      Love that you recently read The Sterile Cuckoo. I still have my copy and re-read it back when I wrote my essay about it. I'd forgotten how good it was.
      Lastly, I remained a Rona Barrett's Hollywood fan long after I stopped reading those other rags. It was special somehow.
      Thanks, Joel. I so enjoyed reading about your early movie memories.

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  10. Ken,

    I loved this post and seeing the image of the Little Man reviewer brought back a flood of memories. The details of my early discovery of movies as a haven from the world were very different from yours but I think we both wound up in a similar place in the end. I was an army brat and I moved around quite a bit as a kid (six different schools before I was 12) and being bookish and shy, always being the new kid was a chore. Pretty much everyone had seen the same films so that was a good way to introduce myself. But I also soon discovered that I liked movies more than most of the other kids. And, more importantly, I liked them in different ways. I learned early on that if some boy asked what the best part of, say, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the “correct” answer was that one where the henchman got churned up by the snowplow or how cool Bond’s Aston Martin was and not how I cried when Diana Rigg’s Tracy was killed in the end.

    When we settled in Palo Alto in the early 1970s I was very excited to discover there were lots of movie theaters within walking distance of my house, including 3 revival houses. Throughout my teenage years I would go see something at least twice a week and most weeks more than that. I loved getting the Pink Section, as we called it in my house, from the Chronicle every Sunday to see what was playing and to check if the Little Man agreed with my assessments of the movies I had seen the week before. Classics like Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain and The Maltese Falcon played at least annually along with a great smattering of art house movies, midnight movies (they weren’t all Rocky Horror), recent releases and foreign films. Talking to other film fans over the years I have since learned that I was incredibly lucky. On more than one weekend I would see four or five movies and a couple of times, I got to see seven.

    One marathon I still remember. It started with Annie Hall on Friday evening, and I broke up with my girlfriend in the lobby after the show. I then went on a movie bender. Later that same day I went to the midnight showing of Freaks. The next day I went to an early double bill of Harold & Maude and King of Hearts, which always seem to play together back then. That evening I went to Rocky Horror at the midnight show. The next day I saw a double bill of Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby. Talk about a variety of love stories.

    During this period I had the chance to see many different kinds of movies they all kind blended together in my mind without regard genre or era. I loved eavesdropping on the Stanford students discussing stuff I didn’t quite understand like auteur theory, the use of montage, mise-en-scene (which I’m not sure I understand to this day), aspect ratios and were Humphrey Bogart movies existential or not. It wasn’t until videos came out that I started to get into books, magazines and ephemera. I never had room on my walls for posters, but I began get lobby cards here and there. (When did lobby cards vanish? I don’t remember when I stopped seeing them at theaters.)

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  11. (Yikes! I didn't realize I was going for so long) Anyway, I had a huge collection of movie novelizations, which I discovered sometimes had scenes that were in the original script but were cut from the final film, an early version of deleted scenes. I also started collecting soundtrack LPs, from which I would make mixtapes of scores for imaginary movies. (Ennio Morricone and Michel Legrand, together at last.) I went through a long Hollywood Babylon/Golden Turkey Awards period, which I’m still recovering from. (Snark just ain’t good for the soul.)

    When I turned 50 a few years ago, I started getting a hankering to take another look at the movies I watched back then. Which is how I discovered your blog. It’s easy to find takedowns of movies like Xanadu, Jesus Christ Superstar, Night Watch and so forth, but yours is just about the only place I’ve found that treats the movies with a nearly perfect blend of respect and irreverence. I really like how you describe how a film can be silly or an artistic misfire but still pack an emotional wallop. Anyway, thanks for the good work you do. Now if I could only remember what movie I saw at the Alhambra in the late 1970s when you might have been working there.

    Michael

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    1. Hi Michael
      Wow...so fascinating reading about similarities and differences in how films came into people's lives. like yours, my family moves around quite a bit before settling in San Francisco and eventually Berkeley. High School was the only time I had the experience of remaining at the same school and no longer being the "new kid." I think all kids seek escapism and entertainment, but I think we really discover who we are (and what our needs are) when film takes a place in our life more emotional than diversionary.
      Sounds as though you took advantage of the diversity of film available (unusual double bills, theaters devoted to genres, etc) and managed more saturation than i did. of a sort, anyway. That Annie Hall weekend you describe sounds like the cineaste's version of an alcoholic bender!
      Your stories brought back the memory of what midnight movies were before "Rocky Horror" (I remember Reefer madness and Freaks were always being screened). And I SO remember Harold and Maude being billed with King of Hearts.
      Ah, and the death of the Lobby Card. My own memory of their disappearance puts me in Los Angeles around 1978. When Hollywood Blvd still had a chain of operating theaters, I remember strolling the street and checking out the Lobby Card displays. But somewhere around 1979 and the growth of mall theaters and when full sized theaters began splitting into two or (God forbid) four; display space had to be shared by four films and posters took over where stills and lobby cards once ruled. I miss them.
      Your soundtrack LP mixtapes for imaginary films is the first I've ever heard of that. How ingenious! I"m so surprised that never occurred to me.

      One of the interesting things you call attention to is the "scope" of one's film fandom. When you mention the University students talking about film in various way you found interesting and/or confusing, you remind me that connecting with other film lovers is not always a straight line.
      Because I was such an emotional film fan, back in my film school days I never much connected with the enthusiasts whose approach to film was very technical or trivia based. My eyes glazed over if people talked about Expressionism or deep focus; but find a group that spoke of how film techniques and storytelling work together and I was all ears.

      I too adored film books and even got into the whole Golden Turkey thing. But that was pre-Internet when snark was rare and fun. Now snark is the #1 go-to route of the online adolescent-minded film fan wishing to feign world-weariness and sophistication. It's mostly boring, but, as you say, it's also not very good for the soul.
      I'm very pleased you happened upon this blog and so readily "got" it. I hope I never seem like I come across like straddling a fence, but I don't fully buy into the self-serious side of my film school education, nor do I go for rah-rah cheerleading than turns dross into gold merely because I love it. I love critical thinking, yet try to make it fit with the seductive power of movies.
      Next time you stop in, please let me know if you recall if the Alhambra theater had been converted to a double plex when you visited. I worked there when it was a gorgeous single theater, then they laid us off for about two weeks, after which it was a duo theater with a not very soundproof dividing wall.
      Thanks, Michael, for taking all of us on such a splendid journey through your movie past.

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    2. Ken,

      I went to the Alhambra in the summer of 1978. I remember now because that was when my friend Chris got his first car and we planned to go to all the old movie theaters in the Bay Area. I don’t remember what we saw at the Alhambra but I do remember the dividing wall. That planned quest turned out to be a bust. That summer, the same movies seemed to be playing everywhere (Animal House, Grease, Jaws 2, The Omen 2) so we dropped the plan.

      You’ve mentioned numerous times that you feel that late 60s/early 1970s were a golden era for movies and I tend t agree. I think part of the success was that after the studio system collapsed no one knew what was going to sell so they were willing to try anything. So we got films like Nashville, The Godfather, Chinatown. Mean Streets and The Conversation along with more peculiar offerings like Blacula, The Wicker Man, Zardoz, Phantom of the Paradise and The Doberman Gang, which was about a pack of dogs that robbed a bank. By 1978 the studios had begun to figure what was going to sell again and so we started seeing more sequels, more teen sex farces, more slasher flicks and more attempts at summer blockbusters and movie began to get homogenized again. That was also around the time I started to get a little bored with movies.

      Xanadu was the movie that changed your life. For me it was Rock ‘n’ Roll High School in 1979. I had been noodling around on guitar for a couple of years but after seeing Johnny Ramone, who I though was the coolest guy ever, I began to devote all of my time to learning guitar. I quickly outgrew the punk thing (you just can’t be a creditable punk in Palo Alto) but that movie was the kick in the pants that got me going in music.

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    3. (Yikes, I’m writing more on your blog than you are. Maybe I should start one of my own.)

      VHS appeared around that time and the revival houses in town began to get very conservative in their programming. Instead of a fascinating mix of old musicals, foreign films and genre films and it became an endless round of Hollywood classics. The double bill of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon was followed by the double bill of Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story which was followed by Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris . All fine movies that I love, but not as my only meal. I’m not sure I even noticed when they closed down in the early 1980s.

      Even as I stopped going to the movies obsessively, in the 1980s and 1990s, I started reading more and more about them. I started with the Golden Turkey books, Danny Peary’s Cult Movies series, The Psychotronic Film Guide and the Hollywood Babylon books, and moved on to the more serious writers like Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael and James Agee as well as biographies and autobiographies of actors and directors. It was like I was a film fanatic in exile from watching actual movies.

      I didn’t watch much stuff on TV or VHS because the quality was so weak (I hate, hate, hate pan and scan) but I started watching more stuff as DVD came out. A couple of years ago we bought a huge TV and I’ve been happily watching a movie or three a night. The amount of great titles that have been reissued is stunning. In 1980 I felt like I had seen everything there was to see. Now I suspect that if I live another 50 years I’ll never see all the wonderful movies out there.

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    4. Hi Michael
      It looks like we missed each other at the Alhambra. The summer of 1978 is when I moved to LA. It's odd that I remember so clearly so many of the films I saw there, but I have no idea what the LAST film playing was when I quit.
      You make a good and interesting point about how it's easy to see why an interesting, innovative time in film history could produce a lifelong film fan just as surely as Hollywood in stagnation could turn someone off movies completely. I'm positive I wouldn't feel the way I do about movies had I come to them during that period of sequels and sure-fire formulas.
      i didn't know you were a musician, but I love that "Rcok & Roll High School" so inspired you! That was one of the stalwart midnight movies playing in LA when I moved here, and the only time I ever saw it was at a midnight screening following Phantom of the Paradise.
      What I find so interesting about what you recount in your comments is what many film enthusiasts must have been going through during those days in the 80s when movies seemed to stop trying, and all they were was market product. It sounds as though you sought your movie fix in print because for all intents and purposes had stopped making movies for a while. You relate an experience that couldn't have been yours alone. You cared about movies and in essence chose not to watch them until they demonstrated they cared about themselves. With your enthusiasm, you probably SHOULD write about film. At least we know it would be passion and not more internet snark.
      I am pleased you came back and shared more of your thoughts. Thanks, Michael!

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  12. Ken! This was a delight to read and brought back many memories. I also loved reading through all the recollections from those who commented. (BTW, you had me a little worried when about a month went by between posts!) As you've noted before, we somehow seem to wind up in alignment every once in a while and I JUST finished up two gargantuan posts on my own childhood movie obsession, The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers (1973/1974), the one that led me to understand that actors played roles in the movies and had their own names apart from the characters (thanks to the tie-in paperback that depicted them all with their names.) I used to go to bed and night cradling that dog-eared paperback from The Three Musketeers even though I wasn't able to comprehend the literary text inside. I just wanted, as you say, the tangible piece of the movie with the photos inside and on the cover. No one who wasn't around back then can truly understand what it was like to have to wait and wait and wait in the hopes of seeing a favorite movie (and then hope that your parents/siblings would let you watch it on the one or maybe two TVs at your disposal or that you wouldn't have to be somewhere else that night!) Even the whole art of rushing to the bathroom during commercials is a thing of the past since we can pause live TV now! LOL I bought so many coffee table books in the 1980s just for the pictures from movies. Now most of the images are at our fingertips with a few clicks, though sometimes not (which, in a way, keeps it fun... digging out rare images, scenes, etc...) Thanks, as always, for your articulation of things many of us experienced. I also loved seeing Airport among your soundtrack favorites. I think that was the first one I ever bought when CDs came out, followed by Earthquake and The Towering Inferno! Made for some disastrous long car rides... ha ha ha!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      I read your loving tribute to both Musketeers films (and all things Dunaway. She really is stunning in the film in spite of her thinking she wasn't lighted well).

      My adult experience has been that most people, if they've never felt that way about a movie, book, painting, play, or something...really envy and wish they could find that level of passion SOMETHING.

      It's odd (but not unusual) that you, Rick, and I (I wonder if Chris did?) all hit a wave of nostalgia as winter turned to Spring. Personally, I found myself in a nostalgic mood much for the same social reasons that sparked the nostalgia craze during the crooked-Nixon '70s. Only of course its worse now because as a teen, what went on in the White House felt very remote. Not so much now with the bigger crook.
      I laughed at being reminded that, what with one or TV being the usual in households, how democratic TV-watching had to be, and if a parent wanted to watch something while one of your favorite films was on (as in the case with my father's love of Mission Impossible) you just did without.
      Also (and thanks for bringing this up) but I forgot about how trips to the bathroom had to be timed during commercial breaks (especially with 4 siblings) and how you'd try to get a snack from he kitchen as well. It was like playing Beat the Clock just watching a movie.
      I remember when something as simple as missing a line of dialog was a big deal because you'd miss it (usually due to my mom asking a question like "Who did he used to be married to? about an actor) and not see the movie again for perhaps another year.
      I must note that on your site, your posts detailing the contents of some of those old movie magazines are priceless!
      Very fun hearing about your movie past (the disaster film soundtrack collection is the best!) and thanks for sharing more details relating to how much fun (and how mow much work) it took to be a movie fan back in the day. Thanks, Poseidon!

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  13. Ken! What a beautiful, evocative and metaphysical essay, gorgeously illustrated...my movie- and pop-culture- loving soul is ablaze with memories of my own as I delve deeply into your cinema psyche!

    I too remember watching movies in the theater over and over (Spy Who Loved Me and Star Wars and Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox at least 15 times each!!) the novelizations, the posters and the record albums--and the movie magazines, especially Rona's (I love when Poseidon serializes all those on his wonderful blog). It really was like a religious fervor, as you note, capturing the magic and making indelible memories.

    I do love that the Castro Theater is still a wonderful revival house. Last time I was in San Francisco, I believe Boom! was playing...but I missed the showing because I had a few too many at the Twin Peaks...I know, sacrilege!

    Anyway, how I do run on...but thank you for this glorious article!
    -Chris

    P.S. Tom Jones! My secret crush when I was yay-high. Those tight pants, and that permanent wave a la Mike Brady...sexy as hell!! LOL

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    1. Hi Chris
      My, gosh...although I've never seen The Spy Who Loved Me, and only saw Star Wars once, I think I must be tied with you for how many times I saw The Duchess & the Dirtwater Fox (although I suspect yours was voluntary; I was ushering).
      It was a charge to be so excited about movies. I don't know if it's even fair to hope or expect those feelings to stay alive as we mature (my world was so small as a kid, certainly a big charge that came from film was the exposure to a bigger emotional and physical world), but it's fun to try.
      I think the original 1977 release of A Little Night Music was the last time I've been to the Castro. Perhaps one day I'll revisit it and hope that a flood of memories will come back to me.
      As per your last visit, it's too bad you DIDN'T go, for I'm certain having a few too many under your belt is 100% the perfect way to enjoy Boom!
      Thank you for contributing your comments (and Tom Jones crush revelation) to this discussion/examination of what being a movie fan once meant, and how time and technology has changed the landscape.
      In everything from relationships to the acquisition material possessions, waiting, wanting, dreaming, and desire all play a part. In a culture where everything is available all at once, I still wonder how that all plays out with younger film enthusiasts: boon or bane?

      Always great hearing form you Chris! So glad you enjoyed this piece!

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  14. Argyle here. I really enjoyed reading this Ken, as well as everyone else’s versions of the cult of longing. What is it? There are still some films that I just cannot bring myself to get hold of a dvd, pop it in, and watch. It just doesn’t seem to have the right “spirit” - like I’m not giving something the effort it deserves. One of these is “Rosemary’s Baby” which comes freighted with so much back story/front story that I don’t want to approach it in the wrong way. Is that weird? It’s like I want to have it still out in front of me. Now if I was in Chicago and it was playing at the Music Box, I would be there in a second. I guess it goes back to those long Saturdays at the public library (thank God[?] for libraries) in the movie section, poring over the same books and periodicals, trying to understand (and weirdly, intuitively, already understanding) the significance of something like “Double Indemnity” or “The Damned” years before getting to actually see it. What is going on there? I still don’t know, but I love it. And then figuring out a way to dovetail that deep mind-work with the actual experience of the movies you DID get to see. It’s like - what is the emotional common ground between something like “Camille” or “Rebecca” and “Mary Poppins” or “The Gnome Mobile”? I don’t think I’ll ever work it out; it’s a calculus that hasn’t been invented.

    On a more specific note, I would occasionally see an Atlanta paper and pore over the movie section mind blown when there would be a full or half page ad for something I would never see, or discovering old issues of The New Yorker at an aunt’s house one summer and reading, issue after issue, the tiny synopses of films playing in revival in NYC in the front section. And the Atlanta paper always had a small ad for a theater represented with a very inky but recognizable image of Michelangelo’s “David” like a glowing ember on the page.

    We were not a record buying family either, so I would study the ads in magazines or record club flyers that would come in the mail with tiny little postage stamp images of record covers like “Casino Royale” or “Doctor Zhivago.” What was I looking for? My mom could play the piano and she loved to play the theme from “Alfie” and I loved it. I had the novelization of “The Great Bank Robbery” (Elke Sommer, Zero Mostel) that I never read but was unaccountably attached to. I think it was just having acquired something/anything with a link to an actual theatrical film. So weird. I never saw the film, had to look it up as I wrote this, and it looks like it was not one of the more notable films of 1969.

    Not to get too gamma rays/marigolds on you but I did a science fair project around the same time about the effect of pollution on plants. Four gallon jars, four coleus plants. One “control”, one watered with horrible detergent-y/oily water, one in badly eroded soil, one that I would put a smoky alcohol burner in with periodically. Guess which one made it? And I actually got to go to the city science fair with this. Conclusion then - pollution is bad. Conclusion now? Was that “control” coleus really living?

    Back to the library. When I was old enough to drive, I would keep an eye on the library film series. Even I was not that interested in “My Little Chickadee,” but eventually they scheduled the George Cukor version of “Little Women” with Katharine Hepburn with whom I was in a cycle of obsession. Thought about it all week mowing yards and bagging groceries. Got to the library on Friday night, lights go down, and it’s the ghastly Technicolor Mervyn LeRoy version with Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson, etc. I was so mad. I left. Of course I was alone. I was a strange kid, still am. Thank you, Ken.

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  15. Argyle again. Feel like I should clarify, I don't really think that the Mervyn LeRoy version of LW is ghastly. I probably did at the time, but I was mad. I've actually seen many chunks (not all) of that version several times by now and it has its charms, Mary Astor for instance. I still haven't seen the Katharine Hepburn version after all these years and cycles of other obsessions. The subjectivity of all this is a dead end sometimes so I do try to look at whats in front of me and try to understand.

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    1. Hi Argyle
      You express exactly what is sometimes so unique and personal about this whole cult of longing thing. Each one of us engages in it in different ways and for different reasons. Like you, I sometimes grapple with how to keep movies special. I somewhat ruined West Side Story and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Chicago fro myself by watching them too much. I crossed some invisible line where adoration turned to routine. I haven't watch any of those in years.
      For fear of doing that, I watch Rosemary's Baby ever so sparingly. You are absolutely right that you don't want to turn a film that was such a special experience into a time filler, background noise, or a flat-lining comfort-food movie experience.
      It's like being in a relationship and learning how not to turn the phrase "I love you" into just something one says. It HAS to be special and can't lose it's meaning. I find that to be the case with certain films, too.
      All those tine details and rituals you recounted in your comment are a part of your emotional response and relationship with a film. It's all so much a part of who you are, your inner life, your creative spirit...you can't rally dismiss it. All of the longing is as much a part of the film as the actual watching of it. And it does require a little TCL or else it gets lost.
      Your science project analogy is apt because it points to the way things are sometimes reinforced by the difficulty attached to their survival. Libraries, records, books, waiting, watching, missing...none of that was easy...but in the long run, didn't it all contribute to making our love of movies stronger?
      Would I feel so passionately about films if everything was literally handed to me in my lap(top) and I had to draw upon nothing within myself to contribute to the experience.
      I suspect that films would be a passive experience. All that I detailed in my essay points to the importance of being engaged in the process. Boy...I could just go on, it fascinates me!

      Love that your mom played piano and that "Alfie" was a favorite (It's a piece I'm learning on the piano now. My partner plays like a dream and it sounds wonderful, me...I'm just thrilled to be playing Bacharach, even badly).
      Your library experience of Little Women is representative of the cult of longing thing. I'm almost 60 a now and I still can never wrap my mind around the whole "Want to go see a movie?" thing some of my friends can do. They're in the mood to see a movie and they look at what's playing close and what time and then off they go to A MOVIE ...ANY movie!!
      to them it's like channel surfing...one film is as good as the next. When I was a kid and my mom needed us out from underfoot on the weekend and would say "go to the movies" that was the last time that ANY film would do.
      But, as per my "Fitzwilly" anecdote from an earlier comment, if I saw a film that meant nothing to me, it disappeared from my memory without a trace. Even then I longed for the emotional connection.
      If I don't have some kind of pre-desire to see a film I can't work up the enthusiasm to see it. So I understand the Little Women walkout. It mattered to you. And that's enough.
      oh, and since I'm not particularly fond of either film version of Little Women, it's OK by me if you call the Mervyn LeRoy one "ghastly"!
      Excellent observations and thoughtful comments all around, Argyle. Thank you!

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  16. Hi Ken,

    I enjoyed reading your essay about films and memories. How different it is today, when information, pictures and films are just a touch away. I started watching films at the movies and on television in the 1980s and remember searching for more information about favourite films and buying film books just for one or two hard to find pictures from films I saw. I kept a scrapbook with cut outs from newspapers and magazines with movie ads and pictures of film stars.

    I thought of bringing a camera to the cinema for taking photos of the screen, just to capture a moment from a good movie, but I never did. Did you write about films that you saw as a teen?

    I now try to collect those tie-in paperbacks from the 60s and 70s. I have a few from some of my favorite films by now. I wish I had been able to get ahold of some of those Films and filming magazines that you mention! I love the covers of them. I see them sometimes on the Mike's Movie Projector site. I wish had been able to find some souvenir programs, like you have. Lucky you for experiencing those cool movies when they first were released!! I'm still jealous.

    I have far too few movie posters but I do have a good sized collection of movie soundtracks from that era. I recognize many of your top 20 album favourites! I do love those easy listening records with "elevator music" too.

    You certainly grew up in the golden age of movie music!
    Thanks for writing, Wille

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    1. Hello Wille!
      I never thought of anyone bringing a camera into a moviehouse and taking a photo of the screen! Maybe because I grew up at a time that film speeds were so slow, no one would have any expectation of having an image appear on the film.
      I fondness for collecting has waned, but it's great that Ebay has a wealth of those old movie paperback tie-in, and you could likely find all the back issues of Films and Filming you could stand. They were far more exciting back when nudity was a such a taboo, but I still have a few old issues, and the writing is very good.
      Because I was such a fan of film criticism, I did indeed write about movies I saw when I was a teen. In high school I wheedled my way onto the school newspaper and had a movie review column that didn't last long (because I wrote about movies like Jane Fonda in Ibsen's "A Doll's House" in 1973 instead of The Exorcist), and they let me post my home-made movie posters on the bulletin board in the library.

      That sort of stuff is what I think is the by-product of the cult of longing: watching movies can be such a passive experience, but all the ways one had to find to keep movies alive sparked different creative gifts, and instincts. Love of film turned many kids into avid readers, movie poster fascination fed an interest in art or graphic design, the researching of film fired curiosity and interest in writing.
      That's what I meant when I said in an earlier post that if immersion in film started out as something I used as a way to deal with my shyness and as an outlet for an unhappiness at not being able to be myself as a gay teen...then the bonus of it all is that it fed creativity and led, very directly, to my having manifested an adult life in the arts.
      All of you who write here and comment seem to have channeled those initial survival behaviors into realms of creative expression and appreciation that extend beyond the boundaries of movies. That seems the best gift to come out of the cult of longing.
      You often speak of being jealous of some of the 70s films I got to see when first released. Well, what I'm jealous of today is that so many theaters now have stadium seating and those plush chairs, all that leg room and a wealth of concession stand options. Those old movie palaces may have been ornate, but BOY were those seats tiny, aisles narrow, and sightlines terrible!
      Thanks for contributing, Wille!

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  17. Your blog is just totally amazing, Ken! So detailed and informative and bursting with your obvious passion for film. I can definitely relate. Unfortunately I never seem to get the time to update my own blog - you commented very kindly on a post I wrote on "Revolutionary Road" but I haven't done much since then. Oh well. Anyway, I was quite intrigued by the comment you made on the trimming of the end of Stepford Wives (also an all-time favourite movie of mine). What did they edit exactly?

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    1. Hi OC
      I greatly appreciate your very generous and kind comments. I think it's very difficult to find time to write. I always say that the idea for this blog was always to have a "diary" of my film experiences, secondarily, it provides me a workshop environment to me to improve my writing habits/discipline/skills. it's so therapeutic for me, I just wish I were more prolific.
      As for The Stepford Wives (spoilers coming for anyone who hasn't seen it), the TV broadcast edited out the shots that reveal the augmented breasts of the "twin" Joanna. The robot Joanna is visibly naked under her nightgown and the shock to of seeing an enormously endowed Katharine Ross (when so many of her earlier form-fitting outfits appear designed to show off her slim hips and small breasts) was quite the jolt. The scene works without those cutaways, but it feels like she is only a copy of herself. The exaggerated proportions fit the idea that the men were replacing their wives with objectified dolls.

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  18. I meant to respond to this a while ago but got busy. What reminded me was re-watching Day for Night and seeing the dream scenes of the boy stealing photos from a theater.

    It brought home the (sometimes lame) attempts to try to "own" the movie experience before videotapes: novelizations, soundtrack albums, posters, programs, bubblegum cards, flipbooks, comic book adaptations... When the Anobile photobook of Psycho came out, I thought it was as good as it would ever get.

    Now, between DVDs and streaming, it's easy to "own" the film. The struggle now is to recapture the experience of "going to the movies."

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    1. Hello MDG
      Oh I remember that book. My sister had it and I hadn't seen Psycho in its entirety by then (we tried watching it when it first aired on TV, but the shower scene traumatized us so much we turned it off, and I stayed away from the film for well into college).
      Anyhow, what the memory of that book brings back for me is that it inspired my sister to write to Universal for the blueprints to the Psycho house and they actually sent them to her (!) and she went about building a model of the Psycho house out of Popsicle sticks.
      And she wasn't even the film fanatic of the family!
      I know well all the forms of owning a film available to us in the past, and I agree wholeheartedly that the struggle one finds today is in trying to make watching movies at home on a bigscreen TV feel like "going to the movies." Thanks for stirring up memories of that Richard Anobile book I was once too afraid to even open!

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  19. Hi Ken,

    I would say that you are hugely prolific! (Well perhaps not "huge" as in the size of the Stepford Wives' enhanced breasts that you mention, ha ha). Thanks for writing back and explaining. I can see your point about the effect of removing that shot. Too explicit for any kiddies watching it on TV I guess? Thinking about it though there are other bits in the movie such as when Carol Van Sant's husband comes up to her from behind and starts feeling up her bosoms, so almost as graphic? I guess that was a long shot though so slightly different. I thought you were going to say that the ending of the movie on TV was radically changed and obviously that wasn't quite the case, thankfully.

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    1. No, seems they left the boob grope scene in, and the only other editing that I recall (and it's strange to think that after all these years I still remember...I guess i was pissed!) is that they edited out the orgasm sounds when Prentiss & Ross visit the pharmacist's home ("You're the master!") and a bit of the swearing (if you consider "Goddam" swearing) when Ross and her husband argue.
      Seeing a fave film on TV in those days was a black and white, waiting-to-be-disappointed experience!

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  20. What a gorgeous essay, Ken! It's funny you should use the term "exquisite agony," because there really was something exquisite about the longing for those movies -- I experienced something very similar, though I don't think I ever saw a film more than once in its initial run -- other than "Darling Lili" since my uncle managed the downtown LA theater where it was playing in 1970 (we were visiting from NYC that summer); I think I saw that film 5-6 times (I also vividly remember the coming attraction:"Song of Norway." LOL).

    Most of the movies I saw -- and longed to see again and again -- were old movie musicals on TV. I used to scan the TV section every Sunday to see what I might catch on the Late Show (or Late, Late Show) if I could only convince my mother to let me stay up that late, which I rarely could. My elementary school graduation celebration was a trip downtown (to the Ziegfeld Theater) to see "That's Entertainment." I was in ecstasy, and spent most of my adolescence tracking down those MGM musicals. When I was in high school and could travel on my own, I dragged so many friends to revival theaters to see all the Astaire & Rogers films, Judy Garland, Nelson Eddy & Jeanette McDonald, and so forth. Nearly all of those theaters are gone, alas, but the movies now accessible. It's a great pleasure to be able to watch whatever I want whenever I want, but as it's always on a MacBook, it's simply not the same thing. (Then again, growing up, we didn't have a color TV and our black-and-white Zenith wasn't all that much bigger than my laptop. Perhaps sometimes it's the longing for something that we really remember, more than the thing itself -- like unrequited -- or rarely requited -- love. How I ached, ACHED, to see "Strike Up the Band" when I was about 15.

    I too think it's probably better I didn't have round-the-clock access to every movie I obsessed over; I'd have never made a friend. The longing to see these movies made us resourceful and -- as you so eloquently describe -- gave the movies themselves a power they've lost. If Christmas happened every day, it wouldn't be Christmas.

    Aside from getting to see "That's Entertainment," for my graduation I also got a small Panasonic portable cassette recorder, and over the next six years or so, I would record entire movies off the TV set -- just the sound naturally -- and listened to them so many times that I can still recite nearly verbatim the dialogue from "Goldiggers of 1933," "Top Hat," "The Harvey Girls," and "Captain January," and so many other musicals, to this day.

    As a kid I owned a book called "The Movie Musical Quiz Book," and the stills in it were attributed to the Bettmann Archive. So I wrote a letter to the Bettmann archive -- I must have been about 13 or 14 -- asking how I could get my hands on some of those images. Alas, they never responded.

    You are a tremendous writer, Ken. Always a joy to read this blog.

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    1. Peter!
      A blast from the past back when my relatives (OK, only one) were the only ones reading this blog! Pleases me no end that you enjoyed this essay and that it prompted to you share your own memories of "exquisite agony."

      Everything you relate about your childhood expounds upon the fact that, back when seeing movies required an effort on a person's part; the waiting, wanting, and searching was an inextricable part of what made them special.
      Unlike you, I really didn't watch many old films when I was young, so "That's Entertainment" was my introduction to almost all the stars and movies featured. Though I was much older, like you I launched myself on a quest to track down those old films on TV afterward. Also like you, I took to taping movies off the TV (musicals only), but I too listened to them so many times I can sing the whole entire to any number of Busby Berkeley or MGM musicals (much to my partner's unending dismay).

      What comes through strongly in your comments is how the very effort involved in seeing films back in the day sparked in those who found something in cinema, a level of involvement and engagement that was far from apathetic. You felt something about what you were seeing, the movies mattered to you on levels direct and indirect. It turned introverts into people who had to deal with crowds; it turned reserved children into kids who could tap into an inner excitement...that very resourcefulness you mentioned is, I believe, the seeds of a lot of people's creativity. It's where a lot of imagination and self-definition took root.

      As an old(er) man who really doesn't like people very much and has cultivated his inner curmudgeon to a fault, I am thrilled by today's ready accessibility. But I wouldn't feel the same about about movies if they were as easy to get to as they are now. Your Christmas analogy is perfect: there's something in the wiring of the human soul that seems to bloom when there is desire and longing.
      You paint such a vivid picture of your early years - the inventive, unique ways in which you responded to movies -it's no small wonder you're an artist. I have yet to meet or know anyone with a creative/idiosyncratic streak who didn't have something inside of them when they were young that they didn't strive to feed.
      I've a feeling the incurious, satisfied child who has all his needs met grows into a dullard.

      You're super kind with your compliments, and reading about your youth really made my day. Thank you for contributing to this comments section, which is like a Valentine to the power and influence of movies.

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  21. I became aware of this post because someone on my facebook feed shared it! Ken, you're quite famous!! :D

    I loved this post. Even with all the difficulties of being a moviegoer before VHS it still seems like a precious experience to like/love somethng so much that you want to remember everything about it. That's pure devotion, and it fascinates me.

    I wasn't really a movie fan as a kid (as you might remember), I knew nothing about Oscar or release dates or famous actors (by the time they seemed pointless celebrities to me). Also, VHS was still pretty unaccesible in my country and I would have to be awake after 22:00pm. to catch a nice movie (M.I.B came to Brazil two years after it's original release and when they announced it for the first time on television I started washing my face every 15 minutes to remain awake - Still I slept before the broadcast begun).
    I loved to watch 80s classics on TV every afternoon after school (I still love everyhting about the much maligned "The Blue Lagoon", LOL) but that was it, I didn't want posters or care about soundtrack and even though I realize nowadays those movies stayed with me, it didn't seem so at the time. I was way more into books and animation (I was obsessed about japanese stuff).

    Nowadays it's funny that I'm more like the past Ken, I wan't to memorize everything I see and I love movie souvenir (actually I've been making my own souvenirs, printing posters and sticking them on my walls for example), and when reading or writing or drawing I listen to movie soundtracks to get in the mood (By the way, most of the sondtracks you pointed out here are amazing, the other ones I don't know. Alas, since you like Carrie's soundtrack I can't recomend you "Dressed to Kill" soundtrack enough, especially "The Museum" track).

    Your memories are so colorful and it seems that when we read your essay all the actors and actresses pictured on the images start to dance and celebrate those exquisite times, it's kind of magical. Thank you for sharing these words with us. Everything changed so fast!
    Have a great week!

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    1. Hi, Joao Paulo
      That's so great you discovered this essay through a FB post!
      Your inverse appreciation of film mirrors that of my partner, who didn't pay much attention to movies growing up, yet in his adult life has become quite knowledgeable.
      I of course understand why movies meant so much to me growing up, but your experience sheds light on a phenomenon somewhat new to me: the person who becomes a film enthusiast in their adult years. I sense that what attracts is similar, but the reasons and sources of fulfillment must be different.
      What does sound familiar in your description of how film has captured your imagination (I love your tale of trying to stay up for Men In Black) is the way film seems to serve as an artistic, intellectual, and emotional outlet of exploration and discovery for you.

      To be interested or passionate about anything is what most people seek but few find, so in a way I envy that you have that enthusiasm NOW and don't have to look back on the past and try to recapture it.
      The way movies can spark our individual creative streaks (your making your own souvenirs, taking time to write and to draw) is what I like about the non-passive side of film fandom. An appreciation of the arts that doesn't in turn translate into connecting with one's inner artist would be very frustrating, I would assume.

      And as for Blue Lagoon, all film enthusiasts (if they're honest) have films they love which defy objective scrutiny. We so often watch films with our hearts that it stands to reason most of us have a long list of guilty-pleasure favorites that we really have no need to feel guilty about. They're ours.
      Thank you very much, and have a great week, yourself!

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