Everything I learned, I learned from the movies. The ones I got to see and the ones I wasn’t allowed to see.
From as early as I can remember I could be found in the darkness of a movie theater with a fistful of malt balls in my hand, my bottom firmly planted on a seat somewhere in the middle row of the theater, and my legs dangling over the seat’s edge, barely skimming the floor, which was covered in chewing gum and a sticky coating of Coca Cola.
I was three when I first saw the musical “Gigi.” The plot was thin but the music and costumes, lush. Plus, the setting was Paris. What could be more magnifique?
Sure, the film was about a young girl being groomed to be a courtesan, but Leslie Caron sparkled and Maurice Chevalier singing, “Thank Heaven for little Girls” made me beam with female pride. (Only when put in the context of present day does Chevalier’s song have a questionable tinge to it, don’t you think?)
In grade school, movies seemed to be part of the curriculum. It’s where I first saw “Bambi” and cried profusely when his mother was shot by Man. It’s where I fell in love with the film, “I Remember Mama” and got teary over all the sacrifices made by the mother of a Swedish immigrant family. It’s also where I learned that San Francisco has very steep hills.
My brother and I would go on our own to a movie theater in Queens. It was there that we first saw Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor.” We fell over ourselves, laughing so hard at Jerry’s antics and goofy expressions. We’d laugh until the tears rolled down our faces.
On special occasions we’d take the train into the city and go to Radio City Music Hall to see whatever new movie had opened. Those treks were wonderful experiences. Only the best movies played there and we’d see them all, whether or not appropriate for someone of my age. A few went over my head. Like “Lawrence of Arabia,” which I didn’t get at all and found terribly boring, save for the scene where Lawrence of Arabia get his back whipped. There was something titillating about it, don’t ask me what.
I saw “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there, too, and though I didn’t understand the courtroom scenes, I loved any scene featuring Scout. And the music. The theme song’s poignant melody gets me every time. I felt a kinship with Scout, and her brother reminded me of mine. The two of us were always out and about in our neighborhood. All summer long.
I also saw Patty Duke as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” Now, I already was a big fan of “The Patty Duke Show,” in which she played twins, one British go figure. But seeing her in this film, with her arms outstretched and eating off of everyone’s plate, absolutely terrified me. For months after, I’d imagine Patty Duke following me into the dark hallways, reaching for me and trying to touch my hair. I had short, choppy hair that stuck out in every direction, making it easy pickings, so you can imagine how scary that must’ve seemed to a kid.
During the Beatles craze, my brother and I went to see “A Hard Day’s Night.” Man, those pubescent girls in the audience sure had powerful lungs. You’d think the Beatles themselves were there. Screaming their heads off the entire length of the film, I had to cover my ears to survive the experience, for crying out loud. But that didn’t stop us from going back to see the film again and again. After all, we were insane about the Beatles, too.
Once I went to the movies with my oldest brother to see “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” What I mean is, I sat through the film once, and he stayed in the theater and sat through two additional showings. Back then, no one made you leave the theater after the movie’s end and you could sit there all day if you had nothing better to do.
Then there were the films I wasn’t allowed to see, like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” There was no way on earth my mother would let me go see it, not after she was warned by a neighbor’s mom about it. So I couldn’t go, but my brother, three years older than me, did. As a result, that movie did me no harm, but my poor brother became terrified of taking a shower and would often make me keep him company in the bathroom when he did. He’d make me keep my eyes closed and sing aloud so that he could hear my voice and know that he wasn’t alone. Made me glad that I had missed that movie.
I played hooky from high school once, just to see Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow in “Secret Ceremony.” I was so overcome with guilt about it, though, that to this day, I can’t think of that film without remembering what I did. Thank God my mother never found out.
Even when we were home we were watching movies on TV. In New York, one of the TV stations had a weekly series called “Million Dollar Movie,” and every week they’d show a different film several times. I fell in love with the classic films of the thirties and forties because of that film series.
On Saturday mornings, while other kids were watching hours of Bugs Bunny and Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons (which I also watched on occasion), my brothers and I would watch Abbott and Costello films, though I never could figure out who’s on first.
In high school and in college, when it came time to writing reports for class, I always tried to choose a topic involving cinema. I wrote about the films of Disney, the Golden Age of the Silver Screen, women in movies, and the comic giants of Silent Film era. Getting to write about a topic I loved would pretty much guarantee me an A.
Our family was perfectly made for seeing films. We’d rarely go on excursions to enjoy the outdoors. Instead, we could be found at the movies. The glorious Technicolor, Cinemascope and Panavision 70 mm wide movies of yesteryear.
It’s funny, but the movies of my childhood are still and always will be my favorites. They have a special place in my heart and are woven into my psyche. They taught me compassion and empathy, hope and dreams, and how anyone can have a happy ending, as long as they’re beautiful, witty and have access to a fashionable wardrobe. (Think Doris Day or Cary Grant.)
Indeed. Where would I be without the movies?
How about you? What do films mean to you?
To Kill a Mockingbird is a CLASSIC.
I watched several times. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
My favorite movie of all time is “Spartacus.”
Also, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, African Queen, Terms of Endearment, Out of Africa, Now Voyager, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Raisin in the Sun, & Lilies of the Valley.
Do you have your number one movie? xx
We went to the drive-in when I was younger. Air mattress in the back of the station wagon in case my brother and I fell out. As a teenager though, the very first movie I went to see was Romeo and Juliet, a feast for the eyes. I think I went back fifteen times, it was visually beautiful and entirely perfect.
Like you I grew up with the classics my parents loved them and it was a family thing. I saw many films in both German and English because of our time overseas.
Ooh Val, that sounds like fun. I saw Romeo and Juliet, too. I was in high school at the time and we went to see it as a school field trip. Loved that film. I remember buying the soundtrack and listening to it over and over. The first time I went to a drive in was when I was 15 and living in Venezuela. There were so many of us packed into the car that I had to stand outside the car to see the film. It was an American comedy and I loved it. I don’t recall who I went to see it with, just cousins, but I remember the movie very well. 🙂
I saw so many movies growing up at that Drive In. I suspect many of them were not truly appropriate for children, didn’t matter my brother and I were always asleep before the ‘bad’ parts. 🙂
Growing up in Asia, I didn’t have a t.v. for a long time, my parents didn’t believe in one. So we went to the movies. I remember seeing Bambi because they decided to have a Disney Marathon. They also had a movie night for all the classics and I went to see Lawrence of Arabia with my parents. I saw E.T. with my dad and I remember loving the intermission, because I got to have ice pops. I think that is what made me fall a little in love with Carey Grant,Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn, Fred and Ginger and watching White Christmas with my dad made Bing Crosby one of my all time favorites. I learned the music from Doctor Zhivago before I watched the film, but I was already familiar with it.
I prefer going to the cinema, Monica. I love going on my own. I took my daughter and her friends to see ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ yesterday, it was a visual feast and we loved it.
What a perfect post.
TV was huge in my family. Yet we only had one, and there were 9 of us! It’s amazing we all got to watch what we wanted, when we wanted. I remember being 5 and staying up late to watch the Late, Late, Late Show, which was always an old movie. My cousin Carmen, who was 20, and I would stay up and watch all sorts of films and then I would somehow wake up around 11am to get to my Kindergarten class. Thankfully, I was in the afternoon shift. It was always touch and go whether I’d make it to school on time. I loved those days.
You were lucky to grow up in a real golden age of film. I remember watching all those classics on video and wondering what it would have been like watching them in a theater. I loved the theater experience but just don’t feel there’s much worth seeing in a theater or at home anymore.
You’re right, Paul. I’ve seen some wonderful films in the theater, back when Alfred Hitchcock was still making films, as was Sir Lawrence Olivier and Sidney Poitier. Who can forget “A Patch of Blue?” A thoughtful film about disability, race and interracial relationships, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
Here’s something you’ll appreciate –when my husband were looking for a new TV (after moving into a new house), the salesman tried to sell us on a very large one (flat screen technology was still very new), by suggesting that we’d never have to go out to the movie again. That was enough for me not to want a large TV at home (though I confess we have a reasonably large one now). There is, and always has been, a magic for me re: going OUT the movies. The theatre, the darkness, the big big screen, the communal aspect of it. The bottom line: out for a night or cozy at home, I LOVE movies.
I know what you mean, Deborah. I don’t go to the movies much anymore, but when I do, it’s a special occasion! When my daughter comes home for a visit, we make it a point to see at least one film in the theaters. It’s divine!
It’s funny, Monica.l I enjoy movies, but I really didn’t go that much when I was a kid. Not like my mom, who managed to go with her sibs every week! I guess I was playing outside with my friends — long, sunny days playing tennis, rainy days playing school. I don’t feel I missed much because my nose was permanently glued to the inside of some book or other, and my imagination was pretty vivid. Of course, hearing your praise of movies led me to remember that Domer’s dad (also from out East) spent a lot of time at the theater — just a different way of life, I guess.I loved the Disney shows and the musicals best of all (at least, until Domer came along and I got to enjoy shows with him!)
My brothers and I had the run of Queens. We could go anywhere. I was taking the train to the city on my own when I was 13. But my love for the cinema of yesteryear transcends it all. A few years ago, I returned to Radio City Music Hall for a behind the scenes tour. It no longer shows movies. But I cried all the same, standing in the row where we’d always sit as a family, remembering the organ music that would play while folks were getting seated, and remembering the Rockettes who’d always perform after the film. I cried for the childhood gone by and all that I treasure from those days. I feel lucky as all heck to have grown up in New York. My parents took us to see many a Broadway show, too. What fun!
Reading your post and looking back I reckon I must have missed something not being a fan of films when I was younger. Yes we had cinemas but I never remember going, I suppose looking back it was not my thing as they say.
Perhaps I did not feel like wasting a nice sunny day sitting in the dark, who knows it’s a long time ago.
One thing I do know is that British and American humour can be so different, I mean we even spell the word differently. Take Jerry Lewis for example, I have never ever found any of the things I have seen him do remotely funny. Having said that I never found Laurel & Hardy funny either and one of those was British.
What is obvious is your love of the cinema and how it shaped your early years, your post shows a passion as you glanced back at the years gone by and what you enjoyed.
A really enjoyable post Monica.
As a kid, Jerry Lewis was the end all. He cracked us up like nobody’s business. But as we got older, he no longer had the same effect on us. Abbott and Costello, though, are classics. They will always make me laugh and I’m proud to say my kids have seen all their flicks and love them as well. In fact, I ingrained in my children the love for movies by showing them the ones I grew up with. They’re probably the only ones of their generation who are quite familiar with Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. What can I say? I taught them well. The movies taught me all about the American spirit and how to live an American life, better than my Venezuelan parents could have done on their own. Most of all, the movies taught me tolerance, and for that I’m grateful.