I would like to take a moment to write about the films that have affected my life. For the most part in a very positive way, but for better or for worse, the films that I remember from the past have made a distinct impression on me and have shaped my views and attitudes throughout my life.
One of the first memories I have of a film shaping my perceptions was the film “Roman Holiday”. I saw it on television as a child and even then it was dated and probably well over ten years old. But I had only known films with happy, Hollywood-manufactured endings and had taken it for granted that when boy meets girl, boy will end up with girl, and in this case, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were involved in a romance. The film was light and funny and yet the end was the only part I remembered. When Gregory Peck walks away from the Princess Audrey Hepburn knowing that their two lives will never intersect again, it was a stunning revelation for a small child. Happy endings are NOT always a given even in Hollywood!
Another film that affected me very much was a much lesser known film with Eleanor Parker called “Many Rivers to Cross.” It begins with a dedication to all pioneering women of the Old Frontier as they shaped the manifest destiny of our country. The film is about a young woman who sees a good looking man who wanders into their small frontier village in the wilderness and decides to marry him. He is just indulging in a mild flirtation before moving on but she is determined to catch him. The end result is a silly comedy but the point involves a completely determined woman who is a forerunner of every Martha Stewart or Hillary Clinton or Sandra Day O’Connor that has strived to live in a man’s world. This character impressed me as no other before that a bound and determined woman could do anything she wanted to do.
Then there was The Sound of Music that I remember as much for the cinematic experience of movie-going as the film itself. We saw it at one of the old movie palaces and I remember it was a special film because my mom bought us orange drinks in cups that were round and looked like actual oranges. We were in Florida so it seemed normal back then… And we sat in the balcony so any movie seems extra-special when you can actually “experience” it as opposed to simply watching it on television.
I remember seeing “Father Goose” at the drive-in which was a unique experience. Lots of the kids would come to the playground in their pajamas and I was aghast because I always came to actually watch the films, not play on some dusty playground (Everyone has their priorities, even when they’re six years old!) When I saw Cary Grant as this scruffy, burping, sock-less anti-hero, it changes the equation of what it means to be a “hero.” You start questioning, even at an early age, what the definition of “hero” should be.
Soon after this, I remember what a big deal it was to see “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Our mothers were hard-pressed as to whether to allow us to see this “racy” western. Robert Redford never takes his clothes off in the love scene but I still remember how steamy it seemed at the time.
There was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: I remember thinking that Audrey Hepburn was the ultimate definition of my conception of what a “sophisticate” would look like.
“Planet of the Apes”: This was such a campy movie and I remember one of the promotions for this film was advertising an “Ape-a-thon” where everyone got a banana at the door and you got in free if you wore an ape costume. (I was about 12 and did not get a free banana at the door)
I remember the first time they showed “The Wizard of Oz” on TV and what a big deal it was to see the film change from black & white to Technicolor. And I remember how beautiful the films were in Technicolor like “White Christmas” Never before or since has life been depicted so beautifully and so artificially colored as they were in those old films made in the fifties.
I remember the waning days of the drive-in movies when my older brother drove me to the theater once with a couple of my girlfriends. It was the ultimate in “cool” to be driving somewhere without having to ride with your parents! And later I saw “Animal House” with one of my brothers and the theater manager came out to warn anyone with small children about how raunchy this film was. Animal House was shown late at night as a double billing with some forgettable comedy and I remember my brother laughing at how accurate the scenes were if you happened to be a young college kid growing up in the sixties.
Later, when I was in college myself, I remember the controversy over “The Exorcist” and when it was shown on the college campus I attended, everyone roared with laughter when Linda Blair’s head turned around and the green pea soup spewed from her mouth. I saw one of Woody Allen’s early art-house attempts called, “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” on a college campus for the first time and it was well suited to the art-house atmosphere found in small college auditoriums. Certain films are meant for packed art houses and college campuses and college life certainly introduces you to a variety of art films.
The last vivid memory I have of films in the past that affected me greatly was watching horror movies like “Halloween.” I was young enough to remember sitting in a movie theater and watching a large part of that film from an angle where I was crouching down in my seat as far as I could go and my friends around me were doing the same thing. It scared the living daylights out of me.
“Jaws” was another defining moment in my movie-going past when the first run of a packed audience was so terrifying that there was an actual moment when someone yelled, “Is there a doctor in the house?” as someone was screaming uncontrollably at one point. Such was the suspense engendered by this film.
All of these films bring back memories of some point in my young life or development that I associate with growing up. These films have helped to shape me and made me think about who I am as a grown woman and as a human being living in modern times. Films from the last 100 years have worked on our psyche and different films affect different people in a variety of ways. Such is the nature of the human mind, where some small event or phrase or moment on celluloid can affect another human being so much. That is the beauty and the wonder of film and it’s why we keep going back to experience it again and again.