Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movies from my Youth

This is a list of 50 movies that are evocative of my childhood and youth. Often, the memories of those movies are inextricably tied to either a specific time, place or the people I shared the movie with. In some instances, the movies led to lasting pleasant associations, in others, associations that remain uncomfortable. Yet others merely became my first introduction to an idea or a particular experience, or were provacative in some other way. Disclaimer: I don't claim that these are the best works (although some of them are, in fact classics), nor do I pretend to know the order in which they were released. I have them divided up into loose time frames based on my own experiences, rather than the movies' production dates. Like my friend Steve, I have limited my movie choices to those I saw before the age of 21.

These are my early childhood selections:

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"--This is the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theater. I was in awe of the animals who befriended Snow White, and I remember being beyond terrified of the woods at night, when Snow is escaping the castle.

"Escape to Witch Mountain"--This movie utterly enthralled me. I cannot express how much I wanted to be Tia Malone. I saw it at a drive-in in early elementary, and the magic of the kids' mental powers was an incredible draw. I watched the movie not long ago with my own children, and although there are certainly dated elements, it still has that nostalgic pull for me. I am hoping the upcoming remake does justice to the original.

"The Red Balloon"--Absolutely mesmerizing. I saw this in school, and just thinking about it still gives me goosebumps.

"Peter and the Wolf"--This is another movie I saw in school, during music class at Faylane. It was the first time I ever saw a movie with no dialogue, and it was the first time I realized how much the soundtrack of a movie could forward the plot.

"Mary Poppins"--Who didn't want a nanny like Mary Poppins, who could make magic in the playroom and go on outings to imaginary places? In comparison, our babysitters just didn't live up to the standard: )

"Pollyanna"--I have been called a Pollyanna for a good deal of my life, and usually in a derogatory way. However, I remember that despite some really depressing circumstances, Pollyanna was always able to see the positives in both the people who surrounded her and the situations she found herself in. I've never been able to see anything wrong with that kind of perspective.

"Freaky Friday"--I saw this on a school field trip. Really cool concept, not that I ever wanted to exchange places with my mother. I think it was more about the idea of trying on someone else's life--anyone else--that was intriguing. I also thought the remake was worth seeing.

"The Wizard of Oz"--This movie used to come on about once a year when I was a kid, and my mom would let us stay up late to watch it whenever it came on. (Our bedtime was probably 8, and if I had to guess I'd say the movie came on during the 7-9 time block.) I adored Glinda the Good Witch, and wanted to go to Oz just to meet her. The flying monkeys scared me, but the trees that reached out their claws were even more frightening. To this day, I still don't walk too close to trees when it's dark.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"--Such an amazing movie! I go back and revisit it every now and again. The fanciful world Wonka inhabits (and Charlie inherits) is pure escapism. And, of course, I love that the good guy wins. I still get a twinge of indignance, though, at the scene where Wonka kicks out Charlie and Grandpa for violating the contract. It's to test Charlie's integrity--and he passes--but it still makes Wonka seem too spiteful.

These selections are tied to my late elementary school days:

"Ice Castles"--I love this movie! I remember when I was in sixth grade, we had a reading contest, and the top three winners got to go to the movies with our teacher, Mr. Fletcher. Derek Woolverton and I tied for first place (I'm not sure if it was total number of pages, or tests we took on books, or what), but I don't remember who the third person was. We went, at night, to see "Ice Castles," and I remember even at the time thinking it might have been less than appropriate. It's probably the first movie I ever saw that had profanity, and I remember wondering if Mr. Fletcher regretted letting us choose this particular movie to see. The ending scene still makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Every time. I also love the song, "Through the Eyes of Love," which came from this film.

"Wait Until Dark"--When we were in elementary school, Mom taught psychology at Sanger High. Every year, she'd have a party at the end of the year at our house where she showed this movie as a 'psychological study.' We got to join in and watch with them. Scared the pants off me! Psychological thrillers and suspense movies are probably the toughest kinds of movies for me to watch--the tension just kills me! To this day, Lisa and I wonder what Mom was thinking letting little kids watch this one.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"--This was the other 'psychological study' Mom showed at her psychology parties. Beyond creepy, but utterly fascinating. And the scene with the rat? Oh my goodness--it never ceased to horrify me. And yet I watched it every year.

"Sybil"--Sally Fields' portrayal of a woman with multiple personalities was yet another outcome of Mom's work. I had never heard of this disorder, and seeing the portrayal of Sybil's various personalities was incredibly fascinating and powerful to me.

"Cipher in the Snow"--While we're on psychology here, this one probably had the most impact on me at the time I saw it. I was deeply moved by the cipher, and how invisible he was to those around him. I spent a lot of my young life trying to be invisible, trying to fade into the background--I was painfully shy and didn't want anyone's attention on me.

The ages and order get a little fuzzy here. These are the movies I experienced sometime between my junior high and high school days:

"War Games"--This is Matthew Broderick as the original gamer and hacker. It was pretty cool to think some local 'troublemaker' could be the one to save the world.

"E.T."--I saw this one in the theater originally. It had everything--comedy (drunk E.T. cleaning out the fridge, E.T. in drag trying to hide in a closet of dolls) and drama (the scientists descending on the household, the touching connection between E.T. and Elliot). Loved it!

"Airplane"--"And don't call me Shirley"...that was a line that was bandied about our household often. We could all quote lines from that movie. Remember Ted's 'drinking problem'? That came up everytime anyone spilled something. We thought we were hilarious.

"Blues Brothers"--RRRRRRRRRubber BisCUIT!!!!! Ha Ha!

"Grease"--I saw this in the theater with Mom and my sisters, and we sang all the songs out loud during the movie. LOUDLY. As an adult, when my own kids started listening to the soundtrack, I realized that some of the lyrics were pretty racy--"Greased Lightning," for example. And although I absolutely LOVE this movie, I've never been a big fan of the overall message--you've got to change yourself in order to get the guy you like. Once you do that, you'll live happily ever after. Not so much the message I'm trying to pass on to my daughters!

"Dirty Dancing "--Young innocent girl, sexy older forbidden man, music, dancing....what's not to love?

"Smokey and the Bandit"--I just loved the fast-talking, wise-cracking Burt Reynolds. Classic movie!

"Carrie"--I tell my husband now that I can't watch horror flicks. It's just not in me to sign up for something that's DESIGNED to make me feel bad. However, inexplicably, when I look back on my high school years, I realize that I actually saw quite a few horror films in those days. Maybe I just hit my quota, so I don't ever need to see another one in my life. In any case, there were a few that were particularly memorable for one reason or another. "Carrie" was a story about an outcast--someone who didn't quite fit in--who ultimately had more personal power than all of her classmates combined. Since I was so shy, I often felt like an outcast, and although I never had any desire to, say, annihilate my school, it was empowering to see someone like that stand up and fight back.

"Visiting Hours"--I saw this with Jay in the theater. I was so terrified that I seriously contemplated how I could possibly avoid staying overnight in a hospital years later after the birth of my first child.

"Prom Night"--A classic, of course. What drew me in was the tragedy that grew out of a childhood prank. Everyone makes mistakes, especially children who don't have any concept of consequences that go beyond the immediate. It was frightening to think that something in one's childhood could come back to haunt them later in life.

"Happy Birthday to Me"--This B movie was one of my all-time favorite horror movies. The psychology behind the big reveal at the end kept me thinking about it for days. Sure, it's cheesy and campy, but remember, I was in high school at the time. The scene I remember most vividly involved a scarf and a motorcycle. Still makes me shudder to think of it.

"Back to the Future"--This is one I've watched again and again. It's pure fun, and a great family flick. Like many trilogies, the second installment is dark and nearly unwatchable, but the third one comes back to its roots and redeems itself.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"--I saw this in the theater with Jay. I remember thinking I wasn't sure if I was really going to like it--I'm not a big action fan. (The movie he had just taken me to prior to this one was "Rambo," and I'm definitely not a Rambo kinda girl.) This one, however, made me realize that action heros could be funny and smooth, and well, they could charm the girl while they were simultaneously saving the world. It didn't hurt that he was a professor, too. Brawn, bravery, and brains? Sign me up! (See my above theory about trilogies--I was sorely disappointed in the second installment, but loved the third.)

"Summer Lovers"--I saw this on a double date with Jay, Shai, and Shai's boyfriend at the time (who also happened to be Jay's best friend). I don't think any of us really knew what it was about, but I do remember everyone being just a bit uncomfortable with watching the love triangle unfold.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"--Didn't everyone want to be Ferris? Or at least have his ingenuity and LUCK?

"Real Genius"--This was my introduction to Val Kilmer, who, as it turns out, has exactly the same lips as my hubby. (You might not have noticed, but I did.) I admit it; I've always had a thing for Val Kilmer--the intelligent rebel. (Hmmm...also not unlike my hubby.)

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High"--Much is made about the effect on boys that Phoebe Cates had, but I suspect that just as many girls were affected. Everyone wanted to be the girl who could have that effect on the boys in high school.

"The Breakfast Club"--The quintessential high school movie. I think there was a little something in each of the characters that we could all identify with. There was a vulnerability underneath the carefully constructed facade in all of them. I secretly hoped (and really believed) that everyone in our high school had that little bit of insecurity and hope and fear and humanity that we guarded so closely--the movie just showed what could happen if we broke down the walls a little. We actually had a little group we called the Breakfast Club--Shannon McDonald, David Johnson, Nobert Ram, Lisa, and me. We called ourselves The Breakfast Club based on one night's crazy experience being chased down by a couple of enraged guys in a pickup truck when we were headed home from a dance. At one point they came after David's car wielding baseball bats. It was a surreal experience. We weren't all very close before that, but we all bonded through the three hours we spent together that night.

"Pretty in Pink"--I loved the portrayal of the haves and have-nots, and the desire everyone has just to be accepted. It was high school, amplified. Jon Cryer's character, Ducky, was fabulous. And although I couldn't stand James Spader's character, I fell in love with James Spader.

"St. Elmo's Fire"--My life-long love of Rob Lowe began with this movie. And my life-long detestation of Andie MacDowell.

"Purple Rain"--I watched this one with Doug. Doug was a huge Prince fan, so I'm sure he introduced me to both the movie and the soundtrack, which I listened to over and over. The movie was dark and brooding and intense. The soundtrack instantly transports me to my junior year.

"An Officer and a Gentleman"--There is no more romantic scene than when Richard Gere, in full uniform, strides into the factory determined and full of purpose. When he literally sweeps her off her feet, I'm cheering right along with everyone else. "Way to go, Paula--way to go!"

"Big"--I'm fairly sure that part of what makes me love this movie is the idea of trying on, if only temporarily, another life. It's similar to the draw of "Freaky Friday." And never is Tom Hanks more endearing than in this movie. I have to admit, though, as a mom, the scene when Josh calls home to tell his mom that he's okay is tough to make it through.

"Ghostbusters"--I'm pretty sure I first saw this one in the theater too, but it's another one that holds up to repeated viewing. Gotta love the Stay-Puft marshmallow man!

"The Outsiders"--I read this book before I saw the movie, and often that's a recipie for disaster. However, I loved this one. This movie provided breakout roles for so many young actors who would go on to make big names for themselves, and it's really a trip back in time to watch it again after so many years.

"Lord of the Flies"--There are a couple of versions of this film; here I am speaking about the black and white version of the movie. I originally saw it in my senior English class, after having read the novel. This was probably my favorite novel of all the ones I read in school. The symbolism and character study is so beautifully handled, and I love the way the movie illustrates those elements so poignantly. I think it is especially powerful in black and white, as the shadings and shadows illuminate the light and dark natures of the characters. Gorgeous.

"The Wall"-- I watched this one my senior year on VHS with Kevin and Mike as well, I think. I loved the non-linear, striking visual metaphors and the impossibly cool soundtrack. It was different than anything I'd ever seen, and I found it challenging and interesting.

"Footloose"--Obviously, a different kind of musical altogether than "The Wall," But, I was on the dance team, and any movie that celebrated dancing was instantly attractive to all of us.

"Fame"--I think a lot of us in the performing arts dreamed of a high school where we could break out into choreography in the middle of the lunch room or blast our music into the streets, stopping traffic with an improptu performance. The closest most of us ever got was wearing leg warmers and torn sweatshirts.

"Flashdance"--It was "Fame" for the working world--leg warmers and sweatshirts still in tact.

These last few are from early in my college years:

"The Neverending Story"--Doug and I saw this in the theater, the summer after my senior year. Diving into the escapist world of a book, both literally and figuratively, is incredibly appealing. And of course, the picked on kid, gaining strength and confidence to face his fears--well, how could you not get behind that message?

"Children of a Lesser God"--I saw this one in the theater with either Jim or Steve my first year of college The depth of emotion conveyed through non-verbal communication was breath-taking. I became an immediate fan of Marlee Matlin.

"White Knights"--I saw this in the theater with Steve my freshman year of college. Seeing the masterful dancing of Baryshnikov and Hines larger than life on the big screen was incredible. I think Steve actually got mad at me because I was so engrossed in the dancing that I kind of forgot I was on a date. Sorry Steve!

"His Gal Friday"--I saw this in a film studies class at Fresno State. It was probably the first classic comedy that I ever watched. I immediately fell in love with the rapid-fire dialogue exchange, and lamented that we had so little of that style in the present day.

"Chinatown"--This was another movie from the film studies class. It was my introduction to Jack Nicholson, and my introduction to the modern film noir classics.

"Body Heat"--This was the final movie in the film noir unit of the film studies class. A beautiful example of the femme fatale--a spider drawing her prey into her web.

"Princess Bride"--(Last but not least!) This is still my all-time favorite movie. I first saw it at my friend's house after work my second year of college. (Martha and I worked together at Macy's.) I had never heard of it before, but we were ready for a girls' movie night, so I was up for anything. After the first time, I was hooked. Humor, adventure, romance, drama, witty dialogue, and of course, happily ever after--everything a good movie should have. It gets better everytime I see it, and I have seen it dozens of times. (My whole family can recite the movie verbatim.) As a matter of fact, "The Princess Bride" played a part in my marriage. When Doug proposed, he got the kids in on it by telling them to ask him, "Have you the wwwing??" in front of me, just before he pulled out the engagement ring he got me for Christmas. Also, we tried to get our most beautiful friend Carrie, who performed our ceremony, to do the "Ma-wage...is what bwings us togever..." speech (from the Impressive Clergy) at our wedding, but she didn't think we could make it through it without laughing. (If you are unfamiliar with these references, you must go rent that movie RIGHT NOW and check it out.)

So there it is: my self-indulgent trip down memory lane. If you made it to the end, thanks for reading! I'm sure I left off some really great ones. If you have any other favorites from your youth, feel free to post a comment here and share what you love about the movies.

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