Being haunted by Ghostbusters, sneaking into The Exorcist… these are the movies of Gen Y dreams (and nightmares)
Words Greg Taylor
Movies are the nostalgia-infused punctuation marks that litter the long, rambling sentence of my life. My first jolts of awe, trauma, excitement, stimulation and a host of other visceral emotions are inextricably linked with flickering images, some still wondrous, some now disappointingly mundane. Christmases past are wrapped in what was showing on TV before turkey was served (Return of the Jedi the year I found 50p in my blob of Christmas pudding), and joyful summers by the blockbusters I gawked at with family, friends, and most satisfyingly, all alone (1996, such sights!)
Christmases past are wrapped in what was showing on TV before turkey was served; Return of the Jedi the year I found 50p in my blob of Christmas pudding
Most people remember their first cinema trip – the tenebrous darkness, the chattering anticipation, the sensory overload. The Preston Odeon was the first forum to open its red curtains and let me poke fretfully around its strange mysteries for a 1985 showing of 101 Dalmatians. Memories of the film itself are faint, but memories of the experience itself are akin to a religious awakening: stepping up the stairs with trepidation, past the gaudy chapels of popcorn and sugar, hand-in hand with my mother to the holy of holies, the inner sanctum, the looming screen where the masses took a pew and prepared for wide-eyed worship. It was a glorious, discombobulating thrill of the kind I crave more than ever in disappointment-flecked adult life. Like Gatsby, I stand on some internal shore, reaching back hopefully to an unsullied time when I was utterly subsumed by the grandeur of the awesome spectacle of spectatorship, rather than reliant on the quality of the event alone.
Is it strange or inevitable that one of my first and most powerful memories was the set up for a lifetime of decreasing returns? A big question dealt out by a piece of lesser Disney fluff.
It couldn’t have been long after that I was hit by the debilitating double-whammy of whooping cough and measles, an all-encompassing panoply of pain. Plonked on the couch by my harried mum, I was left with the safe, fluffy, bucolic gentleness of a cartoon that was bound to sooth my troubled soul. That film was Watership Down – the greatest and cruellest trick the devil ever pulled on my unsuspecting generation.
It’s an acid-trip, head-fuck, fever-dream of a film, an impressionistic howl of horror such as Van Gogh might have envisioned after a suicidal rural prowl
It’s an acid-trip, head-fuck, fever-dream of a film, an impressionistic howl of horror such as Van Gogh might have envisioned after a suicidal rural prowl. Blood-soaked and spirit-ridden, it was my first, shadowy experience of death, and thirty years later my mental landscape of the afterlife is still haunted by that shadowy black bunny dancing through the fields, guiding exhausted, battered creatures to their rest. It’s a nightmare that still raises the fearful goosebumps of a pox-ridden four year old.
A couple of years later I experienced the giddy joy of having our aerial-topped, crackly portable television installed at the end of my bed for one night only for the TV premiere of Ghostbusters. It was a moment of liberation, a rung on the long ladder towards adulthood. No more would I be restricted to viewings of The African Queen or Bringing Up Baby (both superb) with my movie-buff ma. To my parents’ hive mind Ivan Reitman’s film, a PG-rated blockbuster comedy, was eminently suitable as my first solo watch. Wrong. Not only did I not sleep for two nights (the library ghost was definitely chucking my books around in the dark), but the film also presented the confusing, heart-pounding spectacle of a demonically sexy Sigourney Weaver, flimsy red dress dripping off every contour, writhing on her bed moaning lustily for the “keymaster” needed to unleash the devil inside. At six years old I didn’t get it, but I definitely got something. I didn’t know how to process it at the time but I’d definitely gone up one more rung of that ladder than expected.
Poring through the Radio Times when it thudded through the letterbox every Tuesday morning, I’d search out films with parental warnings that promised new realms of unsuitable experience
Now some of the thrilling and unnerving sensations movies could offer had been revealed, I was greedy for more. Poring through the Radio Times when it thudded through the letterbox every Tuesday morning, I’d search out films with parental warnings that promised new realms of unsuitable experience, memorising descriptions of exotic fare like Annie Hall and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
At my most defiant I would sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to bed like a pyjama’d Indiana Jones, praying for glimpses of nefarious thrills on a swiftly muted screen. In quick and fragmented Hollywood montage, I recall a lopped-off head bouncing down stairs in Polanski’s Macbeth, Betelgeuse molesting a pop-eyed Geena Davis, Sir Larry molesting a sweaty Dustin Hoffman, and Michael Douglas and Glenn Close molesting each other in a clanking lift. I’m not sure what I learnt from searching out this decontextualized, heady imagery, other than which creaky stairs had to be studiously avoided, but the excitement of dissent to a Danny Elfman score gave me a taste for the forbidden that has polluted my cinematic tastes and writing to this day.
And no film was more loudly, aggressively, visibly forbidden to me than Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Arnold Schwarzenegger, mounting a giant Harley and toting a 10ft shotgun, loomed over me disdainfully on my daily return from school. The giant billboard put forth an invitation, a warning, a threat to the innocent people of Preston. “It’s Nothing Personal” the tagline bellowed. But it felt personal to me. As though this geometrically-perverse Austrian, with a too-cool-for-school leather jacket and renegade shades, was mocking me for my youth, my ignorance, my abject lack of whatever it was that would gain me acceptance into his metallic blue world. I wanted to accept that invitation. I needed to. But I was a scrawny 10 years old, and even the apathetic oiks at the Riversway UCI would send me packing if I tried to brazen out an incursion into 15-rated movie. That simple image, and its hefty but unfulfilled promise, haunted me for years, long after I’d actually seen the film. It’s a teenage boy’s bullet-ballet fantasy for sure, but never quite the thrilling wonderland that deceptively simple poster had thumped into my mind. As a tutor on the sad gap between dream and reality, the advertised and the actual though, Arnie did a hell of a job.
Two years later came the film that transformed me from a curious watcher into a bona fide cinema junkie. The status-conscious talk about their first viewing of Casablanca, or Les Enfants du Paradis, or Gigli, but my blooming occurred the moment Dr Ellie Sattler, engrossed in the study of a prehistoric leaf, had her head forcibly turned to witness the majesty of a herd of CGI brachiosaurs crossing a tropical plain. Yup, Jurassic Park made me the man I am today.
I emerged from the dark staggered by the possibilities of what cinema could do, the excitement it could generate, the brave new worlds it could create
I emerged from the dark staggered by the possibilities of what cinema could do, the excitement it could generate, the brave new worlds it could create. I blathered about it to my long-suffering mother all the way home, I browbeat my friends into repeat viewings, I wrote my first ever film review. Now I cite it as the perfect melding of blockbuster tradition, family-orientated propaganda, and warning to the curious, a Dr Moreau with dodgy accents and extreme velociraptors. But Jurassic Park is more than that, at least to me. It is the apotheosis of cinematic joy, the perfect movie experience that will never be superseded. My inner Gatsby weeps softly.
Reading this back now, I realise that there’s another story hidden behind my burgeoning love of cinema. It’s the story of a mother who gave her time and energy to engender a lifelong obsession in her unanchored young son, who turned a tolerant, blind eye to his curiosity-driven disobedience, and instilled, encouraged, and nurtured a passion that has taken over a significant, and rich, part of his life. A mother who spent an hour explaining the plot of Die Hard 2 to a drastically under-age, wide-eared boy, who would bring an armful of rental videos home to see him through a school sick day, who courageously snuck him into a late-night screening of The Exorcist when the usher’s back was turned.
It’s a superhero story of sorts. It should really be made into a movie…
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