Another Little Piece of Time: Event Movies
This essay is my official submission for True Classics’ Movie Memories Blogathon. I urge you to visit True Classics throughout the month of June and check out all the great entries! Wait. Read MY entry first, and THEN go check out the other entries.
In late 2011, I had an idea for a series of essays about how the timeline of my life could be constructed based on certain movies I had seen and the circumstances surrounding those viewings. In my first piece, I wrote the following:
“Not only are the movies little tiny pieces of time that we never forget, the movies are little tiny pieces of time that we live through. When we watch movies, we aren’t just bearing witness to history, we’re making history of our own — through decisions and events and circumstances that take place as part of the overall moviegoing experience.”
(“Little tiny pieces of time” is a reference to a quote from James Stewart about movies.)
I had a list of moments mapped out, but the essay series didn’t leave the ground; in the form of many other responsibilities, commitments, and events, life just got in the way, but the series was something I had always wanted to continue.
I had a chance to relaunch it when Nora Ephron passed, but again, it just didn’t happen. And now, thanks to this blogathon, I have my “third time’s a charm” moment. But you know what? This time I’m going consciously not allow the series to happen.
My goal was never to construct an entire memoir of my life, but only to construct a loose timeline based on specific movie-based memories … the kind of memories that are enjoyed most when they are spontaneous. How many times have you stumbled across something – a movie, a song, even a smell – when you least expected it, and been transported back to a special time and place? It isn’t easy to do on command, so my plan will be to write these as the moments and the memories strike me.
I’m kind of on command here, because this is, after all, a scheduled blogathon. But just as life gets in the way, life … finds a way. Very recently, and not a moment too soon, I was reminded of Event Movies.
Wikipedia defines “Event Movie” as “… a film whose release itself is considered a major event, such as an anticipated sequel or a big budget film with major stars generating considerable attention and state-of-the-art special effects.” This is something that seems rather commonplace today, as many weekends, particularly in the summer, purport to offer the latest most supersensationaltastic release in the history of all time. In fact, those once-special midnight showings that kept a film’s release TECHNICALLY on Friday have since evolved into routine midnight screenings for anything with a $100MM+ budget, and more recently have invoked the “spirit of Friday” with 9pm showings on Thursdays. But it wasn’t always this way.
I was 8-years-old in the summer of 1977 when a little movie called Star Wars hit the multi … wait. There were no multiplexes in 1977. There was no Fandango. There was no Mr. Movie Phone. Tickets didn’t go on sale weeks in advance. In fact, in 1977, at least at the Tri-State Mall in Claymont, DE, the tickets didn’t even have the movie name printed on them. They were much more akin to raffle tickets – little red or blue or green bits of paper with some random number and perforated edges that an usher tore in half and he knew what show you were there to see because of the color of the ticket. (As an aside, I sincerely believe the SkeeBall people stole the movie ticket technology of 1977 for their prize tickets and simply never let it go.)
And that’s what makes Star Wars (and NOT Episode IV, by the way … just Star Wars, the way the Good Lord intended) my first Event Movie: even at that age, I had been to a lot of movies and I never had to wait in a line as long as the line I waited in for Star Wars – a line that formed on the night of the show and ran the length of the 15 storefronts in the one-story mall and out the door.
But it wasn’t just the crowds, nor the local news coverage of them; it was something else – something that separated Star Wars from Jaws, which is universally accepted as the first summer blockbuster: the stuff that came with Star Wars. In addition to the lines and the media coverage and the superfans who registered dozens upon dozens of viewings of the film, came the merchandise. Beyond lunch boxes about TV shows and t-shirts of superheroes, merchandising was nearly nonexistent in 1977. But with the release of Star Wars came action figures and playsets and sheets and costumes and pretend light sabers and trading cards and so many other things that made the movie that much more special because even if your parents didn’t take you to dozens upon dozens of screenings, you could still be Han Solo when you lived vicariously through little plastic dolls in their little plastic Millennium Falcon with blinky lights and real sounds! That first Event Movie was more than just an event; it morphed into a lifestyle.
Twelve years later came the summer of 1989. Long gone were my action figures (although the trading cards were boxed away), and my obsession for Star Wars had subsided to that of typical fan of the films and little else. And when that had run its course, it was replaced by comic books … lots and lots of comic books. But unlike those Star Wars fanatics who had the movie first and an endless supply of cool things to keep them going between films and beyond, comic book fans had their beloved monthlies but mostly dreck on the silver screen. Yes, Superman and Superman II represented the Man of Steel well, but that particular character had had a long history of onscreen hits and misses going back decades. Just about all other live action superhero films were made-for-TV dreck (and so horrible, in fact, that I won’t even link them here). Then along came an unlikely director in the quirky Tim Burton, an unlikely Dark Knight in Michael Keaton, and a comic book adaptation worthy of the big screen: Batman.
What made this release an Event Movie for me was not only the lather that I had been whipped into as a Batman fanboy (and this was still eons before Twitter or the Internet as we know it today), but because I went to the midnight show, and in 1989, unless your movie involved doing the Time Warp, midnight shows were rare. At lunch on that Thursday, I raced to the theater to buy my tickets TWELVE WHOLE HOURS IN ADVANCE (remember, with no Internet came no Fandango). I spent the afternoon lording my tickets over the heads of my geek coworkers, picked up my real live girlfriend (whom I also lorded over my geek coworkers) later that night, and got to the theater about 11pm. I wasn’t the first one there, but I was much closer to the front of the line than the back, and the atmosphere was electric.
(The atmosphere was also hot. Like, late-June hot. I mention this specifically because, as a Bat-geek, I wanted to wear something to show my Bat-geek colors, and all I had was a custom airbrushed sweatshirt. So that’s what I wore. A sweatshirt. In June. On the East Coast. Midnight didn’t make it any less hot. But dammit, I represented.)
Of course the movie was great (and I specifically remember the crowd going crazy when Batman’s plane paused for just a second in the foreground against the full moon) and I went on to see it two more times (once in a drive-in, another Little Piece of Time for some other time), and to this day it remains one of my favorite comic-to-screen adaptations.
And my third and most recent Event Movie – the one that came right in time to inspire this piece – was Iron Man 3. Again with the comic books.
I stopped collecting the addictive little monsters years ago, when publishers started taking advantage of the true fans by repeatedly offering the same comic with multiple “collectible” covers. I didn’t mind the practice every so often, but it was reaching a point of commonplace where I had to make decisions about what to get and what not to get, and I eventually said, “If I can’t be a completist, then it’s time to get out of the game.” But comics – and their screen adaptations – have always been special to me, even after I stopped collecting.
I wanted to see the first Iron Man because I thought the casting of one of my favorite ’80s actors, Robert Downey Jr., was inspired. He didn’t disappoint. It was then that Iron Man became my favorite superhero movie – so much so that one year for Halloween, I put on my tux, fashioned an arc reactor under my shirt, had my wife draw a goatee on my chin, poured myself some food-colored gin (to look like scotch), and took the kids out dressed as Tony Stark. Yes, it was that kind of obsession.
Iron Man 2 was fine, but The Avengers was so good that it left me in that old-school state of eagerness for Stark’s third installment. Then the lather was whipped to weapons-grade when I took my daughter to see (the dreadful) Oz the Great and Powerful in 3D. It’s important to note now that I loathe 3D because it rarely enhances a film and only looks gimmicky (as was the case with Oz). But the trailer for Iron Man 3, shown in 3D, left me wanting as many dimensions of Iron Man as possible … and that’s when I upped the ante even higher.
It’s also important to note now that I hate flying. And heights. And what does Iron Man do? He flies at great heights. So of course I had to see Iron Man 3 in 3D … and on an IMAX screen. And there’s the third entry of my Event Movie trifecta – seeing Iron Man 3 on 3D IMAX (at the 9pm Thursday showing, of course; and again, closer to the front of the line than the back, but this time with tickets purchased a month in advance … on Fandango … on my smart phone). I hadn’t seen a film in IMAX since I was on my 8th grade class trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1982. And the IMAX movies then were more like home movies; they didn’t really have a narrative so much as they were simply a series of (stomach churning) shots taken to maximize the gigantic screen. This was going to be phenomenal (even if I didn’t get the free collector’s cup and mini-poster … which I did!)
So how did I do with all of that flying and heights on a screen taking up my entire field of vision? Actually, very well. I had a couple of white-knuckle moments, and I had to look down once (okay, twice) during the spectacular Air Force One rescue scene, but other than that I was enthralled. And the fact that that writer/director Shane Black turned the third act into a classic ’80s action flick made it that much more fun.
Every movie I have ever seen has been special for one reason or another, and some have been more special than others. But only three … three! … in my 44 years have been true Event Movies. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another Event Movie in my life because, like these essays, you can’t just will them to happen. That have to happen on their own to be truly eventful little pieces of time.