May 12, 2012

25 Years of Brain-Saturating, Personality-Defining, Socially-Crippling, All-Consuming Movie Fandom

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 1:38 pm
Tags: ,

In May 1987, a couple of months after I turned 10, my family went on vacation to Florida. We spent a few days at Disney World, then it was on to Delray Beach to visit my grandparents. They lived in a large, multi-building retirement complex that was, I’m sure, entirely occupied by other Jewish grandparents. There was a clubhouse on the property used for various social activities, including weekly screenings of recent movies. This was back in the dark ages when a year or so elapsed between a movie’s theatrical release and its arrival on home video. The movie playing during our visit was Nothing in Common. Do you know it? Tom Hanks plays a hotshot Chicago advertising executive who’s on the cusp of landing a major client when he learns that his mother (Eva Marie Saint) has left his father (Jackie Gleason, in his final film) after 36 years of marriage. Hanks’ character hasn’t been the most attentive son, and has never been close with his parents, but he finds himself drawn into their lives after they split. Gleason eventually faces a serious health problem, and Hanks is forced to choose between being with his father in the hospital or attending a meeting with his major client. I don’t want to spoil what happens in case you’ve never seen it and suddenly find yourself moved to add it your Netflix queue, but here’s the important part of the story: when the movie ended, I was sobbing.

Serious, severe sobbing.

I was destroyed, racked by gushing tears, the kind that prevent you from catching your breath, and cause your words to come out in a heaving staccato. I’d been overtaken by an emotional tidal wave that I was utterly unprepared for. My parents were equally unprepared. They had no idea what to do with me. Strangers stared at them. Whispered aspersions of their parenting skills drifted around us as we made our way out to the warm air of the parking lot and walked back to my grandparents’ apartment. The movie was PG-13, but the commercials from when it had been in theaters made it seem harmless enough. It was marketed as a comedy, Tom Hanks was in it (I was already a fan of Splash and The Money Pit), Jackie Gleason was in it, it looked amusing…I’m sure my parents figured it would be fine to take me.

Quick pause here while I say to anyone who read my Titanic post last month, you might be getting the impression that these tearful breakdowns are commonplace for me. Not the case. I have no problem admitting there are movies that make me cry, but the Titanic experience and this one were far and away the most dramatic and irregular. In this case, it was the first time I had been so emotionally affected by a movie. I never could articulate why it struck me so profoundly. Sure, I guess I was a sensitive kid, tuned into emotions, but even so…this movie did a number on me. (For what it’s worth, I also remember laughing a lot, even though I didn’t understand all the jokes.) I still have a soft spot for Nothing in Common. The story and the performances hold up well, although there’s a distinct 1980’s vibe that occasionally dates it, and there is one unforgivable scene where Hanks and his new love interest, while visiting her family’s farm, observe a pair of horses in heat and proceed to enact their own mating ritual, all set to a bland 80’s pop song. It’s comically horrifying.

Anyway, what is the point of this slightly embarrassing anecdote from my childhood? Well, in the years since, I’ve wondered if subconsciously, my unprecedented reaction to Nothing in Common contributed to my becoming such a devout movie fan. This was the first time a movie had been more than just fun or cool. This was different. And it was shortly after this incident that I officially became a certified – and some might say certifiable – Movie Lover…meaning this year marks my 25th anniversary of being obsessed with movies.

I always loved movies, but it was around the summer of 1987 that they began to consume me. That was when movies took over my life. They were like a vampire, and I was the unsuspecting chump walking down a dark street alone at night. I was grabbed, I was bitten, I was turned. There’s been no going back. I have been, forever since, a creature of the movies.

It was a pretty solid season of offerings. Among the movies that hit during the summer of ’87: The Untouchables, Predator, Robocop, The Witches of Eastwick, Roxanne, Harry and the Hendersons, Stakeout, and The Living Daylights. There was also Adventures in Babysitting (hello Elisabeth Shue…or as I probably knew her up until then, Hot Girl from The Karate Kid) and The Lost Boys, which not only looked badass, but introduced another hot girl whose name I would soon know as Jami Gertz. Mind you, these aren’t even the movies I saw at the time. It would be at least a couple of years before I watched any of these, but I still associate them with that summer. When weekly movie review shows like Siskel & Ebert came on, I watched them just to see the clips of each movie. (I was also feeling the residual effects of spring releases like The Secret of My Success and Project X.)

So what did I see? Naturally, Spaceballs was a highlight. As a fan of Star Wars and Mel Brooks (or at least Young Frankenstein, which I’d recently been introduced to), I pretty much hounded my parents about that one. Innerspace was the first movie my friends and I went to alone, without adults. Masters of the Universe was essential viewing, given that I was really into He-Man. (Even at 10, I was disappointed in that awful movie.) I had a crush on a girl in my class, and counted myself lucky to be one of five friends invited to go to the movies on her birthday. We saw Ernest Goes to Camp.

I lapped up movies however I could. With my friend from across the street, I started hanging out around the corner at our neighborhood video store, Video Adventures. The owner was a friendly guy named Dan, and he was amused by our near-daily company. He would let me have his trade magazines when he was done with them, and I would flip through them, cutting out pictures with the idea that I might make a big collage one day. (I haven’t done it yet…but I still have the clippings.)

I was starting to crave a way to own a piece of the movies, and movie posters seemed like a good way of doing that. So Dan would give us the posters from the store windows when he took them down (I remember being especially eager to get my hands on Little Shop of Horrors). Movie poster collecting became a sub-obsession during my teens. Convinced that I was going to be a rich and famous movie director someday, I didn’t think twice about buying tons of posters, since I would obviously have a huge mansion where I could hang them all. Yes, I really thought that. And no, none of them are currently displayed in my one-bedroom apartment. They remain rolled up in tubes in a closet at my parents house. So…many…posters.

I would flip through the movie section of Sunday’s Boston Globe to pore over the movie ads. I started saving my stubs from movie theaters. Movie quotes became my vocabulary. The geekiest extreme to which my fandom extended was probably figuring out which movie studios had deals with which cable companies, so I could determine what would eventually come to HBO (which we had) vs. what would go to Showtime (which we didn’t), based on whether the movie was from Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, etc. Tell me this was not the mark of an ill child.

Before I started buying movie posters (and continuing after I did), my spending money began going toward cassettes of movie soundtracks. Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Return of the Jedi…pop songs or instrumental scores, I wanted it all. I watched MTV every day for any music video that was from a movie. That summer’s slate included Bob Seger’s “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II (later nominated for an Oscar)…

…Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin (a February release, but close enough…and also nominated for an Oscar)…

…and the Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks rap “City of Crime” from Dragnet. I see now that it’s terrible, but back then I knew it by heart.

That one was NOT nominated for an Oscar….although even there it was pretty obvious Hanks was bound for greatness.

There was this INXS/Jimmy Barnes (whoever he is) collaboration “Good Times” from The Lost Boys (no film-related video available, but here’s the song)…

…and of course, “La Bamba.” Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán, soy capitán, soy capitán.

It was also the summer of Dirty Dancing. Even at 10 years old, “Hungry Eyes” stirred up distinct ideas about things I wanted to do with girls.

“The Time of My Life” was less sexy, but I didn’t care. It was from a movie, and at the time, that was good enough for me. Plus, I may have been the only kid in the world who thought Jennifer Grey was hot. Was I alone there? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? (See what I did there?)

(Oh, and since we were keeping track, that song won the Oscar.) I know the quality of these videos isn’t great, but if you remember them, seeing them again even in poor condition probably sparks some memories.

I could go on and on about my descent into madness, but I think the point has been made. I called it socially crippling in the title of the post, but that’s not true. Sure, it wasn’t lost on me that while other kids were following the careers of Larry Bird and Wade Boggs, I was more interested in Harrison Ford and Robin Williams. While other kids were collecting baseball cards, I was collecting Who Framed Roger Rabbit cards. (But also Garbage Pail Kids and World Wrestling Federation cards, so at least that was normal.) Soon enough though, I saw that the world is full of movie geeks like me, so I seldom lacked for friends who spoke my language.

So here I am at 35, thinking about the fact that the primary interest of my life was locked in 25 years ago. Now that I’m blogging, I thought I’d make an effort during the rest of the year – or at least the summer, since that was the key time period – to use the “anniversary” as an occasion to explore a few other things that fed my development as a movie fan. Seeing as I write about this kind of stuff anyway, I don’t know that I need such an excuse to dive into these influences…but just because I don’t need it doesn’t mean I can’t take it. So…more to come.


  1. Very clever writing. City of Crime is the hilariously awful video I’ve ever seen – and now I have you to thank for it, David!

    Comment by Donna T — May 13, 2012 @ 11:50 am | Reply

    • Yup, City of Crime is wonderfully awful. I really did have it memorized as a kid, though. Loved it.

      Comment by DB — May 13, 2012 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

  2. Wow, I could relate to so many things on your memory list. Thanks for taking me back to that lovely time period. The only thing I would add as a new movie obsession during the summer of 87 was the collecting of novellizations. Let me know if you’d like to borrow Adventures In Babysitting or Spaceballs. Also, some day, we’ll have to have a poster-off and see who has the most still in tubes at their parents’ house. 🙂

    Comment by maestro122 — May 14, 2012 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

    • I’m not surprised you can relate, being as plugged into 80’s pop culture as you are. I have a well-worn DVD of Spaceballs, but I might have to take you up on that Adventures in Babysitting offer sometime. Haven’t seen that one in years. And Elisabeth Shue? Still hot.

      Comment by DB — May 14, 2012 @ 7:24 pm | Reply

  3. Are you including Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in this mix. Its amazing all these movies came out when I was in the 4-6th grades

    Comment by Eric Shaw — July 20, 2012 @ 10:23 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What Say You?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: