Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If You Film It, I Will Come

Even the movie posters get me excited!

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Upon opening the door, the smell of plastic and urgency filled my senses. The bright lights illuminated the shelves and the boxes upon them. A quick survey of the room revealed this was not going to be easy: I had to be furtive in my movements if this was going to be a success. A short walk around the curved counter showed promise given the stack of blue and white before my eyes. Alas, the words I so desired did not appear as I scanned the stack. In one swift movement I walked over to the most populated area, unafraid of the throng of slow-moving bodies before me. Given the late hour, I had faced the reality that my efforts were probably in vain, but I would not be able to depart the store without the knowledge that I had tried everything in my power. My suspicions were correct, unfortunately, and all the boxes were flat against the shelves, with no laminated partner propping them forward. With my head hung low, I turned to push through the crowd and leave empty handed. Just then, I looked up and saw a being walking towards me. An angel in blue and khaki with his arms full, careful to not drop the rectangular spoils to re-stock.

"Do you have..." My query was halted when I saw the title jump out at me like a fawn eager to nourish from mother's teat.

"Right here... it's all yours," the angel responded... Mike was his name, as the tag upon his chest revealed.

I grasped the treasure tight against my body, fumbled for my pocketbook to retrieve the card which would allow for me 2 nights of viewing. This is why I came and against all odds... I succeeded to find a New Release on Friday night at Blockbuster Video.


Escapism is something that started pretty early for me. Movies, especially, helped me break free from the confines of childhood into the worlds I wanted to explore. As early as I can remember, I've always had a favorite movie that hooked me and didn't let me go for a long time. I'd watch it repeatedly until I had it memorized, shot for shot and line by line.

The following movies are some that shaped my childhood into the teen years. Given the sheer volume of movies that hold that title, this is a pared down list. They are the movies I could watch at any time, any place, all the while mouthing the dialogue. Also, there are spoilers in this post, but if you haven't seen or at least heard of what happens in these movies, then I'm sorry you've been trapped in a bunker, ya bing-bong. 

The Wizard of Oz

"There's no place like home." -Dorothy Gale

The moment Dorothy opens the door to the color-drenched Munchkinland, I was in love. I was probably no older than 4 when I watched a VHS tape of The Wizard of Oz sitting on the floor of my living room. My eyes fixated on everything Judy Garland did, from the way she snuggled a chick to her cheek to her swimmer-kicking legs when the flying monkey nabbed her from the forest. To me, it captured the perfect amount of adventure, courage and love. 

Besides being captivated by the magic of it all, this was also the movie that solidified my dream to be an actor. It was the beginning of my almost subconscious habit of watching while studying... or studying while watching, I'm not sure. I had no clue I was doing this until later in life, but even at the tender age of 4, I knew I didn't want to be Dorothy; I wanted to be Judy Garland playing Dorothy. As time went on I wanted to be Molly Ringwald playing Andi, Mayim Bialik playing Blossom, Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Elaine. 

I'd get the chance to be in a production of The Wizard of Oz in the 4th grade. Mrs. Meriverta put the show on every year and ever since Kindergarten, I hoped to be in her class since only her students made up the cast. When I was in 1st grade, my brother landed the role of Tin Man and at 6 years old, I helped him perfect his introductory line of, "Oil Can," without moving his lips. Being his acting coach was a no-brainer given my expertise on every detail of the film. When it was my turn in that 2nd floor classroom right off the stairs, my sights were set on Dorothy. Maybe I wasn't quite nailing long division, but I knew I could nail this.

During the audition process, which was held in front of the entire class, Mrs. Meriverta would call us up in groups and bounce us around in multiple roles based on what she was seeing. I noticed I kept playing the Wicked Witch of the West while a handful of girls would rotate as Dorothy. By that time, I had probably watched the movie around 70 times, so my inclination to be a mimic helped me master that witch voice. In the end, Christy Maywhorter played Dorothy and I played the Wicked Witch of the West. That experience taught me a couple things; sometimes what you think you want isn't meant to be and... playing the villain is always more fun.

The Breakfast Club

"Well, it wouldn't have anything to do with you activities people being assholes, now would it?" - John Bender

I probably didn't see the unedited version of The Breakfast Club until late in high school. But, even with bad curse-dubs and commercials, I spent countless Saturday afternoons watching that movie on a channel reserved for late night infomercials. Imagine my shock when I found out it was elephantitis of the "nuts" and not "butt." Masterful how the dub still applied to the next question: How do you think he rides a bike?

I fell in love with The Breakfast Club before I was even in junior high. From a young age, I often wished to fast forward time to be older and The Breakfast Club, oddly enough, made me so excited for high school. It's a movie about how misunderstood a kid can feel and that under a very thin surface, there is a lot of pain they are all trying to figure out. WAHOO! BRING ON HIGH SCHOOL! I thought. Perhaps the boredom of elementary school brought that on. Not surprisingly, I wanted to be the princess, Claire, played by Molly Ringwald. Of all the archetypes of high school, she seemed to have the best life and while my experience at that time showed zero promise of reaching that strata of high school society, my mental image of how I should look and act were drawn out in that movie. Even in the scene where they all share the woes of their lives, hers didn't seem that bad. Come on, Claire, being popular couldn't be that hard.

My favorite performance is by Judd Nelson as John Bender, the criminal. By the end of the movie, you see him in a totally different light. That happens with all of the characters, but Judd Nelson had the toughest job making that transition with Bender. He may have not crossed over to the likability side with the audience, but the vulnerability he brings while maintaining the edge he started with is something I savor whenever I watch The Breakfast Club. He saves the group from being caught by Vernon in the hallway, but then attacks Claire during the most serious scene in the movie. He's so conflicted, so angry... and by the end, you just want to give him a hug. (Or do him in the closet, as many theorize Claire did).

I've revisited The Breakfast Club many times and watched it at every stage of my life. Today, I watch it and think of my kids. Sure, times change and problems are different, but those archetypes will always exist and my hope is that my kids embody some part of all of them. I mean, I'll drive them physi-physss-physics club after they successfully make their elephant lamp in shop class. Then, off to their team sport event with a bag packed full of shit in case they have to jam. Of course no leaving the house unless lipstick has been applied with cleavage. After all, Stubby's party is tonight... should be pretty wild.

Steel Magnolias

"Oh, get with it Clairee, this is the eighties! If you can achieve puberty, you can achieve a past." - Truvy Jones

A movie had never made me cry until Steel Magnolias. And boy did I cry. My mom wanted to rent it because so many of her favorite actresses were the stars. Dolly Parton, in particular, was special to my mom since it was her music that comforted her during those first years after arriving in America. At 12 years old, I didn't quite know what to expect... a bunch of older ladies who are friends being sassy and Southern? Cool, I'll watch it.

Little did I know how much this movie would sink it's ever so charming teeth into my soul. From the opening credits where Annelle is walking through insanely gorgeous Southern neighborhoods to the heart-wrenching monologue M'Lynn delivers at the end, I was glued to every single facet of these women and their relationships. As a little Indian girl trying to figure out her way, who would have thought I could find such a foreign landscape appealing. I learned a lot from that movie, but nothing more than the strength of women both individually and as a union of friends. All the men in the movie are secondary to how these 6 women navigate through some of the toughest transitions in their lives. It's a story about how badass women come from anywhere, in all shapes, sizes and ages. I can't think of anything more perfect for a 12 year old girl to watch.

I recently watched Steel Magnolias for the first time in probably 10 years. I was giddy with a smile stretching across my face as the score swelled over the opening frame. My husband joined me later into the movie when Shelby was in ICU and nearing her death. I could already feel the emotions coming in hot in anticipation of the emotional climax a few minutes away. Finally during the cemetery scene when Sally Field unleashes all her anger and sadness about her daughter's death, I full on started sobbing. Watching Steel Magnolias as a mother is a totally different experience and that scene just gutted me. Paul didn't quite know what to do and I started laughing and crying at the embarrassment of my outburst. I mean, we're taking audible sobs and gasps. And well, sometimes you need that in life.

To this day, I can mentally play the salon scene in my head when I'm having trouble falling asleep. Within that one scene where Shelby's getting dolled up for her wedding, you learn so much about each woman with such a perfect flow of heart and humor. I recited that scene for a couple friends on a road trip once and their expressions were a mix of disbelief and confusion as to why anyone would take the time to memorize something so insignificant. Ah well, perhaps it's not for everyone, but to me, Steel Magnolias is like a warm hug from a Southern aunt I didn't know I needed. Now, where's that recipe for Cupa-Cupa-Cupa?

Field of Dreams

"Oh lord, you don't have to build a football field now, do you?" - Annie Kinsella

I know, I know... so obvious, right? Field of Dreams is on every woman's list of impactful movies in her life. Yeah, this one even surprises me at times. To explain, I developed a huge crush on Kevin Costner after the Dances with Wolves phenomenon, so I decided to rent Field of Dreams. I was fully prepared to just superficially watch a movie for some K-Cost eye candy, but turns out... IT'S AN AMAZING MOVIE!!!!

Let me be clear, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who cares less about baseball than me. Technically it's a baseball movie, but it's about so much more. Field of Dreams is about upending your life for passion, and there have been countless times in my life where I've thought about Ray Kinsella and his fear of dying bitter and unfulfilled. He's slowly crumbling under the weight of practicality, which is something to which so many of us can relate. I guess you could say I've done my own "plowing under my corn to build a baseball field," a couple of times in my life. Leaving my job, pursuing comedy, abandoning my flat iron for wavy hair.... I mean, it's not easy stuff.

The last scene is easily one of the most heartfelt moments ever captured on film. Say, "Hey Dad... do you wanna have a catch?" to anyone familiar with this movie, and if they don't immediately break down in tears, they are dead inside. Holy shit, it's so incredibly beautiful. From the sunset backdrop to the music, it's absolute perfection. All of Ray's internal battles about his own life were born out of the way he saw his father, and through a simple game of catch, he gets the closure most of us dream of. Is this heaven? No, it's Field of Dreams. Oh, and KC does look damn good in it, too.

Dirty Dancing

"You just put your pickle on everybody's plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me." - Johnny Castle

I was not allowed to watch Dirty Dancing in its entirety due to my innocence and the fact that there was a lot of crotch-grinding going on. Since I didn't let up on my begging, my mom finally relented and agreed to watch it along side me with her finger perched atop the fast forward button to skip any racy parts. The first viewing went this way, and then a couple years later I feasted my eyes on all the vertical dry-humping I wanted!

I've included this movie because it was the first time I really fell in love with romance. Sure I'd seen other movies with love in it, but for whatever reason, Dirty Dancing was the first movie where I fully fantasized about being the object of desire. My obsession was timed perfectly with the beginning of my own sexual curiosity. Plus, I love to dance and everything about dance. That scene where Penny and Johnny first dance in the ballroom to sell lessons was when the movie really got me. Sometimes I still just look up that dance to cheer me up. I learned some life lessons as well.. I found out what "knocked-up" meant, what an amazing actor Jerry Orbach was, how abortions used to be illegal and probably most important, a well-timed butt graze can be sexier than any R-rated nudity.

If we ever meet and I have just the right amount of alcohol in my system, I may perform a snippet of the "last dance of the season" for you. It's where P-Swaze and the rest of the dancers are coming up the aisle and Jennifer Grey is awaiting the right moment for the famed lift she failed to do at the Shelldrake. Those 10 seconds took me about 12 hours to perfect by playing-rewinding-playing-rewinding. I finally did get it and I've busted it out at many a-weddings. To this day that movie cheers me up. I love the feel of summer, the mountain resort shenanigans, forbidden love, the fairytale happy ending... it all just allowed me to have had... yup, I'm doing it... sorry not sorry... here it goes...  the time of my life.


Like I said, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to movies that made a strong impression on my life. Some honorable mentions are Top Gun, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the Indiana Jones trilogy and both Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. Oh, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective... and Tommy Boy... shit, and Reality Bites. Okay, I could go on for a long time here...

One could argue I spent way too much time watching and re-watching movies growing up. And one would probably be right, but I wouldn't change anything about how I spent that time. Movies helped shape my world and I look back on them not as time wasted, but rather a masterclass at learning about characters, story structure, narrative arcs, dialogue, cinematography, acting and most of all... they helped me feel like I could do anything. I was watching people live my dream of being an actor and telling stories beyond their own reality. I'm pretty sure if everyone could peek through a window into their desired future, they would do it a lot.

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