Retrospective Part 3 – The Movies

Me and mom.

Sometimes I feel baffled about who or what influenced my life choices, unable to decide whether my inclinations were nurtured, were genetically baked into me, or some random combination of the two. About my deep love of the movies, though? I know without a doubt that my mother instilled her love of film into me starting when I was a very small girl. Always bubbling and starry-eyed when she related her childhood adventures of finding a nickel and sneaking into a theater by herself, she was the person who introduced me to the actresses and actors of the 1930’s, instilling in me what became a lifelong appreciation of black and white films. She loved musicals, nursing her unrealized dream of becoming a dancer, preferably one who dramatically fell into the arms of Tyrone Power or Robert Taylor. And then there were the actors who reminded her of my dad, Errol Flynn and David Niven. I learned to admire them too although conversely, I never bought into the jealousy she harbored for the cinema bombshells she found threatening because dad thought they were attractive. In another life, maybe mom would have brought her considerable dramatic flair and fabulous dancing ability to a professional life. As it turned out, she was way too uncertain of herself to chase her celluloid dreams, but that didn’t affect my separate and burgeoning interest in all things film that stuck with me my whole life. I didn’t share her desire to perform but rather was simply grateful for both the entertainment and the often thought-provoking stories found on the screen.

Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power
David Niven and Errol Flynn

The first movie I saw in a theater was as a six-year-old in Sioux City, Iowa where my family lived for about seven years. They moved to that town shortly after I was born. My older brother and sister took me with them after I begged and pleaded to go along. The age gap between us was respectively, over five and eight years. The movie was “The Giant Claw.” I still remember acting brave during the show but that night I had terrifying nightmares. I never forgot the images which are so laughable today. But not back then.

Film poster from The Giant Claw
My nightmare image

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, there were three neighborhood movie theaters on the south side. They were the Avalon, the Jeffrey and the Hamilton. Admission was twenty-five cents. A dollar would buy a ticket and treats. My favorites were Milk Duds, real chocolate encasing real caramels, and Jujubes, little fruit-flavored candies that took awhile to melt in your mouth. Often they were as hard and unyielding as rocks. Most matinees were preceded by cartoons. I remember watching films like The Pit and The Pendulum starring Vincent Price, my eyes wide before the towering screen. The theaters had stages which meant they could double as venues for live performances. I saw the Dave Clark Five perform at the Hamilton when I was a teenager.

The Avalon was an exotic structure that looked like a Moroccan temple.
The Jeffrey
The Hamilton

In a city like Chicago there were multiple theaters which became available to me as I got older. Going downtown to the Loop was always fun. I saw “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” at the Woods theater. Back then for the price of one admission, you could sit in the theater for hours, watching the same film over and over. That’s how I memorized so many lines from my favorite movies, the result of hearing them for hours in a row. Taking advantage of historic theaters like The Biograph, where John Dillinger saw his last film before being captured, was a big city bonus, as were the art houses where avant-garde and foreign films were debuted. I still remember seeing “Marat Sade” at the 400 Theater when I was a young adult.

The 400

I truly can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen in my life, although occasionally, I’m tempted to write them all down for posterity. Periodically I take the quizzes that the websites which rank the best films ever made put forth, primarily I suppose by gathering the opinions of respected film scholars and movie critics. Favorite are of course, purely objective choices. Most of these lists are of American cinema, although I make an effort to explore what’s going on in the film industries from around the world. As with books, music and truly, all the arts, I’ll never get to know as much as I wish I could. But over all the years there are movies which have stayed with me for one reason or another. Some are special to me because they always make me either laugh or cry. Some are just beautiful or have stunning images. Others taught me what I didn’t know. Some resonate with those parts of me that I can’t express verbally. I’ve deliberately excluded some brilliant films because watching them multiple times is too painful. “Old Yeller,” “Schindler’s List” and Platoon are not on my list. I saw countless movies with Michael at my side. We always held hands, leaned on each other, or took turns resting hands on legs, staying close. Some of my movies evoke that intimacy when I rewatch one. In any case, I land on the same ones, over and over, depending on my mood or need. So here they are, in no particular order.

If I live another 10 years, I’ll see if there are any additions or subtractions. I want my my mind to stay flexible as long as I can. I wonder of any of these movies are on your list.

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