Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: When did you first fall in love with the movies?

I realize that this is a presumptuous question that presupposes that the reader did fall in love with the movies in the first place. Still, I’m assuming for argument’s sake that such a condition probably has something to do with the reason you’re reading this column in the first place. The question in my mind is whether this was a cumulative thing for people or if there’s some outstanding defining moment that brought this about.

It’s possible for me to pinpoint several key moments in my later movie watching life. I’ve written about one of them—seeing Casino Royale in 1967—and can easily cite such things as my first encounters with Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932) in 1971, Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972) in 1973, and Ken Russell’s Tommy in 1975. I also know that James Whale’s horror pictures—along with Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)—had an earlier impact as concerns a youthful growing recognition that there was a significant difference in movies that was related to the director.

However, I’m unable to uncover a single standout moment that answers my own question for myself. What I’m coming up with instead are a series of individual moments—even images—that seem to have paved the way for those later revelatory experiences. Yes, I realize that this kind of cinematic navel-gazing is probably of just as doubtful practical value as is the practice of making lists. That’s also what makes it a little bit irresistible.

There’s no doubt that I come from a moviegoing family. Going to the movies was a standard—and I’m tempted to say weekly, but that may be hazy memory—practice. I’m not sure, however, that it was necessarily a very carefully considered one so much as it was just something we did. I know my own preference in the very early years had more to do with where the film was playing than with what was playing. As a small child, I always preferred going to the Gem Theatre in Kannapolis, NC to going to the Main. This was predicated entirely on the fact that the Gem was festooned with multi-color lights on its marquee, while the Main had all clear lights on its. I think we can all agree—assuming we aren’t buiness school graduates working for a corporate theater chain—that this is a bid wide of the mark in terms of critical acumen. Then again, life tends to be simpler when you’re three years old. (And that may explain business school graduates working for corporate theaters, come to think of it.)

Truth to tell, what I saw on television had much greater impact on me in terms of content. I don’t mean TV programming, mind you. I was never really transfixed by TV shows—certainly not in the way I was by old movies on TV. What will probably seem strange to readers who think that anything made before this century is terribly quaint and irrelevant (and you know who you are) is that the appeal of these old movies lay—at least in part—in their age. It wasn’t the age itself that did it. I very much doubt that I even understood these things weren’t new. No, it was that they looked into a world that was so very different than my everyday existence in middle-class suburbia—and a hell of a lot more interesting. For want of a better word, it was exotic, or at the very least mysterious.

The first thing of this nature that I can remember were Three Stooges shorts. I don’t think I ever particularly liked the Stooges’ brand of comedy, but I did respond to the peculiar world in which their movies took place—not to mention what I now realize was the casual surrealism of much of what was happening. While it was apparent that these silly movies were taking place in a version of the real world, it wasn’t the real world as I knew it. In some ways, it was the world of a child’s imagining made real. A perfect example was their 1941 short Some More of Samoa in which the trio play tree surgeons (“The biggest grafters in town”), but they’re hardly tree surgeons in the real sense. Rather, they’re tree surgeons as a child might envision such a thing upon hearing the words “tree” and “surgeon” put together for the first time. It’s the idea taken literally. There’s an appeal to that—even today.

Take another of their shorts, A-Plumbing We Will Go (1940). This may in fact be my earliest memory from a movie, and it has little to do with the Stooges directly. In the film, they’re on the run from the cops and end up posing as plumbers, which brings about the kind of mayhem one might expect. (Actually, I’m pretty sure the whole thing is stolen from a Little Rascals short, but no matter—the Stooges were not exactly known for originality.) The overall idea is that their efforts at plumbing will resort in water coming from unlikely and inconvenient places. One of these involves the posh lady of the house showing off her new, experimental television to her society friends. In this case, it happens that the special broadcast (in 1940 there was no other kind) is a shot of Niagara Falls. Once again, the literal-mindedness kicks in and the image of the Falls turns into the water bursting through the screen and flooding the room. (And, yes, I do realize there’s an obvious connection between this and the infamous baked beans scene in Ken Russell’s Tommy.) It’s surreal, yes, but it also seems pretty reasonable when you’re young enough to still harbor a faint belief that what’s on the TV is somehow actually in the TV set. (Flat-screen TVs will probably destroy that quaint illusion.)

Even stronger in my mind from way back then—and perhaps more influential—is The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930). Viewed today, this is generally considered one of the Boys’ lesser films. In 1930 it was a deliberate play on the then popular Philo Vance mysteries, all of which were the something or other Murder Case. I knew neither that it was considered a lesser film, nor that it was connected to Philo Vance when I first saw the film at the age of six or so. (I wouldn’t hear of Philo Vance at all for years.) What this was to me was my first exposure to an Old Dark House movie and my first horror comedy, even if the comedy was limited and the horror pretty tepid. It hardly mattered and it didn’t keep bits of the film from being etched into my youthful brain—where they still lodge.

Since Laurel and Hardy shorts have gone from being the most easily collectible item in filmdom (during the 16mm and 8mm era) to some of the harder acquisitions, it’s unlikely that younger viewers have ever encountered the film—unless they ran into it on TCM. (My copy came from the now out-of-print UK DVD release.) The film is interesting in that it’s surprisingly elaborately produced and shot, but it definitely has its shortcomings—not in the least because it takes what seems like forever to get to its Old Dark House setting, which we first see in the midst of a thunderstorm (complete with lovably cheesy lightning bolt and rattled tin-sheet thunder). Once there, it picks up with its blustering detective accusing the heirs of having murdered Ebeneezer Laurel. Enter the newest heir presumptive, Stan—with the inevitable Ollie in tow (well, making a claim on the estate was his idea).

The Boys are parceled off to a bedroom—the bedroom where the late Ebeneezer was murdered, of course. Incredibly stock scared Stan and Ollie foolishness follows. There’s even the obligatory false scare by a cat. The most elaborate gag involves a bat flying into the room and somewhat improbably getting into bed with them before taking flight under a sheet, producing a ghost effect. It’s corny stuff and the bat is defiantly hokey. That said, I will admit the ghost effect with the sheet is nicely achieved—to the point that I still haven’t figured out how a couple bits of it were done. But it was less this that stuck in my mind than it was the image of a painting—first illuminated by lightning flash—of the Grim Reaper seemingly coming after the Boys. OK, so it’s scary on the cartoon level of scary. But it’s an image that haunted and fascinated me for years—even after I was old enough to wonder just why anyone would have such a painting in his bedroom!

Somewhere in all this, I started seeing movies with the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. I’m relatively certain that I saw the entire movies, but what stuck with me were isolated bits and pieces. It wasn’t hard down the line to figure out that I’d seen The Cocoanuts (1929) and Duck Soup (1933) with the Marx Brothers. After all, there are only so many movies where Harpo eats a telephone or where Chico is a peanut vendor—and these were the things that made the deepest impression on me. The former was by far the more fascinating to me. The very idea that anyone would pick up a telephone and take a bite or two out of it was simply amazing—and, of course, the phone had its own exotic appeal by being a candlestick phone. (You betcha I immediately insisted on one of those when the phone companies decided to cash in on the nostalgia boom and make new ones in the early 1970s.)

The Fields footage was a scene where he chases a runaway tire down some railroad tracks. I’m not sure why this particularly appealed to me. It’s not particularly the sort of thing one associates with W.C. Fields and it’s not the sort of thing that I prize his work for now. Certainly, I was too young to even guess at the idea that the crude rear-projection that made the scene possible was part of the joke (Fields loved daring the audience to notice such things), so I guess I was credulous enough at the time not to even notice. I do wonder, though, if it wasn’t the sense of unreality that caused me to keep the image firmly ensconced in my mind while forgetting the rest of the movie until I caught up with it again around 10 years later.

Now whether these images and fragments really caused me to fall in love with the movies is not something I can answer. What I do know is that these were the things—and the kind of things—that kept drawing me back to the movies, because they were magical. And I wanted more of them. I wanted more of this fantastic world where things like this happened. When you spend most of your days locked into the world of suburbia, such things are particularly resonant. It’s by no means accidental that my favorite Tim Burton picture is still Edward Scissorhands which presents a suburban landscape not unlike my own. (Indeed, part of the film was shot at a shopping center in Lakeland, FL that my parents and I used to frequent.) But it was a suburbia with a magical Old Dark House at the end of the street. I guess the movies were my magical Old Dark House.

Having written this, I think I fell in love with the movies bit by bit, but I do believe that I can safely say that the film that really sealed the deal was James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933). It was my first late night horror picture. In fact, it was my first late night movie of any kind. Maybe it was the event status that gave it its particular power, but whatever it was The Invisible Man marked the first time I held onto the whole movie. It doubtless helped that I would recount every scene to anyone who would listen to me for days to come after I saw it. In hindsight, I truly appreciate and cherish the patience of all the adults who at least feigned interest in me retelling the film. Most of them are long dead, and I regret that I never thanked them for putting up with my enthusiasm—an enthusiasm that I’m going to go ahead a label as the moment I completely fell in love with the movies.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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67 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: When did you first fall in love with the movies?

  1. brianpaige

    It’s curious how some of my formative classic movie experiences echo the ones you mentioned. I wonder if virtually every classic buff gets into oldies via some combo of Universal horror and Marx Bros. Oh, and gangster movies. This list is purely for classic films, obviously I had seen newer releases as a kid. But in some order here’s movies that made an impression on me:

    Dracula (1931). This is the first time I truly got hooked on an old movie. From there I saw any Universal horror movie I could find, and also other horror movies of that era.

    Scarface (1932). The first old gangster movie I ever saw, still rules.

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Just one of the first old classics I saw, still love it.

    Animal Crackers (1930). The first Marx Bros. film I saw and it started my entire enjoyment of vintage comedy. Oddly it took me longer to get into Fields stuff, but as a kid Fields doesn’t play as well. Gotta grow into Fields.

    The Roaring Twenties (1939). If Scarface was the first old gangster flick I saw, this was the first Warner gangster movie I saw.

    It’s not that Dracula is necessarily the BEST Universal horror movie, or Animal Crackers the best Marx movie, but those were simply the first ones I saw.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I wonder if virtually every classic buff gets into oldies via some combo of Universal horror and Marx Bros.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the numbers were at least on the high side. Actually, I’d think it would be higher for someone of my generation.

    Oddly it took me longer to get into Fields stuff, but as a kid Fields doesn’t play as well. Gotta grow into Fields.

    And that may also be why it’s a slaptstickish bit that I remembered so well. I didn’t see another Fields’ picture — You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man — till I was at least 14. (And I think I watched it mostly because I saw that Universal globe on it — allegiance to the studio that gave us those horror pictures ran strong.)

    It’s not that Dracula is necessarily the BEST Universal horror movie, or Animal Crackers the best Marx movie, but those were simply the first ones I saw.

    Interestingly — and this is generational — Animal Crackers was the last Marx Bros. picture I saw, but that was because it was tied up in litigation between Universal and the Kaufman estate for so long. I beat that being cleared up by about a year by buying a bootleg (and pretty darn murky) 16mm print from a very shady fellow (even by bootlegger standards), but it was still 1973 before I saw it. Prior to that, my friends and I merely read about it — and fantasized about how terrific it sounded.

  3. luluthebeast

    For me it was the late fifties at a drive-in in the pouring rain watching Godzilla, KOTM. I was hooked for good!

  4. arlene

    When did I fall in love????

    I do nothing normally. I think it was THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. A film I will never fall out with.

    And, two week’s later thanks to NYC’s self-same Million Dollar Movie, GO INTO YOUR DANCE. Bottom of the bill WB musical . LOVED it! Missed what would be my paternal grandmother’s last birthday to watch it one more time. “Please Mom! It’s cold out! And my throat is sore’!”

    Went through my “formative” years doting on Universal horror and Warner’s musicals and gangster epics.

    And never rued a moment or looked back.

  5. brianpaige

    Strangely the 2nd Marx movie I saw was Room Service, which I have to admit I didn’t really like that much.

    AMC is where I saw a lot of this stuff, either that or now defunct rental stores (Video Vault had a lot of oldies). But AMC from 1990-94 was just a great station. Amazing station. It’s where I first saw Hunchback, Animal Crackers (AMC showed the Paramounts, I also rented those), also Scarface. Also AMC is where I first saw a ton of Wheeler & Woolsey, since they apparently got a lot of old RKO stuff on the cheap.

    AMC was also where I first saw stuff like Island of Lost Souls and The Old Dark House.

  6. Ken Hanke

    GO INTO YOUR DANCE. Bottom of the bill WB musical

    Bottom of the bill? I never thought of it as such.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Strangely the 2nd Marx movie I saw was Room Service, which I have to admit I didn’t really like that much

    Mightn’t that have something to do with the fact that it’s not good?

    But AMC from 1990-94 was just a great station. Amazing station.

    Oh, there was a time when it was the bee’s knees, the bobcat’s claw and the lobster’s dinner shirt, but that was even earlier. Of course, somewhere in the mid-90s it started earning the idea that AMC stood for “Audie Murphy Channel” with its plethora of bad 1950s westerns and it went downhill from there. I’m always amazed it’s still on.

  8. brianpaige

    I don’t know much about AMC prior to 1990 or so. Wasn’t that when it was only on from 3:00PM until midnight or so though? To me AMC’s heyday was from when it went to 24 hours a day up until the cheesy 50s Universal westerns they milked dry. Even then AMC could still pull it together for the annual Film Preservation Festival. Even as late as 1998 they had a great war movies fest with stuff like a restored All Quiet on the Western Front.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Wasn’t that when it was only on from 3:00PM until midnight or so though?

    If that was the case, that was your cable provider splitting it with the Travel Channel, which was not uncommon. The original AMC and its sister channel Bravo were actually premium channels with no commercials and no censorship (particularly nice with Bravo) and they were 24 hours. In that incarnation they were the first folks to show The Black Camel. In all honesty, they probably weren’t any better than TCM. However, at that time they seemed like something of a miracle. The only advantage they had lay in them not having a tendency to lean on titles they owned, because they didn’t own any. Of course, that may be exactly why TCM thrives and they’re as good as non-existent.

  10. Brian

    I saw Taxi Driver when I was 17 and that was the first time I realized a movie could achieve something greater than just entertainment. While I still think it’s a great movie, I kind of “grew” out of that phase. If there’s one thing I still cherish abouth that film, it’s Bernard Hermann’s lonely, jazzy score that I think captures the essence of city-life. Picnic at Hanging Rock was another seminal film for me. It’s better than anything Peter Weir has done since. Bergman’s Persona introduced me to foreign films. And Easy Rider defines the American cinema of the 70’s for me (even though it was made in the 60’s).

    But when I really started to get into studying film was in college when I saw Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers. I kept thinking, “Who the hell is this Ken Russell guy and why haven’t I heard of him?” It was stunning that someone so great could be so obscure. Almost as if going into a Kubrick film with no prior knowledge of the director’s reputation. It still baffles me as to how he’s so neglected.

  11. Ken Hanke

    But when I really started to get into studying film was in college when I saw Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers. I kept thinking, “Who the hell is this Ken Russell guy and why haven’t I heard of him?” It was stunning that someone so great could be so obscure.

    When was this? I was barely aware of Ken Russell when I was still in high school (living in Lake Wales, Florida will do that) — and only due to the TV spots for The Boy Friend, which didn’t get close enough for me to see at that time. However, by the time of Tommy he was pretty much a household name in terms of movie fans (though not always positively), especially on the college and rep house circuit. (He had been since Women in Love in 1969, but if you didn’t live in a pretty major city…)

    What’s funny and particularly galling is that all it takes to re-ignite the flame is to show his films to people who’ve never seen them. When he and Lisi Russell were at the Florida Film Festival last spring, screenwriter Barry Sandler and UCF put together a clip reel from his films and ran it for Barry’s screenwriting class — all of whom were completely blown away by it.

  12. brianpaige

    Maybe it was the Travel Channel, I don’t recall exactly what else AMC used to share time with, but I do recall AMC’s time began at 3:00PM. I took it at the time as though this was standard everywhere since Bob Dorian or someone came on with an announcement about them going 24/7, or maybe it was just a commercial between movies.

    TCM was the downfall of old school AMC. Once they had the Warners, MGM, and RKO titles taken away, Fox started up their own movie network as well. Hence those epic Universal and Paramount westerns from the 50s. AMC still occasionally had a good Capra festival of some of his rare titles (which TCM would now show), etc.

  13. Dread P. Roberts

    Wow, it looks like the majority of people posting fell in love with movies because of the older, perhaps more obscure, classics. I can’t claim the same to be true for me. Most of the older movies that I’ve seen, that are listed above, are movies that I watched because I had already fallen in love with movies, and was looking – nay, craving – for more.

    Like most people, there are several moments throughout my movie watching experiences over the years that have ignited an ecstatic sense of wonderment (in different ways, for different reasons) over what I was seeing. But if I absolutely had to limit it to one particular moment, it would undoubtedly be the first time that I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are several reasons why this was such a big deal. First off was the level of anticipation built up in my giddy childhood self. I had been craving what I had perceived as a more adult fare, with what I thought of at the time as graphic violence – which my mother had never allowed me to watch before. Furthermore, even though the movie had already been out for awhile, my dad managed to get us into a big screen screening for the occasion. So this is probably the first time that I fell in love with movie theaters as well – because Raiders on the small screen just is NOT the same experience. When I first saw that big ball start rolling on that big screen…holy crap! I remember that I became completely engrossed in the proceedings in a way that I don’t believe I ever had been before. That foreign world of action and adventure just sucked me in and completely captivated me. Once I had left the theater I realized that it was kind of as if I had been transported, and I guess it was in that moment that I developed this newfound respect for the power of movies, and what can be accomplished through them. Since then I’ve come to appreciated this power being executed when the director is trying to make a statement, but at the time when I first fell in love with movies it was all about the excitement of the adventure.

  14. arlene

    < <<>>>

    Well, it was hardly 42nd Street or Goldiggers….. But I loved it!

  15. arlene

    < <<<<>>>>>>

    Similar experience. Although with a televison broadcast….either Dracula or lord, help me. Frankenstein 1970.

    I was a fidgety kid, sitting still for 90 minutes??? Well, I recall being somewhat surprised that I had occupied my mother’s horrible aqua chair enraptured for that length of time, time had stood still.

    And I needed film regularly thereafter. Needed.

  16. brianpaige

    I know what you mean. I was already a fan of movies as a kid, but there was no real moment where I fell in love with newer movies. I just saw stuff at the theater or on TV. It was with Dracula that I truly started seeking out a ton of stuff that I previously didn’t know was out there.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Once they had the Warners, MGM, and RKO titles taken away, Fox started up their own movie network as well.

    Well, Fox’s movie channel is something of a joke. If I find three titles a year I’m looking for on there, it’s amazing. I suspect that AMC could still license all these movies, but at what cost? Still, that didn’t cut them off from Columbia or Universal — and the latter meant nearly all the Paramount titles from 1928 through 48.

  18. Carrie

    For me, chaos in my life. Movies made sense to me. They still do.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Wow, it looks like the majority of people posting fell in love with movies because of the older, perhaps more obscure, classics.

    Well, Arlene and I are of a particular generation. Come to think of it, so is Chester (Lulu the beast), but you’ll notice he dates himself by invoking a drive-in theater and Godzilla. Brian Paige, on the other hand, seems to be of an era when there was a cornucopia of old movies on TV of a kind Arlene and I could scarcely have imagined when we were younger. The interesting thing to me is that we weren’t searching for these originally, we just stumbled on them — and had no idea whether they were obscure or classics or anything else.

    It’s difficult for me to think of a Raiders of the Lost Ark in this light simply because I was 26 or 27 when it came out — far too old for it to have any sense of mystery for me, and with way too much publicity to have seemed like some kind of discovery. I do think — and here I’m speaking only for myself — that part of the appeal did lie in the idea that I’d discovered something special that nobody else knew about (or so I thought at the time). This isn’t meant to denigrate your experience by any means, merely an observation that much depends on when you hit upon these things. The response isn’t dissimilar in any case.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Well, it was hardly 42nd Street or Goldiggers….. But I loved it!

    Well, neither was it Flirtation Walk and it did have Jolson and two of his biggest movie hit songs.

  21. Ken Hanke

    For me, chaos in my life. Movies made sense to me. They still do.

    There’s something in that. And even when the movies don’t make sense, they keep the chaos at some remove.

  22. luluthebeast

    “Well, Arlene and I are of a particular generation. Come to think of it, so is Chester (Lulu the beast), but you’ll notice he dates himself by invoking a drive-in theater and Godzilla.”

    True, I saw most of the monster/scifi movies of the sixties and seventies at the drive-in or a theatre (many at matinees-the parents loved to dump us off for a few hours in the afternoons!) The older Universal greats and others I had to wait until Chiller Theatre started up on TV in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Grand Hotel until college, and that started me off on a whole other track! My parents liked gangster/PI movies, so I was able to see a lot of those growing up.

  23. brianpaige

    Oh, I wasn’t implying that Fox Movies is the equal of TCM (or old school AMC), but if you scan the listings there are fun titles that show up arbitrarily from time to time.

    This might sound silly but I remember being so mad at AMC back in the early 90s for never showing House of Dracula and Ghost of Frankenstein. For whatever bizarre reason Universal released only some of those on VHS, so imagine going from Son of Frankenstein to Meets the Wolf Man without Ghost in between. Finally they put those out in 1993 or so and I saw them.

    Unpopular opinion: I like The Mummy’s Hand better than the Karloff original.

  24. Brian

    Ken, I am a bit younger than that. I saw The Music Lovers for the first time in 2004 when I was a junior in college. Our library had two Russell films. The Music Lovers and Mahler. I considered myself a pretty big movie buff but had never heard of him. Consider that Russell hadn’t done a feature film since Whore in 1991 and the critical community seemed to all but ignore him. So it took me a while to find his films, which were largely unavailable (and still are).

    I had seen Tommy, of course, as a child. My parents told me how they had seen it in theaters in its original release and went to buy the album immediately after. But as a 10-year-old, to me it was just a music video for The Who.

  25. cleov

    Aged 11. My mother dropped me off to see a 7 pm showing of “Pinocchio” at the tiny local theatre (Stewartstown, Pennsylvania — the building has been for sale for years and I suspect it could still be used to show movies.) I was allowed to go in by myself (25 cents for a child’s ticket, ten cents for popcorn from an automatic popcorn machine) — less expensive times, less paranoid too — who would let an eleven-year-old child go into the theatre alone nowadays? I sat next to another child my age, a boy — never found out his name. He had seen the movie before but was enough of a gentleman not to give the plot away. Most striking memory was of Monstro the Blue Whale brooding in the misty depths of the ocean. I remember that when the whale was pursuing Gepetto, Pinocchio, and Jiminy, it seemed ready to burst off the screen and come smashing down on my head. I remember cowering with my hands over my face while the boy next to me kept chanting those immortal words of reassurance: “It’ll be all right! It’s a Disney movie!”

    Then college: free movies on weekends, no commercials. First time I ever saw an entire Marx Brothers movie. They always came on at 1 pm on Sunday. I’d get about a hour’s worth, minus commercials, then my father would come in. “I’m watching the ball game” and he’d change the channel. (We only had one TV … imagine…)

  26. Ken Hanke

    Unpopular opinion: I like The Mummy’s Hand better than the Karloff original.

    Well, yes, it would be an unpopular opinion, but really the films are so very different that I can scarcely compare them.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I am a bit younger than that. I saw The Music Lovers for the first time in 2004 when I was a junior in college. Our library had two Russell films. The Music Lovers and Mahler. I considered myself a pretty big movie buff but had never heard of him. Consider that Russell hadn’t done a feature film since Whore in 1991 and the critical community seemed to all but ignore him.

    That would make a lot of difference and it illustates how times and fashions change without any real good reason. I was actually too young to have caught Russell’s work pre-Tommy when it first appeared — by which I mostly mean Women in Love, The Music Lovers and The Devils. I could have seen The Boy Friend had it come nearer and the same for Savage Messiah and Mahler, which came even less near. In fact, I think Mahler hit the U.S. almost at the same time as Tommy, though it played very little outside of major cities. However, it was relatively easy in 1975 to work my way through the backlog — at least to the degree that by 1977 I’d seen all his theatrical films except French Dressing and Savage Messiah. It is ironic that in those pre-video days it was actually easier to find those films than it is now. It’s also a sad commentary on the state of things.

  28. Ken Hanke

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Grand Hotel until college, and that started me off on a whole other track!

    What an interesting film to do that! Don’t get me wrong, I like it. In fact, I did my final high school paper on it (how I bamboozled them into allowing that, I do not know). But I do find it an unusual film to send you off on another track.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I was allowed to go in by myself (25 cents for a child’s ticket, ten cents for popcorn from an automatic popcorn machine)—less expensive times, less paranoid too—who would let an eleven-year-old child go into the theatre alone nowadays?

    That’s much the same as my early experience — except the 10 cent popcorn wasn’t from a machine. As a kid I was let to go to the movies at an even earlier age — 8 or 9 — and nobody thought anything of it. Certainly no evil ever befell me, but then the manager of the State Theater in Lake Wales, FL was very watchful and prided himself on offering “the cheapest babysitting in town” to parents.

    We only had one TV … imagine…

    I remember such a time, though I managed to somehow get my parents to purchase me a small black and white GE set (encased in truly grotesque watermelon colored plastic) by the age of 10 or 11, which I had in my bedroom to prevent fighting over what should be watched. I have a friend who insists that this is a testament to me as some kind of evil conspicuous consumer, but then he also likes to tell stories that I don’t believe about his family huddled around a clove-studded can of Spam at Thanksgiving.

  30. luluthebeast

    ” But I do find it an unusual film to send you off on another track”

    Probably because I had just started theatre design and the whole look of the movie was just wonderful.

  31. Jim Donato

    I enjoy watching a good movie and in the 80s I set about building a collection; first on Beta then on laserdisc. But when I compare seminal moments of artistic impact that happened to me with the writings on this topic by various and sundry, my moments of impact are all musical. I can outlay the 3 45s that had a profound impact on my development but my relationship with cinema didn’t happen until I was in high school, almost a decade after my relationship with music began. My family never went to the movies – my dad was an early convert to 25″ color TV and I never knew B&W growing up. That’s what TV was for – delivering movies. And Dean Martin.

  32. Vince Lugo

    My formative years were interesting. The first movie I remember seeing at a theater was Disney’s “Oliver & Company”. Not too long after that, I saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and marveled at how a cartoon character could possibly be interacting with real people. The Dark Crystal, Willow and Labyrinth were there too, cementing a lifelong love of fantasy films. Rather than one defining moment, I believe my love of film developed over time as I saw a wide variety of films from Cape Fear (the original) and House on Haunted Hill (also the original) to The Terminator and The Secret of Nimh. I think it helped that my mom was very open and the only movie she wouldn’t let me watch was The Exorcist.

  33. Ken Hanke

    Probably because I had just started theatre design and the whole look of the movie was just wonderful

    It is that — even if a lot of that wonderful look is courtesy of glass shots and the Schuftan process.

  34. Ken Hanke

    But when I compare seminal moments of artistic impact that happened to me with the writings on this topic by various and sundry, my moments of impact are all musical.

    I think the two are probably about on par for me with movies — because they can contain music as well, whereas music can’t contain movies — getting a slight edge.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Rather than one defining moment, I believe my love of film developed over time as I saw a wide variety of films

    Even so, was there a moment where you realized this had happened?

  36. jeff turner

    i fell in love with the movies when my great grandpappy told me of his stage-coach driving in the old movie called “Tap Roots”
    ,which was filmed years ago near warren wilson area i think a van heflin ? movie

  37. Steve

    Would that my sealing moment were as esoteric and refined as those mentioned above.

    *Sigh* I must admit that it was probably falling in love with Robbie Benson during Ice Castles probably sealed the deal for me.

    What a schmaltz-fest. I hang my head in shame. Do I at least get points for honesty? I humbly await online evisceration, the unkindest cut of all. LOL

  38. Ken Hanke

    i fell in love with the movies when my great grandpappy told me of his stage-coach driving in the old movie called “Tap Roots”

    That sounds a little more like falling in love with the idea of movies or the idea of making movies than falling in love with movies themselves.

    And, yes, Tap Roots stars Van Heflin. You’d get more geek points for referring to it as one of the two movies in which Boris Karloff plays an Indian.

  39. Ken Hanke

    I must admit that it was probably falling in love with Robbie Benson during Ice Castles probably sealed the deal for me.

    Isn’t that more of a case of experiencing a rippling of the loins over Robby?

    I humbly await online evisceration, the unkindest cut of all.

    Oh, there must be something more amusing that could be done…

  40. brianpaige

    Unconquered is the other movie where Karloff is an Indian chief. Though I have to admit when I first heard “Karloff as an Indian” I thought of his bit part in the 1920 silent Last of the Mohicans. I’m not 100% sure what he played in that though, probably just an extra Indian.

  41. Ken Hanke

    Unconquered is the other movie where Karloff is an Indian chief

    Brian gets the gold cigar.

    Though I have to admit when I first heard “Karloff as an Indian” I thought of his bit part in the 1920 silent Last of the Mohicans.

    I actually hadn’t remembered his part in that. When I think of that title, I think of Lugosi in the German silent.

  42. Vince Lugo

    “Even so, was there a moment where you realized this had happened?”

    If I had to pick a moment, there are actually several films I’d name: “Star Wars”, Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” and Wes Craven’s “Scream”. Of all the films I saw growing up, those three had the greatest impact on me. It’s no surprise that all three are still among my personal favorites.

  43. Sean Williams

    I’m reluctant to extend the thread with an exhaustive list of the films that most influenced me. If I had to choose a single film, it might be Orpheus. But basically, there are two kinds of films that inspired and continue to inspire me.

    First, there are the films that make me aware of their construction. That’s not to say that my reaction to them is totally analytical rather than visceral; it’s just that they help me better understand the ways in which film manipulates my visceral reactions. They teach me the vocabulary of cinema and, in a broader sense, they teach me about my own taste.

    Second, there are the films that are so vivid that my impressions of them are almost as synæsthetically complex as childhood memories — a kind of backwards nostalgia. These films are often deeply flawed, but even their flaws seem somehow iconic.

    My very favorite films fall between these categories.

  44. Ken Hanke

    If I had to choose a single film, it might be Orpheus.

    Well, it’s certainly a very worthy choice, but for me it’s something that came too late — I was at least 16 or 17 when I first saw it — to have been the zither that cooked the goose as concerns falling in love with the movies. That had happened much earlier.

    First, there are the films that make me aware of their construction. That’s not to say that my reaction to them is totally analytical rather than visceral; it’s just that they help me better understand the ways in which film manipulates my visceral reactions. They teach me the vocabulary of cinema and, in a broader sense, they teach me about my own taste.

    There’s nothing wrong with this and I understand exactly where you’re coming from. I have very little in the way of suspension of disbelief, which is to say that I’m always conscious of the fact that I’m watching a movie. As a result, I find it all the more remarkable when a film can impact me emotionally — and it doesn’t damage the film or the emotion in the least to know why and how.

    These films are often deeply flawed, but even their flaws seem somehow iconic

    Is there really such a thing as an unflawed film?

  45. Chip Kaufmann

    I owe my love of old movies to my mother. When I was growing up in the 1950s, 30s and 40s movies were appearing on TV. My mother would sit with me and recall seeing them in the theaters when they were new.

    My first memories are of Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang (The Little Rascals) and the Universal horrors. The first movie to make a real impact was Karloff’s version of THE MUMMY (those illuminated eyes and funereal voice) which I’m sure is the reason for him remaining one of my favorites.

    Incidentally, Karloff does have a brief appearance as an Indian extra in Maurice Tourneur’s 1920 version of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. He gets a closeup crawling into a wagon and then he tosses a baby into the air.

    Some years later in the early 70s when I was a student at the University of South Carolina, they had a wonderful student film society and featured a new movie in the student center almost every day. Old movies, cult movies, and foreign films which were well attended and then discussed afterwards. My essential knowledge of films dates from those years.

  46. Ken Hanke

    Our Gang (The Little Rascals)

    You know, I still want to find that world where free-roaming capuchin monkeys wander around suburbia and bootleggers think that a gorilla suit is inconspicuous.

  47. Steve

    Isn’t that more of a case of experiencing a rippling of the loins over Robby?

    Well I was only 11, so I don’t know that I had much to ripple at the time, but that is the first movie I can remember that made me really feel deeply.

    Having made a clean breast of it, I can say that there were of course other influences. I can remember being absolutely spellbound by The Rescuers. Star Wars made a huge and lasting impression, as did Watership Down. I had insisted on being taken to see Watership despite my parents trying to convince me that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Well it wasn’t a cartoon as such, but I loved it, and loving that movie paved the way for my love of Hayao Miyazaki and animated films today. I still think of the scene where all the rabbits are caught in the collapsing warren when I’m stuck in traffic. It’s the best and cleanest visual symbolic device I’ve ever seen for the deperation of urban life.

    My love of old movies started later, in high school. I became a devoted fan of the local cable channel’s “Mystery Matinee” on Sundays. They showed old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and Sydney Toler Charlie Chan movies. I was riveted by the scene where Holmes moves people as human chess pieces in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death. Later on, I moved in with a roommate who introduced me to The Women, which I instantly loved, and Footlight Parade, which is still my favorite Busby Berkeley film.

  48. Sean Williams

    That had happened much earlier.

    I wouldn’t say that Orpheus was the first film I ever loved, but it was one of the first that really inspired in me an awe of the beauty of cinema.

    Once in a blue moon, a new movie gives me the same feeling — the feeling that I have discovered a whole new kind of beauty. For whatever reason, Edward Scissorhands springs most immediately to mind as an example.

    There are also a couple of animated films that are, for me, as vivid as childhood memories: Bluth’s Secret of NIMH and Wells’ Balto. I won’t speak to the cinematic virtues of either, but they have that impact every time I watch them.

    Is there really such a thing as an unflawed film?

    Well, look at my irrational love of Star Wars: I recognize its glaring flaws, but, for me, they actually enhance the sense that it’s an ancient epic. (I mean, doesn’t the dialogue sound as though it’s been badly translated from secondary manuscripts?) When George Lucas makes mistakes, he makes iconic mistakes.

    As a result, I find it all the more remarkable when a film can impact me emotionally — and it doesn’t damage the film or the emotion in the least to know why and how.

    People periodically get frustrated with my caviling and tell me that I have to stop thinking about a movie and accept that it’s great. I respond that great movies should withstand rigorous examination.

  49. Dread P. Roberts

    Star Wars made a huge and lasting impression…

    The first Star Wars movie that I ever saw was The Empire Strikes Back. Interestingly enough, in my mind it is – and always will be – far and away superior to any other Star Wars movie. Psychologically speaking, that initial introductory impact just could never be beaten. I guess it’s kind of a weird thing, how the first Star Wars movie just really isn’t all that important to me, but the second one is somehow pivotal sci-fi in my mind.

    I was riveted by the scene where Holmes moves people as human chess pieces in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death.

    I’m not sure that I was ever quite riveted, but it definitely does make my inner movie nerd happy to see someone mention this.

  50. Steve

    I’m not sure that I was ever quite riveted, but it definitely does make my inner movie nerd happy to see someone mention this.

    Did you think about that scene when you saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? I was too into the movie at the time, but I thought about it later.

  51. Dread P. Roberts

    Did you think about that scene when you saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? I was too into the movie at the time, but I thought about it later.

    Yes, I thought about it after the fact as well. Actually, that was one of the most memorable aspects of that particular Harry Potter film in my mind. There were other things that I liked, but they didn’t all stand out as being distinguishable enough to not blend into the realm of “which Harry Potter film had ‘such an such’ scene?“. I bet that Sherlock Holmes memory connection might have had something to do with the more lasting impression.

  52. Doug

    It was watching war movies with my father, like Zulu and Patton, but the one that comes to mind first was the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai. “Oh my god, what have I done,” says Alec Guinness, staring at the plunger in front of him set there by William Holden, the ribbon of wire leading to the bridge made by the prisoners of war under Guinesses direction, and the Japanese train just starting to cross carrying troops to fight the British. And then he falls on top of the plunger blowing up his creation.

    Dad and I argued every time we watched Kwai; did Guinness mean to fall on the plunger or not? Often times we would take opposite sides on the next viewing. We loved the ambiguous, unresolved nature of the film.

  53. Rufus

    The first movie watching experience that I remember as really compelling (at the time) was seeing THUNDER ROAD with Robert Mitchum as the second half of a double-feature at the afore mentioned State Theatre. It was the first movie I remember seeing that didn’t involve scheming adolescent twins, or the like. Possibly it was the tragic aspect of the story that made it memorable – though at the time I didn’t know tragedy from breakfast cereal. I even remember Mitchum’s blessing at the dinner table (which got him a strong rebuke from his ma)…“Good bread, good meat… It’s gettin’ late, let’s eat.

  54. Ken Hanke

    Once in a blue moon, a new movie gives me the same feeling—the feeling that I have discovered a whole new kind of beauty. For whatever reason, Edward Scissorhands springs most immediately to mind as an example.

    That seems a not unreasonable example. At least it’s one I can relate to. I think for me it works best when that sense of something sublime is joined by the feeling that someone has articulated something I’ve felt, but didn’t know how to say. Or perhaps didn’t even know I wanted to say.

    Well, look at my irrational love of Star Wars: I recognize its glaring flaws, but, for me, they actually enhance the sense that it’s an ancient epic. (I mean, doesn’t the dialogue sound as though it’s been badly translated from secondary manuscripts?) When George Lucas makes mistakes, he makes iconic mistakes.

    You could say the same thing about Ed Wood. Yes, of course, I said that to be contentious, but I’m not at all sure it isn’t true.

    People periodically get frustrated with my caviling and tell me that I have to stop thinking about a movie and accept that it’s great.

    I have no earthly idea what that even means! I mean, so when you’re told a movie is “great,” you aren’t permitted to ask why? And if you do ask why, you’re to accept “because a lot of people say so” as an answer?

  55. Ken Hanke

    I’m not sure that I was ever quite riveted, but it definitely does make my inner movie nerd happy to see someone mention this.

    It makes my inner nerd happy just to find people who know what the hell you’re talking about.

  56. Ken Hanke

    Dad and I argued every time we watched Kwai; did Guinness mean to fall on the plunger or not? Often times we would take opposite sides on the next viewing. We loved the ambiguous, unresolved nature of the film.

    The funny thing about this to me is that I remember seeing the film very vaguely when it first came out — and all I remember from that is the scene in question. The film then gets mixed in with the parody of it in the Jerry Lewis picture The Geisha Boy. Took me years to straighten that out in my mind.

  57. Ken Hanke

    The first movie watching experience that I remember as really compelling (at the time) was seeing THUNDER ROAD with Robert Mitchum as the second half of a double-feature at the afore mentioned State Theatre.

    Good Clapton! I’ve known you for what? Pushing 40 years? And I can’t believe I never heard this story before, but I’m reasonably sure I haven’t. It also amazes me that I missed this double-feature, but I’m fairly sure I only caught up with Thunder Road recently. You don’t by chance remember what the other film was?

  58. Rufus

    I can’t believe I never heard this story before

    I hadn’t thought of the movie for a long time, but the memory came back in the context of your column. I thought I had a vague memory of a discussing it with you sometime in the distant past, but I certainly wouldn’t swear to it.

    You don’t by chance remember what the other film was?

    I can’t remember the title. It was car racing movie, something about 2 guys, a girl, and “figure 8” racing. This must have been somewhere around 1965.

  59. luluthebeast

    One of the first TRAILERS that had a big effect on me (and I still remember it quite vividly, even after almost 50 years and brain damage) was the one I saw for GORGO in the Mariemont Theatre. Vincent Winter was probably only a year or two older than I when he made the movie and I guess I really wishfully saw myself in his place. I made sure I saw the movie when it hit town.

  60. Sean Williams

    I think for me it works best when that sense of something sublime is joined by the feeling that someone has articulated something I’ve felt, but didn’t know how to say. Or perhaps didn’t even know I wanted to say.

    Absolutely. Weir’s early films, particularly The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock, had this effect on me when I was a teenager. Your reviews have that effect on me now.

    Another quality that really draws me into movies is the combination of novelty and familiarity — conventional stories filmed in an unusual manner or unusual stories filmed in a conventional manner.

    Although I wouldn’t say that Edward Scissorhands is filmed in a conventional manner, its uniqueness is grounded in an aesthetic that strikes me as almost antique at times. (That may just be me….)

    You could say the same thing about Ed Wood.

    I concede the point. But for whatever reason, I find Lucas easier to take seriously even when I realize intellectually that he’s doing incredibly silly things.

  61. Ken Hanke

    I thought I had a vague memory of a discussing it with you sometime in the distant past, but I certainly wouldn’t swear to it.

    Well, I’m not swearing that you didn’t — only that it’s the sort of thing I think I would recall. (Then again, neither Greg, nor I can work out who introduced whom to the Bonzo Dog Band.)

    I can’t remember the title. It was car racing movie, something about 2 guys, a girl, and “figure 8” racing. This must have been somewhere around 1965.

    If that’s Fireball 500 (1966), I did see that. (My only memory is that I didn’t like it — and I’m content to leave it at that.) Not sure the figure 8 part works there, though. That makes it likely I saw Thunder Road — and forgot about it. Now that we’ve bored the living Jesus out of everyone else with this trip down failing memory lane, we can only conclude that you may have discussed it with me, I may have seen it, and that it was double-billed with something about two guys and a girl (I saw something like that once, but it wasn’t at the State Theatre).

  62. Steve

    I find Lucas easier to take seriously even when I realize intellectually that he’s doing incredibly silly things.

    If I may horn in, I can usually agree with that. But when Yoda started hopping around like a toad-frog during the sword fight in Attack of the Clones it took me out of the moment immediately and I laughed out loud, much to the annoyance of the serious Star Wars fans present.

  63. brianpaige

    I’ve never bothered with stuff like Fireball 500, though I will admit that some of the first movies that made an impression on me were the Beach movies. I’m actually baffled as to why those movies seem to be hated by so many people.

  64. Ken Hanke

    Your reviews have that effect on me now.

    Flattery will get you…oh, all kinds of places.

    Another quality that really draws me into movies is the combination of novelty and familiarity—conventional stories filmed in an unusual manner or unusual stories filmed in a conventional manner.

    Messrs. Wordsworth and Coleridge would have no argument with that aesthetic.

    Although I wouldn’t say that Edward Scissorhands is filmed in a conventional manner, its uniqueness is grounded in an aesthetic that strikes me as almost antique at times.

    One does not preclude the other. Some of the most unusual looking, highly stylized films I know are 75 to 85 years old. In movie terms that’s pretty antique.

    I concede the point. But for whatever reason, I find Lucas easier to take seriously even when I realize intellectually that he’s doing incredibly silly things

    Maybe it’s the fact that with Wood you occasionally get Bela Lugosi, but I find his silliness more digestible. The fact that his stuff tends to run about 60 minutes may help.

  65. Ken Hanke

    I’ve never bothered with stuff like Fireball 500, though I will admit that some of the first movies that made an impression on me were the Beach movies. I’m actually baffled as to why those movies seem to be hated by so many people.

    That may be a “you had to be there” thing. I have nothing against the films in and of themselves — unless I put them in the context of their era. Bear in mind that this stuff was coming out just before and then into the same time as we — and by “we” I mean kids — were getting the Richard Lester and Beatle films. When you put those films — films that felt like they were being made by and for young people and that didn’t look cheap or cheesy. (That Lester was 32 when he made A Hard Day’s Night was beside the point when you saw the film.) The “Beach Party” movies, on the other hand, looked and felt cheap. Their primary architect, William Asher, was in his 40s and had a grounding in very traditional TV work — flat lighting and all. The films all felt like what you might call “old folks making rhythm,” which is to say that they only guessed at what young people wanted. Worse, they felt like they were trying to shape what young people “should” want in their frankly rather reactionary tone. I think this is where a lot of the negativity toward the films stems from — that we were being fobbed off with cheap sitcon stuff that pretended to be hip, that hoped we’d buy it as hip.

  66. brianpaige

    Yeah that is something I never had to think about since I first got into those movies when I was about 10-11 (this being roughly 1990). Even then I never especially thought of the Beach movies as “cool” or “hip” even for that era.

    Oddly I read the other day that The Beatles were in fact going to be in Bikini Beach, but the Ed Sullivan appearance skyrocketed them in popularity and past AIP’s budget. Thus, Frankie ended up playing the “Potato Bug” in a dual role.

  67. Ken Hanke

    Yeah that is something I never had to think about since I first got into those movies when I was about 10-11

    Well, that’d be about my age, too, but the difference is that I’m seeing all this stuff as it came out. Also, my take on this is based entirely on my reaction and that of people my age I’ve talked to about it. It’s hardly scientific fact.

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