Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Adult Films

Lileks asked yesterday that his readers submit the names of the first movies they'd ever seen. I'm not about to submit anything, because after an exacting examination of this multileveled question, I find I have no definitive answer. Surprise. (I'm college educated.)

Some movies I don't recall seeing, but they were always there: stark, primordial, necessary, eternal. Once when I was very young, I awoke (or so it seemed) to find a rhinoceros emerging from the closet ( although the door was closed and remained so.) He had a dire, malevolent, and slightly deranged expression on his face. He looked straight at me, standing on his hind legs, and began, grotesquely and soundlessly, to dance. There was no music, and his attitude made it clear that his dance had nothing to do with rhythm, or melody, or artistic interpretation. Dancing was merely what he did, inevitably, and it was a product of nothing more nor less than his very being, which was malign. Other animals -- elephants, brontosaurs, bloated lizards, pigs, birds with huge distended eyeballs and tiny pursed lips on their beaks -- began to emerge, and all joined solemnly in the silent clump, clump of the ritual. The other animals were smaller than the rhino, and though also malevolent in their intentions, more demonstratively but somehow less threateningly so. They seemed like bullies who spit at you; small children who bite; tiny pets who become afflicted with an aggressive form of insanity -- nearly harmless, but stubborn and insistent, and quite disquieting en masse. This all became evident to me within seconds, as danger signals within my small brain discarded irrelevant details, and concentrated the mind most wonderfully on the most horrific and potentially deadly aspects of the scene before me. Obeying my best instincts, I hid beneath the covers, but it did no good. I could see the menagerie quite clearly through the covers, or -- now, wait, here was a troubling thought -- they were under the covers with me. The next obvious step was to close my eyes. But of course I could still see the dancing animals, because I could see through my closed eyelids -- or, because -- oh, God, no. My vocal apparatus had not been idle this entire time, but it had been oddly ineffective. I put my entire will into a terrified shriek, and when I let go...nothing happened. It was worse than silence, because somehow I managed to bring forth a slight, hoarse whisper, followed by the tiniest of yelps. My parents did not hear. No one heard -- except for the rhino and his zomboid dancing cohorts. And they turned to me -- if it was possible for them to glare at me more meaningfully than was already the case -- and seemed divided between mocking derision, subtly expressed by a slight upturning of the mouths; and the will to punish, which showed in the cloudy inkiness of their expanding pupils. Some few decades of subjective time later, I managed to squeeze forth a half-scream sufficient to summon my father and mother. Of course, immediately upon their entry into my bedroom, the animals vanished. "It was just a bad dream, dear," my mother said, inevitably. No, it wasn't, it was real. Please... "Just go back to sleep." Not bloody likely. They left. I watched and waited. The dancing ghostly creatures did not return. But they were hiding. I knew it. And they knew I knew it. I watched and waited.

It wasn't until many years later that I realized, upon seeing the movie Fantasia in one of its many revivals, that this...nocturnal experience of mine had been a sort of warped, opium-vision, funhouse version of that movie, taking off from the dancing hippos -- but somehow evolving
from those nice realms of whimsy and good fun into one of stark terror. (Or else my "dream" represented the frightening reality from which Fantasia had been freely adapted.)

So Fantasia was with me always. As was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was always with me, seemingly from birth, and perhaps before. There was no time at which I had never seen Snow White. Oddly, I have a crystalline memory of riding with my mother at the very back of a subway car, or trolley, or tram of some kind. It is utterly clear that we are returning after having seen a movie, and that that movie was Snow White. But I do not recollect seeing the movie itself, nor if this was the first time I had seen it or any other movie, though this seems to be a single-digit entry in the memory catalogue. What I remember is that we had also gone to a downtown department store, and that my mother had bought me a toy, and that I sat in the back contentedly playing with it. As I still do, somewhere, it seems.

My first movie? Does one seen on television count? I clearly remember being allowed to stay up -- past sundown! in the summer! -- to see Son of Kong. (Black-and-white on black-and-white. Take that, Malevitch.) This was, needless to say, a transcendent, character-defining experience. (Which makes it a fortunate turn of events that this time slot had not been filled, instead, by Little Caesar, or Ecstasy.) Somehow I'd gotten it into my little mind that this movie was King Kong, rather than the sequel, with the result that every time King Kong turned up on afternoon television, I'd shake my head and say, "No, this can't be right. They do nothing but talk and stuff for an hour before they finally get to Skull Island, and then it's chase, scream, shoot, ooga-booga right up to the Empire State Building." And of course the Empire State scene, although world-famous from clips and stills and ceaselessly discussed among young enthusiasts, was not even in the real movie. I was at the mercy then of arbitrary television scheduling, and it was years before I quite figured all of this out.

The first movie I remember seeing -- that is, remember seeing the entire movie, and remember sitting in the theatre with my parents -- was Bridge on the River Kwai. I thought that it was quite exciting, or in the gush-phrase of the day, "really neat." The larger concerns of the movie went right over my head, of course. (Nowadays, of course, the Larger Concerns of movies are all too evident, and hit me splat in the center of the face.) From then on, it was a scarcely noticeable step to a love of all war movies, thence to a love of war comics and war toys and war games, thence inevitably to stockpiling weapons, domestic abuse, and voting Republican.

But that movie was released in 1957, and I would have been six and one half or so. Rather old for a first movie. And I do remember, a year or two earlier, going to the drive-in movies with my parents and my little brother. I don't remember what the movie was called, but I do remember the essence of the thing itself, because it was so awfully, awfully dreary. It was one of those "grown-up" movies. The word "drama" was the kiss of death when used in a movie ad; it meant that the movie was about nothing whatsoever. This movie was a drama in the worst sense. There were no cowboys. There were no monsters. There were no guns. There were no explosions. There were no ghosts. There weren't even any wild animals or desert crossings or houdoo savagery or crashing airplanes or tough guys who wouldn't take any crap. No, it was a drama. There was this man (Cary Grant? William Holden?) and there was this woman (Deborah Kerr? Ingrid Bergman?) And that's about it. Oh, yeah, the man wore a tuxedo, and the woman wore fur coats and different dresses. They spent a lot of time in fancy restaurants, and in hotel lobbies, and stepping into and out of limosines, and sipping the finest champage, arms entwined. And talking. Blah, blah, blah. Luvvity-poo stuff. "Oh, do you mean it truly?" "Yes, because I am but a man," etc. I can't swear to this dialogue verbatim, but that's the sort of wearisome blab it was. There were lots of weepy strings. There were several climactic-seeming moments when the couple embraced in doorways or in courtyards or on steps in exotic locales, and said, "Oh, dahhling..." Oh, turn me upside down and lower my head into the toilet. Yuck. Fortunately, one of these climactic-seeming scenes was, finally, the actual climax of the movie, and it indeed ended, despite my worst fears that it would continue forever and ever. I'm sure my mother thought the movie deeply moving. I'm not sure what my father thought, but I'm sure he wouldn't have said. For myself, it was my first introduction into the world of the adult film. And not my last, unfortunately.

We all know that they still make movies which are all blah, blah, blah, sniffle, blub, whatever, the end. You know which ones they are. But you won't admit it because critics call them profoundly observant critiques of old mores dying while the new are not yet born, and your friends tell you you must see this, really, it's so good. And it's not. It's just a boring, grown-up, nothing-happens movie. That's fine. But for God's sake, be sensitive, be moral, do that which previous generations in their misguided way so innocently, yet toxicly, failed to do: Leave the kids at home.