My active, intentful movie watching started about 50 years ago.
I saw movies before that. As I've written before, the first real memory I have of seeing a film in a theater was the 1962 Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris cash grab Safe at Home. I was a little confused by it; somehow I thought that Mantle (who my father knew slightly) and Maris were actual figures in my life and that there was some reality to the paper-thin story.
I have an emotional attachment to some of the Technicolor westerns of the early 1960s as well as Dan Martin's Matt Helm spy spoofs that can't withstand any sort of scrutiny. But the first movies I really saw were in 1968.
Had I been a few years older, I might have received Stanley's Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey differently, but at the time I preferred Kinji Fukasaku's The Green Slime, a silly film that had something to do with an asteroid hurtling toward the earth that was shot in Japan with a Japanese director and film crew, but with a non-Japanese starring cast that included Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, and Luciana Paluzzi.
More than half of 2001: A Space Odyssey is dialogue-free, and to this day I don't believe my early exposure to it did me any favors. While I've come to appreciate its technical accomplishment and power as pop iconography, I still have a visceral aversion to watching it again. I can understand why some people think it's the best movie ever made, but I also know how long it felt.
When you're 9 years old, two hours and 19 minutes can feel like a prison stretch. As much as I love Kubrick, I can't get over a certain dread of this film. Give me Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, or even The Shining run backward, just don't make me watch 2001 again.
(Planet of the Apes was released on the same day -- April 3 -- as 2001, but I didn't see that until a couple of years later as part of a double-feature with its sequel.)
Similarly, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby terrorized me for reasons I didn't quite understand; it remains one of the very few movies I find genuinely scary.
It touched on something primal, raw and taboo and even if I couldn't explain what it was about, it induced a kind of morbid awe. I didn't think of it this way at the time, but now realize that at least part of what I was feeling was the result of a brush with real art, the unnameable quality that confirms one's humanity.
Not long after Rosemary's Baby I saw The Night of the Living Dead. (Why? Were my parents sadists? I think I can blame my Aunt Patricia; she came out to California for an extensive visit that year and often took me to the drive-in.) I found it more parsable but no less upsetting. I can't say that I enjoyed it.
I did like The Green Berets, although my father later called it "hooey." (I most likely didn't see it in his company, for he spent most of 1968 in Southeast Asia.)
Speedway, the Elvis Presley-Nancy Sinatra NASCAR film, was also a favorite, though not as much as Yellow Submarine, the Beatles cartoon that was the highlight of my summer. (I have a clear memory of being dropped off in downtown San Bernardino on a Saturday afternoon and watching it by myself in the ornate Fox Theater.
I can still remember the slightly nauseating smell of melted butter on popcorn from that day and my real giddiness when the real-life nonanimated Beatles appeared at the end of the film to make corny puns and perform "All Together Now."
I saw Bullitt in San Francisco when I took my annual summer vacation trip to visit my uncle.
I watched Don Knotts in The Shakiest Gun in the West with my grandmother, who probably also took me to see The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was nearly as boring as Kubrick.
I probably didn't see Bonnie and Clyde -- a movie released in 1967 -- until 1968 at a Saturday matinee that my little sister and I attended unaccompanied.
I remember this screening very clearly because before the movie there was an old newsreel about the outlaws (my youngest sister, who was an infant in 1968, would later live a quarter mile from the ambush of the criminals re-created in the film) and a Model A Ford purported to be the actual death car was displayed in a trailer in front of the theater.
I still remember the bullet holes and Clyde Barrow's death mask.
It all seems so weird. That parents would let kids go to movies alone. That we had movies like these. That I can remember something from 50 years ago.
MovieStyle on 05/11/2018
Print Headline: 1968: The year of understanding