I don't actually remember the first movie my parents took me to, but it was probably outdoors, at the local drive-in. The drive-in was much more than just the movie. It was big brown paper bags of homemade popcorn transparent with grease spots, kids hiding in the trunk, and smooching teenagers. It was watching 70s exploitation fare, wrapped in blankets on the roof of our rusted out station wagon, the one with the giant hole in the floor that if you looked down let you see the road rushing beneath your feet. The experience itself, the concession, the audience, the whole spectacle was as important as the movie.
It's good to know that some things haven't changed. Drive-ins have gone the way of the dodo but kids are still mostly interested in what they can buy at the concession stand, and movie going is still a family affair. At least in my family.
With that in mind, I took Louis, age three, to see his first film in the movie theatre last Saturday. It was fitting that the trailer that preceded the feature was for the final chapter of the Star Wars saga, as this is the first film I clearly remember watching. In fact every nuance is etched in my brain. My entire family saw it in Nelson in a packed theatre in 1978. Being hilly billies we didn't have any idea what the film was about, and it hit me like an explosion. Literally, it obliterated me, I forgot who I was, where I was, or what universe we were in. That sense of dislocation afterwards is still something I clearly recall. The strangeness of walking out of the theatre and seeing the plain old ordinary world. I spent the rest of grade four acting out scenes from the film on the playground. In my winter boots, and someone's big brother's motor cycle helmet, I WAS Darth Vader. Such is the power of movies, so I was a little nervous about taking an impressionable child to see something on the big screen. But when Darth Vader appeared breathing heavily, Louis remarked, "that looks good!" and everyone around us laughed.
Relocated to middle class
The Incredibles isn't a bad place to begin a life of cinema going, since it is all about family. Super heroes are no match for lawyers and in the beginning of the film, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) has been placed into the super hero relocation program. After one lawsuit too many, he's saved his last citizen and he and his family must now blend into the obscurity of the ordinary world. Instead of righting wrongs and battling villains, Mr. Incredible now processes insurance claims. Meanwhile Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter, is ensconced in domestic bliss with three kids and a rancher in the suburbs. Of course, this nuclear family is going a little nuclear, the kids are fighting, dad is on remote control and mother is trying to hold it all together with the help of her stretchy arms.
Despite their abilities, the Parrs are forced to fit into a world that holds no place for greatness, and in fact resents anybody who isn't exactly like everyone else. It's appropriate that the visual look of the movie borrows the style edicts of the 1950s, golf shirts and June Cleaver bouffants. The golden epoch of the middle class, when the best you could hope for was to be exactly like the rest.
When Mr. Incredible is contacted by a mysterious agency and offered a chance for superhero work again, he takes it. But not before visiting designer to the stars, E, to get his suit revamped. Beware any enterprise requiring new clothes, especially shiny red super suits. Tiny little Edith Head look-alike E, voiced by director Brad Bird, is a more interesting creature than all the Incredibles put together. Wearing Issey Miyake pleats, of indeterminate gender and all of three feet high, this is a personage I'd like to see more of. He/She/E literally steals the show, and does fabulous things with it, darling. The rest of the plot is pretty much by the book (the comic kind). Good triumphs over evil, but only by working together as a team, parents and kids.
Scaring the kids
Fittingly enough, The Incredibles is also Pixar's first PG film. Brad Bird was recently quoted saying “I think that parents ought to take the PG seriously. Only they know what their kids can see, but some kids were mildly traumatized by Raiders of the Lost Ark and they probably shouldn't have seen it. But I don't think you would ever say, 'Yeah, take all of that stuff out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ Raiders of the Lost Ark is the movie that it set out to be."
Indeed, sometimes kid's films can be the most traumatizing for their young viewers. I once had the odd experience of seeing The Wizard of Oz in a Richmond cineplex entirely populated by children and parents. Whenever the Wicked Witch showed up, a high pitched buzz swept across the theatre, hundreds of tiny voices all atwitter. The same thing happened in The Lion King, when the wildebeests stampeded Simba's dad flat. A little kid sitting beside me began to wail "HIS DAD'S DEAD!" and another little kid sitting in front, popped his head over the seat and said, "It's okay. His dad is dead, but it's okay." This had the effect of comforting the first wailing kid and both of them went back to watching the movie. I was struck by two things; the first, that there is something deeply wrong with Disney and the second was that film is powerful stuff.
My own mother remembers being terrified almost beyond endurance by Sleeping Beauty and the eerie green light that draws the Princess Aurora to prick her finger on the enchanted spinning wheel. Many life long horror aficionados date their obsession from seeing the first film that scared them silly. Director Jim Van Bebber told Blood and Guts Magazine, "I remember being in the State Theatre in Greenville for some Dick Van Dyke fuckin' movie. Before that movie started, they showed a trailer for Planet of The Apes. The original. I was a child. The trailer opened with a zoom-in, on the gorilla on horseback. "WHAAA-OOOOOOOOOOOO!" And all that shit? Dude, I hid under my seat. I hid! I would not watch!"
Sex and Milk Duds
When I was growing up in Creston, our family drew no clear boundaries between kids’ films and grownup movies. We saw everything that came to town, like “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”, a 70s arthouse fixture chock a block with graphic sex, the blowing up of small animals and gangs of murderous children. Right in the in the middle of Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles getting it on hot and heavy, my youngest brother (five at the time) stood up and indignantly demanded of my mother, “Why is that man playing train on that woman!?” Early exposure to naked Kristofferson didn't warp us too badly. My brothers were primarily occupied with what type of candy they could get and spent most of the time yelling "What can I buy for 25 cents?" and running up and down the aisles.
After seeing his first film, Louis had to be dragged bodily from the theatre and the next morning he woke up and asked, "Are we going to the movie theatre today?"
A cinephile is born.
Dorothy Woodend’s reviews films for The Tyee run every Friday.