Can you name the first movie you ever saw on the big screen?
I like to ask this question whenever I meet someone new. The answer I get tells me a lot about the person and just how important movies are to them. To some, movies are just background noise, not worthy of their full attention. I feel this is a profound shame. Who doesn’t like going to the movies?
Nowadays it’s tough, some moviegoers seem to consider the theater their living room and talk non-stop. Drives me up the wall. It happens everywhere, even in L.A., city of movies. I remember catching a film in Westwood and hearing a running commentary from a breathy couple sitting within earshot. Two hours later as the lights came up and people were leaving, I glanced behind me to see who the annoying Siskel and Ebert were. Much to my dismay, it was director John Landis and his wife! Some people just can’t shut up.
Movie watching has evolved in the last twenty years. With the advent of home video and streaming, you can watch just about any movie at any time, although we are far from being able to watch everything I want to see. Remember the early 1990s commercial from Philips or GE promoting the smart home of the future where you could watch ANY movie title on demand? Sadly, we’re not there yet. In a perfect world, everything from “Abba: The Movie” to “Zardoz” would be available on demand 24/7.
It was a different time growing up in the 70s and 80s as I did. Of course, movies were still popular, you just couldn’t see them everywhere. They would premiere in a theater, then a year or two later appear on TV, usually in an edited version. Cable and HBO would grow up in the eighties, but until then you could only see a new movie on the big screen. For me, this is what made the experience so special. You were sitting in the dark with a group of people, watching pictures move on a lighted screen. It was magical.
Movies are a big part of my life, I can’t imagine a world without them. My movie diet runs the gamut from Godzilla to Truffaut. I credit my tastes to a buffet style approach of film watching — a little American Western here, a smattering of French New Wave there. I could blather on about how much movies mean to us as a society and help us make sense of our history, but I won’t bore you this time. Instead, I’d like to tell you how I grew up to be a full fledged movie geek.
My first movie-going experience was a re-release of Disney’s “Pinocchio,” I must have been six or seven years old. I even remember where I saw it — the Pershing Theater in El Paso, Texas. It was a one screen theater (a dying breed in the 1970s, as multi-screen theaters were about to make an appearance), not too fancy but still retaining some old world charm. To my young eyes it was a palace and a church, a refuge where you could drown in images and see something bigger than yourself. Corny, huh? My parents liked movies too, they took my sister and I to every Disney movie that came out in the 1970s, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Robin Hood,” “The Aristocats,” you name it, we saw it.
Growing up on a steady diet of Disney movies, I began to wonder about other kinds of films. What else was out there? I was getting older, so new avenues were opening up. PG-rated movies were the next frontier for me, although I couldn’t go alone yet. Nevertheless, my parents seemed to be reasonable in terms of cinematic subject matter, which is how my sister and I got to see our next movie milestone, “Jaws,” from Universal Pictures.
The TV commercial for “Jaws” was scary and compelling, mostly comprised of underwater shots from the shark’s POV and that driving score by John Williams. From the tone of the narrator, it sounded like a horror film. Universal spent nearly $2 million marketing the film, which included merchandising items such as t-shirts, games and beach towels. My sister and I were hooked, my parents were hooked, and so were a lot of other people. Released in June 1975, “Jaws” became the first summer blockbuster movie, changing the way movies were made and marketed forever.
That summer, my family went on a trip to the coastal Texas town of Corpus Christi. At the beach, none of us wanted to get in the water. Talk about the power of movies and “Jaws” mania. But for myself and many others, something much bigger was on the horizon. “Jaws” became the highest-grossing film of all time, but that would all change in two summers, with the premiere of a little space opera about stars and wars.
What’s the first movie you saw on the big screen? Share it below!