The recent hype surrounding the saga of the Star Wars franchise has me reminiscing about my lifelong fascination with the movies. Something that started when I was a little kid. I can loosely compare it to eating the forbidden fruit in the garden. Because I was not allowed to go to the movies, hence, they have been irresistible to me ever since.
|Holy spit curls! This is what happened after viewing my first horror movie, 1960…|
I’ve never been a huge TV nut. I wasn’t raised watching much television. I remember watching Captain Kangaroo, and Howdy Doody. Some Saturday morning cartoons. A highlight of a grade school year was when you managed to get on the afternoon show, live from Sioux Falls, called Captain 11. Yeah, that was a biggie.
|Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Greenjeans and sidekicks, mid-1950’s…|
When Larry died in 1958, Dad had a huge transformation. He accepted the Lord as his Savior. And went way over the top. Mom’s and my life changed too because of Dad’s life changing deal breaker. Dad was now gone several nights a week doing the Lord’s work. Mom and I were left at home, each of us not knowing how to deal and heal from losing Larry. We’d watch a couple of programs together. Combat, Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, Whirlybirds, Wagon Train. Mom making us a bowl of popcorn. In a small frypan on our gas stove. Shaking it back and forth, me listening to the kernels pop. The incredible smell filling the quiet house on 15th street. Melting real butter, plus a couple shakes of salt. And the best part. Pop. Diet Rite, RC Cola. We always had pop in the house.
|Actors that portrayed Gil Hanley and Chip Saunders in Combat, 1962…|
But now Dad frowned on TV, even more so about theater movies. I don’t know if it was the Hollywood lifestyle that had him believing they were going to hell. Or just that I was headed to hell if I watched them. When I started blogging, one of my first posts was about sneaking into the movies. Not without paying. But going to the movies. My little Iowa, farming community had its own theater on Main Street when I was young. Not always easy to sneak in unnoticed. You’d be surprised how many adults would squeal about me to Dad, if they observed me going into the show. Or doing anything else questionable in their eyes. Really, it was pretty hard to get by with anything that was not witnessed by someone. And this without cell phones. Although not impossible. There were a couple of times my name should have been front and center in the usual line of suspects, but until I confessed in my blog posts, many of my indiscretions were not known by the masses. Yay Neese. Stealing a car, (borrowing really, we brought it back, unscathed a couple hours later, minus half a tank of gas) and painting the side of a building were two where I should have gotten into pretty big trouble. Those incidents came later in my life of crime, and nobody ratted me out.
|Neese needed teddy bear comfort after watching Mr. Sardonicus…|
The first movie to have a major impact in the Life of Neese was called Mr. Sardonicus. The scene practically set itself. Northwest Iowa was in the middle of a blizzard of epic proportions. Not an uncommon winter occurrence. Dad worked for the State Hiway Commission. During snow storms, he’d get several hours overtime, driving the snow plow from Rock Valley, west to the South Dakota border near Canton, east to the Sheldon overpass which was high, wicked and very dangerous. Or south on Hiway 75 towards Sioux City. I begged, pleaded, whined, and ‘zhanicked’ (begged, pleaded, whined in Dutch, only a bit more dramatic) for Mom to let me go to the movies that night while Dad was hard at work.
|Dad driving a snowplow, while I was sinning at the movies, 1960…|
The theater was 2 blocks from our house. No way we would have school the next day. The snow was past my knees already. Mom caved. Unfortunately, I had done no research on the only movie showing that night. Siskel and Ebert weren’t invented yet. So I happily, but unknowingly, trudged through the deep snow to my first (and last) horror movie. Holy Hanna. Scared the shit out of this 10 year old. The short review. Married couple discover their winning lottery ticket was in the suit coat pocket of the husband’s recently deceased father. Wife insists he retrieve that ticket. Once the coffin is dug up, Sonny takes one look at the gruesome facial expression on Pop’s face and splits. Wifey sends him back for that winning ticket. Go on, Dipstick. This time when he returns, hubby’s facial features are in the same distorted, macabre frozen position as dead Daddy. In a nutshell. Yikes. Since that fateful night, I still click the remote to another station when a door creaks on TV.
|My then 10 yr old eyes still see Mr. Sardonicus in my nightmares…|
Once I got a bit older, bolder, and sneakier, movies were part of my high school days. Not as often in Rock Valley, though. There were some incredible, magnificent movie theaters in Sioux City and Sioux Falls. Downtown buildings with winding staircases 10 feet wide. Stunning architecture I barely noticed back in the 60’s. For this small town girl, some of these films were a real life education. The seducing wiles of an older woman with a much younger guy in The Graduate. (but true love wins) My first experience learning about homosexuals in Midnight Cowboy. My undying love for all things Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Bullitt, Thomas Crown Affair, Papillion, The Getaway. Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, The Sting. The Towering Inferno which starred both of them.
|Heart throb Steve McQueen, 20 years my senior. I’d have followed him to the ends of the earth…|
Not all movies had teaching moments for this naive chick. But they remain firmly entrenched in my head. Usually because one scene hit me hard then and has stuck. The Witness, with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. City slicker cop (Harrison) has to protect an Amish widow (Kelly) and her young son who witnessed a murder. In MY scene, Harrison is falling for the widow, and the feeling is mutual. Harrison is walking through her house. Kelly is undressing, the door is ajar. Their eyes meet in the mirror. The forbidden longing, lust and love their faces convey in that single glance still makes my tummy flip.
When we were living on the farm, 40 miles from Cedar Rapids in the mid-’70’s, there was a Mel Brooks movie called, Young Frankenstein. I don’t believe I’ve ever laughed that hard, though Blazing Saddles came close. Weeks later, I’d think about Marty Feldman saying, “werewolf!” Gene Wilder asking “werewolf?” Marty answering, “there wolf, there castle.” Or Wilder looking at the castle’s mammoth doors, exclaiming, “what a set of knockers!” Terri Gar answers shyly, “thank you.”
|Young Frankenstein stars, Feldman, Wilder and Gar…|
Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, as a single, ambitious New Yorker whose cousin passes away and literally leaves Diane her baby girl. Diane is not mom material and seriously considers giving the baby up for adoption. In MY scene, the baby has been sick and up all night. Diane has walked, or rocked her and both are near exhaustion. Both Baby and Diane fall asleep, with baby on Diane’s chest. One of the most poignant scenes ever. I sob every time.
|Diane Keaton in Baby Boom…|
Or my favorite romantic comedy. Notting Hill. Julia Roberts plays a superstar (now there’s a stretch) who’s in London. She goes into a book store owned by Hugh Grant. Instant attraction. But they are from such different worlds. After flirting, an affair and numerous problems getting in their way, Julia walks into the book store (in flip flops, gotta love it) says to Hugh, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her!” So romantic and heartfelt. I bawled my eyes out. As an added bonus, Rhys Ifans plays Hugh’s roommate, Spike. He steals several scenes and is absolutely hilarious. In grungy underwear.
|Julia asking for Hugh’s heart…|
Even during our first, oh-so-broke years of marriage, John and I managed to see a few movies. We watched The Godfather at South Sioux City’s, Gordon Twin Drive Inn. Couldn’t afford a babysitter, making it necessary to haul our adorable 2-1/2 year old, Shannon along. In our 1972 green Chevy Vega. Embarrassing to admit that. Not that we took a toddler to a very adult themed movie. That we owned a Vega. We loaded the car with goodies and enough blankets, pillows to make a bed in the hatchback for our precocious little diva. She assured us, she would sleep in the car. Right. Next thing we hear out of her is, “why is that man sleeping with a horse? Where’s the rest of the horse, daddy?” Probably the reason she became a therapist.
|Looks like Shannon suffered no ill effects from The Godfather…|
Forty years ago, I started reading The TV guide and People Magazine, faithfully. Nosy and loved learning what was going on in Hollywood. That inquisitiveness has waned the last few years. Many of the stars I enjoy watching on the big screen feel because the make millions in movies, they also know what’s best for me in the world of politics. Please, shut your mouth unless it’s a movie script. The trivia about Hollywoood and their stars stuck though. Twenty years ago when the kids were in college, I’d regularly receive phone calls from one of them, which sounded something like this. “Mom, what was the movie where the secret service guy’s job was…” “Umm, Guarding Tess, with Nicolas Cage and Shirley McClaine,” I’d answer quickly. Not only has most of that information seeped from my head (no, not song lyrics yet) I’ve been replaced by Google. My services of useless tidbit information, no longer required.
|Brad Davis as Billy Hayes in Midnight Express, 1979…|
The movie that struck me with the biggest impact happened in Spencer, Iowa. The spring of 1979. I was pregnant with Adam. Hubs and I went to the theater downtown. The movie was, Midnight Express. Based on a true story starring Brad Davis as Billy Hayes. Billy is caught at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, trying to smuggle hashish out of the country. Tried and sentenced for 30 years to life in a gruesome prison. What he endured was horrifying. After a few years, his girlfriend smuggles him some money to help buy an escape, cause he’s not getting out any other way. Billy’s nemesis is a sadistic guard with the intention of raping Billy. Billy accidentally kills him before the deed. Billy quickly puts on the guards clothing and calmly walks out of prison. Makes his way to Greece and back to New York a few weeks later. For some reason, this movie still haunts me almost 4 decades later. I wonder if any movies have made a huge impact on other people’s lives like they have on mine…