Once a Great Notion

Posted on August 20, 2010


An initial article about Inception and Toy Story 3 led to a friend’s post on Facebook and his hopes for his son’s first experience at the movies. This led to some back and forths about early movie memories which in turn led to last week’s article about my own first film, Grease. This then resulted in further feedback and a list of childhood films which includes such notables as Popeye, 101 Dalmations, The Red Balloon, The Sound of Music, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, The Muppet Movie, and, either The Slipper and The Rose or a 1970s short explaining the concept of Gone in Sixty Seconds(!). These accumulated memories arrive from such disparate locations as Ireland, England, France, Canada, Australia, and, Zimbabwe, but more of Zimbabwe later.

Many of the comments I received were by email or in conversation, so I was exposed to a far greater diversity of opinion than so simple a thing as a comment counter would suggest, but from this compendium of opinion came three simple notions.

Notion the first, many of the people I know are comfortable giving me their opinion directly yet not so comfortable leaving said opinion displayed online, anonymity be damned or otherwise. So despite the fact that there aren’t many comments attached to these entries, there is nevertheless a lot of chatter that has resulted, which is both encouraging, and fun.

Notion the second, a lot of people can’t actually remember their first film. In the last few weeks I have heard a lot of ‘either ors’ and ‘it might have beens’, which has led me to question not the reliability of other people’s memories but the veracity of my own. Why should I be any different? More appropriately perhaps, Terry Gilliam has said that Snow White is the first movie he can actually remember. Tim Burton remembers being enthralled by the stop motion movies of Ray Harryhausen, in particular Jason and the Argonauts. Martin Scorsese has often described memories of going to the cinema as a child, the regularity of Saturday afternoon pilgrimages, coins rattling excitedly in short pants pockets, candies, sweets, newsreels and weekly episodes of Flash Gordon. Depending on the conversation and subject matter, films as diverse as El Cid, Duel in the Sun and City Lights may be invoked and, as in his own films, animated descriptions gradually unwrap visceral and tactile memories that unfold with time, as opposed to a single, discreet ‘first moment’ frozen on screen and captured in amber.

Therefore on one hand, the question I had posed to you in Do You Remember the First Time, and thought I had answered for myself, has led to more questions and the arrival of some personal uncertainty. On the other hand, Woody Allen swears he saw Snow White at the age of three so it might just be possible that memory is sharper for us anxious children, neurotically focused on regular retours to a moment that stands out, unwilling as we are to allow any happy memory to fade too far from reach.

So if To Inception and Beyond was about the simple joys of a great double feature, and Do You Remember the First time needs no explanation, then this article is about to stop grasping in the dark for a light switch beyond its reach.

This is my third and final notion. Most of us don’t get to kick off our cinema-going records with films that appear on any ‘best of’ lists, excepting of course the likes of Wizard of Oz, Snow white and Sound of Music.

In the future, our children will be even less likely to remember their first time as also a best time, Toy Story 3 and future Pixar movies notwithstanding. This is because most of the ‘best of’ lists we encounter consistently rotate the same old choices from a narrow list of tired, overworked standards. If films are family trees, then ‘best of’ lists would be chock full of cross eyed cousins tuning their banjoes and glowering at new arrivals. It’s not so much the fault of the films as it is the intellectual peer pressure of contributing to these lists in the first place. So I invite you to suggest some lists for future columns right here and this is what I will do. I will neither use the words ‘best of’ nor ‘greatest’ and instead will only use the word ‘favourite’, which at the very least implies that it should mean something to me and if you respond, to you as well.

And that is my one simple notion for this week, to talk about what we like and what we hate and hopefully in a way that if we haven’t already seen a particular film may actually make us want to search it out and see it for ourselves. Because when Clyde wrote last week of monthly school movies as a boy in Africa, it reminded me of sitting in a cavernous school hall in Ireland, armed with a bottle of fizzy orange and a wagon wheel, while the opening credits for The Muppet Movie played noisily in the dark. A memory misplaced but relocated this week, in Zimbabwe of all places.


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