First kiss, first bike, first time you swore in front of an adult, firsts are important. The firsts we experience tend to shape our paths through life. That’s not to say that our lives are governed completely by the chance experiences over which we have no control, but if, for example, your first experience with a dog is getting mauled, your path through life will be somewhat different from other puppy-loving children.
Thankfully, not all memorable firsts are traumatic. We all have our keepsake memories that transport us back to our salad days. These warmly remembered moments together define our youth and ultimately have shaped our future selves. One of my earliest formative moments was the first movie I ever watched in the theatre. That experience kindled in me a passion for movies. It’s probably the first and oldest of the passions I still hold today.
I can enjoy watching a movie that I don’t enjoy.
I love movies. My tastes are sophisticated and discerning, yet at the same time incredibly eclectic. I can appreciate a filet mignon of film as much as I can appreciate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich of a movie. Neither is necessarily better, neither could suffice when in the mood for the other. Both can be done quite well, both can be done very poorly. The experience of watching a movie can transcend the movie itself. Without any contradiction, I can enjoy watching a movie that I don’t enjoy.
My love of movies started in the Summer of 1986. My mother had remarried the year previous and, while with no step-siblings, I suddenly had a whole new family. One of my new relations was Uncle Steve, or as he offered “Uncle Example”. Uncle Example who, in his mid-twenties, had just as suddenly found himself the occasional custodian of two hellion boys of the ages 9 (my brother) and 7 (me). Uncle Example, with whom “the only rule is that there are no rules”, took us to the first movie I watched in the theatre: Aliens.
In the years since, I’ve often reflected on what conventional wisdom would say about taking my nine year old brother and me, who was actually a week or two shy of my seventh birthday, to see that movie. To add a little perspective to that, Carrie Henn, the actress whose sole Hollywood credit is playing Newt in Aliens, was three years older during filming than I was when I watched the movie.
It is likely that most responsible adults would have denied us the opportunity to see the movie, but rules are rules, and Uncle Example was a stickler for the rules. I have vague memories of his unheeded warnings that we were going to be scared to death and have terrible nightmares, but I also recall that the ultimate choice was up to us.
In defense of Uncle Example, one has to remember the specifics of the situation and the climate of the day. A guy in his mid-twenties tasked with looking after two rather quarrelsome and sometimes feral young boys. Also, society’s overall philosophy of raising children 25 years ago was quite different from today’s hyper-protectivity. Incidentally, Uncle Example is now the responsibly conscientious and suitably paranoid modern father of two beautiful young girls. Sure, Aliens can be violent at times, perhaps a bit graphic, and potentially frightening to young children, but hardly is it ‘scarred for life’ material.
On the contrary. I loved it. I was terrified, I had nightmares, but it remains to date one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had. Not much of the movie registered in my terrified, sugar-cola-caffienated, going-on-seven-year-old mind, but I do remember a couple parts extremely vividly.
First of course is Bishop’s knife trick. Throughout the next half-dozen years of schooling, ball-point simulations of the knife trick would garner instant respect from classmates.
In the days before the internet, before even Blockbuster Video, having seen an R-Rated movie was significant Kickball Currency to a pre-teen. Sharing a reference to a Restricted movie would immediately highlight the mini-clique separating Those in the Know from everybody else. Such eliteness is one of the important scoring mechanisms in the dominance games which constitute the majority of schoolyard sociology.
When all was fear and darkness, I watched the return of Ripley.
My most powerful memory from the movie is of course the showdown between Ripley and the alien queen. I had spent a large part of the movie with my eyes mostly shuttered and my heart galloping. Finally, after Ripley saves Newt and our heroes return to the safety of the Sulaco, I could breathe again, and I had begun to relax.
I remember the jolting shock and feeling of pure horror at seeing Bishop, friendly, unswervingly loyal Bishop, suddenly eviscerated, rent in two by the stowaway queen. Free from the cynicism that comes from watching thousands of movies, I was naïve to the notion that there would be one last zinger at the end of the movie and as a result was taken completely by surprise.
After seeing half of Bishop cast aside in a pile of his own synthetic offal, sputtering milky android blood simulant out of mouth and nose and corrugated tubing, after watching Ripley chased off, and as I witnessed Newt’s futile attempts to hide from the queen, I could not see how a happy ending was even possible. When all was fear and darkness, I watched the return of Ripley.
A roar of cheer exploded from the audience. I leapt whooping from the edge of my cushion, my arms thrashed the air frantically, sharing instinctively in the primate celebration of the theatre mob. I could feel the deafening exuberance sweep away the darkness. Ripley was going to kick ass. Ripley was going to save the day.
No moment in film has since matched that single instant, lost in absolute escapism, for raw emotional power. I’ve read that heroin addicts are doomed to forever hunger for the impossible high of their first experience. I feel fortunate that my enjoyment of movies is not frustrated by the impossible high of my first experience. There’s no doubt though that a similar effect is at least somewhat responsible for my enduring love of film. Such a powerful experience at such an impressionable age must have left indelible marks on my psyche. Perhaps it is little wonder that I have harboured a crush on Sigourney Weaver for as long as I can remember.
If you haven't ever seen , or even if you have seen it, but don't remember it well, do yourself a favour and go watch it. It is one of those somewhat rare classic films which still holds up amazingly well today. More than that, it isn't at all the sappy, corny movie that most people assume it is or mis-remember it as. Whether they've seen it or not, most know