“Remember, this is a comedy” – Federico Fellini
Last week I re-watched The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film – based on the Tom Wolfe book of the same name – about a group of Air Force pilots out in the Mojave who attempt to control the cutting edge machinery produced during a renaissance in American ingenuity. Some of these men become the first many NASA recruits during the birth of the American space program.
I remember watching this film with my Dad at a crucial time when a kid could dream and, while watching it with my girlfriend, remembered all of the movies that shaped my vision of the world over the years from the vantage point of the relatively old city on the Eastside – The Godfather, American Beauty, Apocalypse Now, 8-1/2, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Almost Famous, Back to the Future, Lost in Translation, The Breakfast Club, 2046 – and how all of these records of light and sound have shaped me and moved me deeply throughout the years.
The color palette of The Godfather always stood out in my mind, and I remember watching the film with my Dad during the Holiday season, and how, even if not said directly to me, the actions on screen revealed a little something about the way that love, familial love, is the ultimate social bond.
Back to the Future
Driving to Whittier High School just to see the front of Hills Valley High and where Biff got punched in the face by Marty. Or the fact that if you go to the Puente Hills Mall today, the site of Twin Pines Mall in the film, there’s still the Lone Pine sign logging the date and time of travel to the future.
Or, I recall being younger, 10 or 12, and watching Back to the Future and drawing up every little detail of the DeLorean on green over-sized note cards, trying not to miss any minutiae and explaining to my Mother that when I grew up I would have enough money to hire scientists to build a DeLorean for me so that I could travel through time.
One of my very first memories is of being in my parents room with my Grandmother and, either on Turner Classic Movies or on VHS, watching the scene in Gone With the Wind where Atlanta is burning to the ground. I remember countless nights when I would hang out with my cousins and watch all of the latest scary movies, and sometimes even Disney movies, and we would then share ideas and rough storyboard sketches for films that we one day hoped to make. Saving Private Ryan was a big catalyst for our interest in WWII history and culture, and from that interest came our desire to learn about other wars and what became of the men that fought them, and how that generation then shaped the one that we are now a part of. The whole mess of human misery was teased out of a simple love for movies.
When I was in High School, I use to have a very unhealthy anxiety problem that I always seemed to be doing battle with, so some nights I would stay up really late and draw and listen to music, and at around 4 in the morning I would love to put on Breakfast at Tiffany’s because the simple grace of Audrey Hepburn would always seem to put me at ease. A few years before this, I remember my dad purchasing a copy of Apocalypse Now, and – this was right around the time when every teen seems to be big on Zeppelin, Floyd, Jimi, The Doors, and The Who – being blown away by the artistry summoned in order to capture the mood of the jungle and the war, and the smallness of one mans fight against a larger and much more pervasive, almost eternal, evil that seemed to exist at the edges of one’s vision, just over the horizon, and outside the world of logic and reason.
I remember watching Lost In Translation for the first time and being absolutely and madly in love with all of the little phrases that Sophia Coppola had composed within her scenes. The questions that Charlotte was asking Bob – “Does it get easier?” – were important not just in the context of the film, but also for organizing the increasing messiness of our lives. The daily heartbreaks were never going to be just a passing thing, even then I knew it, and how much more do I know now.
Watching David Lynch with my brothers, or Across the Universe with my Girlfriend – a film that belongs on the above list because I’ve seen it more than a dozen times – or even watching 500 Days of Summer and Step Brothers back to back on lonely Saturdays when I lived in Tucson, all of these little parts of life pop in and out of focus every now and then.
Then sometimes I forget. I’ll be walking down a street, or driving down a road, and I’ll open a door, or take a turn, and suddenly the past comes rushing back to greet me like an old friend, and many times I can clearly remember my past self telling my future self to remember the moment. And I don’t, and I didn’t.
Cities change, neighborhoods change, friends wander in and out of your life, families change, people grow and move. Everything is in flux and everyone is going about their own business and that’s ok. There is no imperative to be stuck in any one particular place in time because we are all subject to time’s ebbs and flows.
I can always go back to my parents house, sit on their couch, in a room that I’m familiar with, and go through their movie library, or if not, talk to them about something from Latin America or Europe that they’ve watched recently on Netflix and maybe watch it myself, and then kick back and disappear for a little bit.
I recently re-discovered Videotheque in South Pasadena, and have started to visit it more frequently. A small and careful care for the art of sight and feeling is something that I’m trying to cultivate in this modern moment.