Archive for August 7, 2012

Primal Screen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by dcairns

The first movie I was taken to see as a kid was DR DOLITTLE, the Cinemascope bloater coughed up by 20th Century Fox in an attempt to  make a roadshow family picture which capitalized on Rex Harrison’s turn as a lovable misogynist in MY FAIR LADY.

This is a history lesson.

Firstly, I was born the year of the film’s release, and I don’t think my parents took me as a baby, so that tells you something — tattered, speckled prints of this gigantic flopperoo were still circulating tiredly in the provinces at least three years after the film died like an obese dog (looking up mournfully, tail wagging in a sluggish but heartbreakingly hopeful manner) at the box office. Film distribution was clearly a whole different thing in the early seventies.

Three seems to be the age at which most children are introduced to the movies. I guess these introductions are managed a bit more carefully now, with the aid of the mass media and so on…

My parents report that my first response to a movie on the big screen was to start bawling. Nobody had told me it would be dark in the cinema.

Now, I just half-watched the film (I wouldn’t attempt a proper review without whole-watching a film, but DR D does rather resist the full attention) with the intent of checking to see if I remember anything about it.

There was one image in my head, divorced from any of the glimpses of the film I’ve caught on TV over the years, and from the bits everybody knows are in it, like Harrison speak-singing “If I Could Talk to the Animals.” I had an image of a ship, or possibly a raft, on a stormy sea at night. But for some reason I had a doubt that the image might have come from Altman’s POPEYE, another family film that flopped, released much much later, which I also saw at the cinema.

The image is there! It’s a couple of hours into the film (which is purportedly about a voyage but takes that long to get properly under sail). The ship gets wrecked and then the characters are on rafts. “I told you Flounder was a terrible name for a ship.” Whereas Robin Williams in POPEYE begins the film on a raft, at sea, at night in a storm.

I suddenly flashed on the possibility that my parents had turned up in the middle of the film. We did that sometimes in those days. I certainly remember double features where we entered midway through the B-picture. Yes, there were films running in repertory then, and double bills (Roger Moore as Bond, Godzilla versus whoever was around, HERBIE VS CHRISTINE) and people still sometimes turned up without consulting the listings and went to see whatever was on, regardless of whether it had started. Alfred Hitchcock tried to wipe out this deleterious practice by banning late entrants to PSYCHO, but it didn’t completely stop careless punters from turning every film into a non-linear adventure in piecemeal narrative composition.

(I still quite like seeing a film where I’ve caught a bit of it years ago and never knew what it was or what was going on…)

So I suspect I was a distressed three-year-old because I was dragged into a giant dark auditorium in the middle of a scary sea-storm at night. Dark in the cinema and dark onscreen. Maybe an usherette with a torch to add further nocturnal drama and hushed urgency, maybe not. Maybe not, maybe we entered during the ads or trailers like civilized people, I don’t know.

I think I was repelled by the pushme-pullyou, also. Say what you like, it’s not natural.

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