Tag Archives: adolescence

Cinematic Paradise

A couple of weeks ago, I went and saw the latest installment of The Fast and the Furious. It was a memorable trip, even overlooking the movie itself. See, for the first time, I opted for the D-BOX experience: motorized seats that vibrate and move in correspondence to onscreen action. Fast 8 turned out to be the perfect movie for the system, as every rev, every crash, every explosion reverberated through the chair to my very core. It was so much fun. I was giddy – and sold – from the opening sequence.

I’ve loved movies ever since I was a kid. I suppose a part of that was due to me growing up in Los Angeles. I couldn’t help but be immersed in the culture of Hollywood. I’d go to the mall and it would be where they filmed Terminator 2 (Glendale Galleria) or Back to the Future (Puente Hills Mall). I’d recognize “fake” newscasters in any number of films as the real newscasters on my local television stations. When I was in middle school, my sister even took me along to be an extra in a crowd scene for a forgettable Billy Crystal movie.

But my love for the movies outstripped that of fellow Angelenos, perhaps a product of circumstance. My folks were working six, seven days a week, and I found myself with a fair amount of time to kill going as far back as my elementary school years. My cousin and I would roam the streets in our suburban neighorhood regularly on Saturdays, and we’d invariably end up either playing arcade games at Subway or stopping by the local multiplex. The employees there were lax about movie-hopping; it became a habit.

By the time I reached high school, I was a full-blown addict.* I loved everything about the theatrical experience. I loved seeing the marquees out front when we drove past, back when the only other recourse to find out what was playing was to telephone in or buy a paper. I loved seeing the giant posters and fancy cardboard displays that accompanied new and upcoming releases. I relished seeing a movie with one friend Saturday and another with someone else Sunday, or just going alone for a double- or triple-header. Once, I even stayed for four movies.

*I’d even read book adaptations of things like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Little Big League; it was absurd. I’ve outgrown that, but even now I’m still drawn to stories that become movies.

It didn’t hurt that I simply liked movies. Even as I watched my fair share of awful new releases, I never walked out on any, and just about never regretted seeing anything on the big screen (though spending $22 at the San Francisco Metreon for the abysmal Men in Black II comes to mind). Every experience offered something worthwhile – a good line, a silly laugh, a striking shot: moments of novelty and genuine inspiration I held onto. I never considered myself a movie expert and certainly not a movie connoisseur; no, I was always a fan.

It was in college that I began to gain a greater appreciation for cinematic history. I took just a single film course – “History of the American Motion Picture” – but fell in love in particular with The Gold Rush (1925) and It Happened One Night (1934). They opened my mind to the timelessness of the medium. Conveniently, this was during the heyday of Netflix’s home delivery service. I kept a steady stream of DVDs flowing in my apartment, taking full advantage of my three-at-a-time plan, all in addition to my regular trips to the theater.

There was so much out there for me to discover – films of all eras, and eventually all languages. After a friend recommended The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, I went on a long run of spaghetti westerns, then shifted over to regular westerns. I’d get to The Magnificent Seven which would lead to the original Seven Samurai which would then take me down Kurosawa lane. Or I’d crush on Audrey Hepburn and watch from her collection, then Marilyn Monroe and hers. I was learning without the structure of a classroom.

The fact that I was at UCLA also meant I was a short walk from the historic movie palaces in Westwood. It added another dimension to my fandom. On weekday afternoons when the crowd was scarce, it’d be me and a scattershot of senior citizens and the self- or perhaps un-employed in any number of beautiful, cavernous halls. The well-worn cliché of being transported to another world for a couple of hours had immeasurable value for my state of mind, being depressed in college. The theatrical experience had evolved into both hobby and therapy.

After college came graduate school, and ten minutes down the road from the university I attended in Irvine, California, there existed a real, honest-to-goodness, 70 mm IMAX theater. It changed my life. Movies had always been an event, but broadcast on a 90’ by 65’ screen – roughly the size of a seven story building, they became more. Everything felt immersive, exhilarating, simply overwhelming.* I watched summer blockbusters in awe, my brain reeling from the stimulus, my heart full. IMAX was a high of an experience that I have never been able to replicate.

*Watch any of the Transformers series on a real IMAX and try not to feel like a kid. They’re objectively terrible movies; I’ve enjoyed all of them nonetheless.

Graduate school was a fantastic time for my movie fandom overall. With a little bit of pocket change and a great deal of spare time, I averaged 80 trips to the theater a year, cranking it up to 100 as I shifted from coursework to dissertation writing. I developed a regular rotation of five or six local theaters, my individual trips determined by showtimes or discounts or membership perks. My mom swam in free tickets and concessions. I maintained a blog exclusively about movies for a year; I even created and taught a course on “International Politics and Film” one summer.

Moving from Southern California – and later, the United States – has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for film. Of course, as was inevitable, I even wrote a garbage screenplay of my own. But it has been fascinating to witness movie cultures abroad as an expat and traveler. To stand for the Thai royal anthem before the previews begin, to climb awkwardly over Japanese audiences sitting through the entirety of the end credits as a sign of respect, to wrap my head around three rows of subtitles (English, French, German) onscreen in Switzerland. They’re indelible memories.

Movies comprise a significant part of the tapestry that is my life. I can draw upon so many memories – good and bad – of childhood and adolescence, friendships and relationships, profound moments of self-realization to utterly unremarkable days, that are inextricably linked to films and film experiences. Granted, I will never in my life again movie-hop two or three screens every other weekend. But whether I’m in an uncomfortable chair in a last-run theater or a state of the art “motion system” on opening night, I will forever remain captivated by the wonder, the spectacle – the magic of cinema.

(Photo by I, Sailko, GFDL, http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html, CC-BY-SA-3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons)

This Music in My Mind

I like shitty music. Art is subjective, I realize, and I actually do like my music very much, but I am the first to admit that my sensibilities leave much to be desired. My album collection is filled with the kind of innocuous, forgettable, embarrassing stuff most people outgrow by the time they graduate high school: Avril, Britney, Shania, Taylor, Blink. None can be excused as mere relics of my past, as all listed remain prominent features in my current playlists.

Some many years ago, I tried to resell a good chunk of my CD collection. I brought 20 or 30 albums I had already digitized into one of the largest independent music stores in the world: Amoeba Music in Los Angeles. The clerk dutifully went through them one by one, checking their condition. When he finished, there was a moment’s pause. “These are really middle-of-the-road,” he told me. “We can’t take any of them.” I brought everything back to the car. I felt embarrassed.

I never was all that musically inclined growing up. I didn’t develop an ear for good music (despite the considerable size of said ears), never bonded with my parents over their music. Perhaps as a result, my childhood love of Disney created a precedent I retained. I gravitated not towards lyrical depth or instrumental innovation or whatever “legitimate” variables might be discussed in the pages of Rolling Stone, but instead towards catchiness, simplicity, accessibility, fun. I preferred comfort food: top 40, bubblegum pop, conveyer belt stuff.

Unsurprisingly, I got a lot of shit from my friends about my tastes during my teenage years (and still now, sporadically). Like seemingly everyone else in high school, they fancied themselves connoisseurs: discovering indie bands, speaking of lesser-known albums. There is indeed something to the portrayal of music as a core component of adolescence, especially American adolescence, but because of my apathy and less-than-acceptable musical tendencies, it was a conversation I never took part in.

Even now, the aura around music and its meaning eludes me. I obviously enjoy the artform at some level, but its fit in my life remains unnatural. I simply cannot grasp the universal level of passion, of judgment, that appears unique to that form of art. People, for instance, do not extol the virtues of Byzantine art to great (or any) reaction, and no one would debate unearthed coins versus animal exhibits at the natural history museum. But music is treated differently. I wonder if it is the convergence of art and artist and performance that elicits such visceral reaction.

I wonder too whether my own issue goes beyond music. When it comes to the arts after all, I have always had a rather grounded and at times cynical receptivity. I cannot say that I have ever read a book that changed my life, as the cliché goes, nor have I seen a movie that altered how I saw the world around me. I am not a robot – I have been deeply affected by art of course, and I have at times felt art with every fiber of my being. But I would be remiss to suggest that any of it has penetrated my essence to the point of fundamental alteration.

Yet the preceding caveat does not fully explain the general distinctiveness of my feelings towards music. With literature, for example, I have gradually developed a sense of obligation to consider classics from all walks of life, jumping most recently from a sprawling work of historical fiction set against an African civil war to a British coming-of-age children’s novel tinged with magical realism. Similarly with movies, I hop with regularity from black-and-white classics to foreign language films to contemporary blockbusters and 1980s classics. But I have never in this manner actively or systematically sought the spectrum of options in music.

I pause to say here that I consider myself rather open-minded about music, certainly in a way that music snobs are not. I happily accompany friends to just about any live show*, I often purchase songs after hearing them in passing, and I will without fail check out recommendations sporadically directed to me from friends and acquaintances. Yet my personal exploration of music has heretofore been passive, and I simply lack the natural intellectual curiosity for the form I clearly have elsewhere. Essentially, analogously, I am content to watch Transformers and Fast and the Furious and little else.

*I absolutely love the environment – a corollary of my sports fandom, I suppose.

Perhaps all this has to do with the fact that music is meant to stick with the consumer of art in a manner that other forms do not. Indeed, I do not reread books, and it is actually quite rare that I will rewatch a movie – my favorites included. Even museums are not visited more than once. But music is replayed again and again. Music contains an intrinsic degree of permanence, and as a result, requires something that might exceed the boundaries of my open-mindedness. In fact, its very nature alters the conception of what being open-minded entails. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that the tried-and-true is what has stuck with me.

Still, much as I love the music that I do, much as I am ready to defend that music or (more likely) belt it out at karaoke, I do sometimes feel excluded from an art that reaches people so deeply. There is certainly some part of me that wishes to have the awareness to feel the rhythm (getting stronger) or the knowledge to break down verses and recognize allegories and so forth. Who knows. Maybe this will happen in due course, and I eventually broaden my horizons. But maybe it won’t. Maybe my love will always be superficial. After all, there exists the terrible possibility that music simply does not speak to my soul.