A few movies have already had blockbuster openings this past month but for me, the official summer movie season starts when school’s out in a couple weeks. I’m a long way from my school years but there’s something about going to movies in the heart of summer, with long lines and huge crowds, that brings out some of my fondest movie-going memories.
As a kid on summer break, I used to plan whole days around going to the movies: twenty minutes to walk to the theater, fifteen minutes in line to buy tickets, then two hours sitting around with my friends and/or siblings, playing cards, eating sandwiches, sipping orange Shasta, reading Mad magazine, just waiting to get in to see the latest blockbuster. Then two hours to see the movie, one and a half afterwards to dissect it with everyone, twenty minutes to walk back home and another half hour to write in my journal about the cool movie I saw that day and all the things I loved about it.
Sometimes it wasn’t the movie itself that was the highlight; it was the things that happened because I went to see it. So, as I look forward to this summer’s offerings, I’d like to share some of my favorite summer movie-going experiences from the past.
1) Close Encounters of the Third Kind, summer 1977. My family and I had only been in America for two years and none of us spoke much English. But that didn’t stop my dad from loading us all up in the rusty blue Chevy wagon and taking us to the movie theater. We all loved movies. Dad just bought us tickets to Close Encounters because that’s what was playing; we didn’t have any clue about what we were seeing. And Spielberg’s classic didn’t make it easy on us. We didn’t know why aliens were coming or understand the significance of that five-note score. But afterwards, we all made up our own stories based on what we saw and laughed all the way home. I still have no idea what mashed potatoes have to do with aliens but that was a fun day.
2) Grease, summer 1978. Growing up, I idolized Olivia Newton-John. She was everything I wasn’t: blonde, cute, popular and a talented singer. But in the movie, there was one thing we had in common: Sandy and I were both goody-two-shoes. I was disheartened when she decided she had to tart herself up in painted-on pants to get the guy, but I felt empowered when it turned out Danny was ready to accept her squareness. Whew. Not having to wear leather pants to school was a message I never forgot.
3) Moonraker, 1979. As I mentioned, we’re all movie lovers in my family but we rarely agreed on which movie to see. My sister had no interest in fantasy or sci-fi, my brother wouldn’t go to any girly films (translation: romantic comedies), my dad preferred dramas based on real events (i.e. All the President’s Men), my mother enjoyed sexy fare like Body Heat. But there was one kind of movie we could always agree on: James Bond flicks. Everybody loved 007.
So in June ’79, we all piled into the Ford LTD and the 8 of us took up a whole row in the theater, fighting over who got the aisle seats. Moonraker wasn’t anything spectacular and all the sexual innuendo went right over my head. Still, I hold this memory dear because it was one of maybe only three times the entire family went to the movies together. My oldest sister left for college the following summer and it got harder for us to do that again.
4) Raiders of the Lost Ark, summer of 1981. I was a die-hard Harrison Ford fan because of the Star Wars movies so I had to see this on opening day. Walked over to the mall after school that Friday, June 12, and got in line, still clutching my school books. I went by myself since I couldn’t get anyone to come with me. I sat there agape as the boulder chased Indy, screamed when he and Marion were dumped in the snake pit, screamed some more when the ark was opened and that guy’s face melted. Afterwards, I got right back in line to buy another ticket to see it again. To this day, no other movie has made me do that. It was like the best ride at Disneyland that you just want to go on over and over again.
5) E.T., summer of 1982. Wow, another Spielberg movie. He’s had a big part in shaping my childhood movie memories. My sisters, brothers and I walked to the theater inside the mall. We brought egg rolls, Snickers bars and playing cards, anticipating a long line. And boy, was it loooong. It stretched from Montgomery Ward at one end of the mall all the way down to Chess King at the other. My siblings and I ended up waiting about two hours but we had a blast sitting there, my brother teasing me about my new perm, me calling him stupid, my sister making up hilarious stories about other people in line. Oh, yeah, E.T. was great, too.
I don’t know if I’ll have similar experiences this summer with fare like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but I’ve learned that sometimes the movie itself is beside the point. It’s just an excuse for me to get out there and make happy memories.
What are some of yours?