As you read this, I am just about halfway through a week-long globe-trotting vacation with my family. Toshi and Allen and I are climbing the outside of the World One building in Mumbai right about now.
While we enjoy that, I’d like to share the third of five special vacation articles, where I’ve reached out to a wide array of people I know to answer a different question every day. I sent out the fire questions as part of one big e-mail last week, and I asked people to send me as many of the five responses as they felt like. Some people did one, some people did a few, and several people answered all five.
I would love to hear your responses to these questions as well. When I get back to Los Angeles next weekend, I’m excited to dig in and read all the answers you guys leave, and I hope you end up enjoying this week’s articles in the meantime.
Can you remember the moment that you fell in love with movies?
JUDD APATOW (voice actor, Goofy Ball)
The first movie I remember was “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
The movie that made me fall in love with movies was The Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup.” Also “Animal Crackers.” They struck a big card. Madness, rebellion, Thelma Todd, harp music and Chico’s piano. I was in heaven. Then “Being There.” It showed me how sophisticated and human a comedy could be.
Although I know Norman Juster’s book very well, I had never seen the Chuck Jones version of “The Phantom Tollbooth” until this year. I love that the Marx Brothers were part of what made you want to make movies. “Duck Soup” in particular remains one of the most inspired comedies I’ve ever seen, and in a few years, I look forward to sharing it with my kids to see it flatten them as well.
JASON FLEMYNG (actor, “Snatch”)
“Spartacus.” When Tony and Kirk try to kill each other to stop the other being crucified. As I write that sentence I’m welling up even now… I had never seen anything so heroic and moving, and I wanted to do NOTHING else from that moment to this.
Amazing. I love that it’s not just the movie, but a specific beat in the movie. That’s how it is with epiphanies. They tend to create a hard line for us, with life different on either side of it.
ROY LEE (producer, “The Grudge”)
Seeing “Pulp Fiction” for the first time blew my mind.
I am willing to bet you were not alone in feeling that way.
GERRY DUGGAN (writer, “The Last Christmas”)
“Star Wars” (1977) at a drive in. I was locked in from that moment.
While that may seem like an easy answer, I get it. For me, it was a chemical thing. It changed me irrevocably while I was sitting in that theater. I have never wanted another career, not since I was seven years old. I can’t imagine making something that had that kind of impact on even one person, let alone an entire generation.
PAUL SCHEER (actor, “Piranha”)
I feel like I grew up in this amazing time for movies, I had “Empire,” “Indy”, “BTTF,” “Ghostbusters” – There was a time I didn’t realize that movies could be bad. I loved movies so much, I’d record them on an audio cassette and listen to them on my walkman while everyone else was listening to actual music.
If you’ve never listened to Paul’s podcast, “How Did This Get Made?”, one of the things I love most about it is that even as he and his co-hosts Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael may focus on a terrible movie every week, but they treat all of them seriously, in some cases more seriously than the people who made them, and I think you learn a lot from listening to genuine film lovers talking about terrible films, because even in the worst things, we find ideas or performances or images that excite us.
DAVID MANDEL (writer, “Seinfeld”)
“Star Wars” is the easy answer, but I will never forget the moment the Lotus Espirit drives into the ocean and turns into a submarine in “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
1977 was a big year all the way around for budding film nerds.
SIMON KINBERG (screenwriter, “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”)
Easy. “The Empire Strikes Back” in Westwood Village.
This is one of the reasons I’m glad Simon is in the mix on these new “Star Wars” films. Lawrence Kasdan is essential to have around as one of the co-writers of “Empire,” but I think it is a huge benefit to also have some actual “Star Wars” fans participating in the process. It’s going to make for a fascinating dynamic as these movies start coming together.
MICHAEL MOSES (co-president of marketing, Universal)
My love for movies did start with a single moment. “Star Wars” — yes, as it came to later be known, “Star Wars Episode VI – A New Hope,” but as it was known then and will always be to me, “Star Wars” — came out the day before my ninth birthday. I had stood, sat and shuffled as the first in line for hours for the first showing at North Park Mall in Oklahoma City. From the simple blue lettering of that now-famous phrase followed by the brassy first blast of John Williams’ theme, I was done in, forever changed, my gateway slide into a lifelong junkie’s existence lived in dark theaters begun.
I didn’t know it then but those two hours animated the rest of my life: my decision to go to college in Los Angeles to get near movies, my decision to get a writing job at a studio to get even closer to movies, my less-than-storied career spent right next to movies and the people who make them. But the single moment from the movie I saw ten times over that summer, the instant that shifted me irrevocably from being a movie consumer into a movie lover, was Luke staring at the twin suns of Tattooine after returning home to the farm and finding the burned bodies of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. The shock, the framing, the lighting, the score, the fantasy, the pull and sweep of destiny — the wonderful manipulation of all the elements of a film coming together for a single emotional effect — blew open my nearly nine-year-old cerebral cortex and made movies the single pursuit that would occupy more of my life than any other thing.
I wasn’t well-versed in cinema enough to know that this moment was a cruder version of more elegant sequences in films I would later come to love, that my tastes would grow and evolve as I learned and saw more. But it got me then and still gets me now. There was Luke effing Skywalker, leaving the simple life he knew to accept his fate as a Jedi Knight, like his father before him. That’s still good stuff.
ALBERT PYUN (director, “Alien From L.A.”)
When I saw “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1962, I think about the same time I fell in love with Ann Margaret.
I envy Pyun his formative years. He went to Japan when he was 18 years old at the personal invitation of Toshiro Mifune, and for a while, Pyun worked under Akira Kurosawa to try to get “Dersu Uzala” off the ground. When Mifune left the film, Pyun went with him, and he worked for Mifune for several years. What an amazing education that must have been. And, yes, young Ann Margaret remains one of the most crush-worthy women in movie history.
PAUL DINI (screenwriter, “Maleficent”)
I was about six years old, sitting with my dad in some big old theatre in downtown Boston. It was quiet, like being at church. Then the lights went down, the curtains parted, and the next thing I heard were the shimmering harp notes commencing the overture to “Pinocchio.” From that moment on, I was hooked, on movies, on animation, on the theatre-going experience, everything.
I’m actually surprised there aren’t more Disney titles on this list. Disney is often considered “safe” by parents, so those are the first films many kids get to study, and I know that as many of the lessons I’ve learned about storytelling were from Disney’s animated films as from anything else.
BOB ODENKIRK (lawyer, Walter White)
“The Spectacular Now,” two weeks ago, on the big screen. Perhaps it should say “fell in love with movies, again”, and yeah, I know I’m in it, but I’m barely in it and I’m just in love with the story and the acting and Ponsoldt’s directing. I first fell for movies on seeing “American Graffitti” in the theatres. A great film. When I told my Mom I was going to the theatre to see it a second time she couldn’t fathom the notion of seeing a movie twice…it just didn’t make any sense to her. Like all movies were just plot, and once you know what happens, how could you care?
That was something that baffled my parents as well. When I would buy a book instead of checking it out from the library, my parents seemed baffled. I explained that I wanted to be able to re-read things, and they just didn’t get why anyone would do that. And considering how many times I talked my way into “Star Wars” in the first year that it played theaters (back when films actually could play the same theater for 52 weeks or longer), it was apparent early on that repeat viewings were a bit part of how I digest movies.
DAVID HAYTER (screenwriter, “Watchmen”)
Vividly. I was twelve, and a number of African sailors were searching for Professor Henry Jones, when one of them looked far off the side of their ship and said, “I’ve found him.” Captain, “Where?” Sailor, (pointing excitedly) “There!” And, as Spielberg cut to Indiana Jones, climbing up the side of a Nazi submarine, my heart did a full back-flip. It’s not even the most incredible scene in that film, but I think the energy had been building in me since the opening sequence, and at that exact moment, my entire life’s course was set. I said to myself right then, “I don’t know what they’re doing up there, exactly… But I want in.”
MARK DUPLASS (actor, “The League”)
I WAS IN “POPEYE” WITH MY MOM, STANDING ON THE SEATS SCREAMING AT THE SCREAM IN PURE JOY.
That image entertains me greatly, and I think it’s a wonderful choice. That film was reviled when it opened, and it’s been great watching my generation slowly but surely make the case for it as anything but a disaster.
SCOTT DERRICKSON (screenwriter, “The Devil’s Knot”)
The day I saw “Star Wars.” Standing in the lobby of the huge Cooper Theater in Denver, waiting for the next screening, I could hear and feel the Death Star attack (coming from the newly designed THX sound system) as the previous screening was winding down, and I kept thinking “What is happening in there?!” When I finished watching the movie, all I could think about was seeing it again. I saw it eight times during its initial run.
It’s funny… this is another of those memories where several things are sort of tangled up. There was no THX system for movies until the late ’80s, a reaction to the disrepair that many theaters were in and the fact that there was no standard for projection and sound, something that drove Lucas buggy. “Star Wars” was one of the first wide-release films to take full advantage of Dolby Surround, though, and many theaters had to actually upgrade their speaker systems just to be able to play that version. As a result, there were mono versions, stereo versions, and surround versions mixed, and there are slight differences between all three cuts, which is one reason it’s hard to discuss the “original” version of “Star Wars,” since there is nothing that quite fits that description.
DEREK HAAS (screenwriter, “3:10 To Yuma”)
Yes, “Star Wars,” 1977. I remember that my dad said we’re going to go see “Star Wars”. In my mind, I thought this was going to be like one of those educational films we saw in school… a scientist explaining about black holes and nebulas and stuff like that. I remember that vividly. Then the lights went down and my mind blew a gasket.
I love the way kids interpret titles when they’re not sure what they’re going to see. Right around the same time as “Star Wars,” the William Friedkin movie “Sorcerer” was released, and I was desperate to see it, convinced that I would see some sort of amazing battle of magicians who had something to do with trucks in the jungle.
KEITH CALDER (producer, “Bunraku”)
I have no memories that predate an unhealthy obsession with “Star Wars.” Luckily the prequels cured me of that obsession.
GEOFF LATULIPPE (podcaster, “The Broken Projector”)
My Dad took me to see “The Karate Kid” opening night. I was enrolled in karate classes that Monday. I think that pretty much settles that.
(Incidentally, I was unenrolled from karate classes within two weeks, because I was a massive lazy pussy as a five year-old. I still have yet to pay back my father for the remaining unattended four weeks.)
I’d love to see a chart that showed how many people enrolled in karate lessons after that film opened and then also showed how many people quit within a month. I’ll bet it was in the hundreds of thousands.
JENSEN KARP (owner, Gallery1988, JASH, Tyson/Givens Marketing)
I can’t really place my finger on it totally, and my mom would say it was when she took me to see “Bambi” as a baby, and I was mesmerized start to finish. But I think it really sunk in during “E.T.” My mom took me to see it, and it just captured all of my imagination. It was the first time I had seen something so unreal in such a real way, and I immediately knew film was a medium that was going to inspire me in many ways.
I think one of the reasons “E.T.” landed so hard on so many of us was because of the emotional sucker punch of the last third of the film. I’d never been manipulated quite like that before, and every single time I saw it that summer, it played me like a musical instrument. I was fascinated by the way it would wring tears out of me no matter how hard I tried to resist it, and even now, I am dazzled by just how confident it is about every beat.
SCOTT FRANK (writer/director, “The Lookout”)
“Dog Day Afternoon.” Packed theater opening night. I was only 14. Pacino’s chanting “Attica” on screen and the audience is going insane. I’d never seen anything like it. That was it for me.
Wow. Awesome one. Coming of age in the ’70s, the opportunity to have your mind blown in a movie theater was actually sort of constant, and a movie like “Dog Day” must have felt positively revolutionary at the time it was released.
TRAVIS STEVENS (producer, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”)
My first tangible memory is looking through the carpet-lined vent of a van in the 1970’s watching a movie play across a drive-in theater screen. The aspect ratio was screwed, but I was hooked.
DAVID PRIOR (DVD producer, “The Social Network”)
I think it happened before I was born. I do remember tearing through the newspaper every morning to find the movie ads, and memorizing the credit block for “Chinatown.” At age 4.
DOUG TENNAPEL (writer/artist, “Creature Tech”)
I saw “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” on a dollar theater children”s festival in 5th grade. I couldn”t believe what I was seeing on screen. That experience made a fairy tale come alive in a way that books or other mediums just couldn”t pull off.
I agree. I love reading, and right now, I’m doing my best to illustrate to both of my sons that books can offer you experiences no movie can duplicate, but the same is true as well. It’s one thing to read about a Cyclops or sword-fighting skeletons, and it’s another thing altogether to actually see those things given the illusion of life.
LUCKY MCKEE (writer/director, “May”)
2 years old. Seeing “Jaws” at a drive in. My sister and I were afraid to put our feet down in the dark floorboards of the ancient Pontiac we were in. Thought there might be sharks down there. Been hooked ever since.
GREG LONGSTREET (publicist)
I think it was “E.T.” – I had seen “Star Wars” and all, but that movie struck a chord and I think it was honestly the first emotional experience I had in a theater. That movie still chokes me up.
FRANK PAVICH (director, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”)
That’s a good question. I was born in 1973 so I was a tad bit young for “Star Wars” when it came out. I recall going to a theater with both (!!) my parents to see it. Very odd as that would not seem to have been a film that would have interested my Carnegie-Mellon educated, theater-major mother. And my father had immigrated to the US from Yugoslavia (now Croatia) where English was of course not his first language. I really can’t imagine what the hell he thought was going on in that theater in Flushing.
Anyway, from what I can remember, I fell asleep before the story even left Tatooine and my father took me home. My mother decided to stay and finish the movie as we had purchased three tickets. Later of course, I collected all the action figures like any other American boy of my generation and became a huge fan of at least “The Empire Strikes Back.”
But I believe that it was shortly after that “Star Wars” experience, in either 1979 or 1980, that a movie first had a major impact on me. I feel like films had a longer period in the theaters back then, so I’m not sure which of these two films I saw first.
I vividly remember seeing “The Black Stallion” and it just totally blew me away. That cinematography, the music, that horse! God, it still remains one of my all time favorite films. I’ll cry without control whenever I watch it – not because it’s a sad story but because it’s so incredibly beautiful. I’m actually tearing up now just thinking about it. Now that’s power!
At the other end of the spectrum is the other film I can so specifically recall seeing upon it’s release, and that’s “Flash Gordon.” My mother gave me the choice of seeing “Flash Gordon” or “Popeye.” I think I made the correct choice.
Years later, when we got our first VHS machine, I ran to the video store and made “Flash Gordon” my very first rental. Overjoyed, I ran home, popped it in and watched. I was so excited to do the cool stuff I had heard about, like fast forward and rewind scanning and, oh, behold the almighty freeze frame!! However, this was not to be because our Sharp VCR only had regular fast forward and rewind – no scanning abilities. And ‘still’ just produced a black screen. Of course, the remote was connected to the machine by a cable and actually consisted of a sort of toggle switch to go between ‘play’ and the fake ‘still’. But no matter. I still watched the shit of that movie and continue to do so today!
BRIAN DUFFIELD (screenwriter, “Insurgent”)
“Jurassic Park” was the big, irrevocable moment for me. As an insanely dinosaur obsessed seven year old, the mere mention of Jurassic anything would freak me out. I would watch TV just to get a glimpse of those McDonalds commercials (Preview) . I would loiter bookstores at malls (this was the early nineties after all) and just look at the cover for Crichton’s book. The problem was, my parents told me I was too young for the movie. A bonus problem was that my family was very, very conservative. Two years later, they became missionaries to Ireland. So they weren’t fooling around with content control. And so they had told me, every single one of the thousands of times I begged to see the movie, that it wasn’t going to happen.
While driving with my Dad one day (was it opening day? I have no clue), he suddenly pulled off at a mall. Parked right outside the movie theatre. He looked me in the eye, and very calmly told me, “If they use the Lord’s name in vain, we’re leaving.” I had to agree that I would not throw a fit if that happened. I remember praying SO HARD at the urinal before the movie started, begging God to make sure they didn’t use the Lord’ name in vain. When the movie started, it was amazing. But when the Brachiosaurus showed up, my brain broke, completely and it hasn’t recovered since. Thankfully, my Dad did not pull me from the theatre at any time (though he did cover my eyes at the Spitter’s reveal to Nedry). I’ve been obsessed with both that movie, and movies in general, ever since.
This makes me feel insanely old. I was working at Universal as a tour guide the summer they were shooting “Jurassic Park,” and Duffield was freakin’ seven years old. Holy cow. I would imagine that for guys his general age, “Jurassic Park” plays the same role in their lives that “Star Wars” played in mine, and if I had more young-uns represented here, we’d probably see that film cited numerous times.
JOHN DOWDLE (director, “Devil”)
Yes. “Harold and Maude” when I was 18. I loved movies before, but this was the first time a movie spoke to me, personally, in a kind of secret way. I had an artistic temperament, but I was in military school (literally). It wasn’t a great fit, and I mostly just felt like a freak all the time. Then I saw this very strange movie, and it told me I wasn’t alone. Someone else out there felt like a freak too, and this was their message in a bottle to me. It became a touchstone film for me, something I would watch every 6 months or so as a reminder to trust myself, even if everyone else thinks I’m half crazy half the time. I’m not sure I would have found my way into filmmaking if not for this film.
That’s a beautiful place to leave this particular round of answers, and I think it’s a perfect example of why movies are so important to people. It’s more than just enjoying something, and it’s more than just liking a story. Movies get inside us. Movies give us permission, movies show us worlds we can’t imagine, and movies bring people from radically different backgrounds together. Anyone who thinks movies are “just” entertainment is selling the art form short.
What I hope this does, more than anything, is spur you to share your memories, since I’m guessing if you read this blog on a regular basis, you’re probably somewhat movie crazy yourself. I still feel like out of the literally millions of you who read our site every month, we only ever hear from a small percentage of you, and I would love to change that.