My Take by Jim Carl - January 12, 2012
MY TAKE is a blog about my funny life experiences that happened to involve movies, and how I found myself in charge of programming films for a living. I’ll discuss how certain movies came to be responsible for my bad attitude, memories, associations, personal beliefs, and plain stupidity. Yes, I fully intend to trash films considered sacred in certain circles, and will probably offer a poor explanation for doing so. I also intend to squander praise on movies considered awful by most everyone, even if it makes me sound ridiculous, because I have a funny memory to share about them. Again, I’m not writing reviews. All I mean to do here is tell some good stories, and perhaps a clever lie or two. No one has ever accused me of suffering a shortage of ways to make a fool of myself, and because blogging is one I haven’t tried, at least this is one most of my friends haven’t yet seen.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
To say that I've been under the weather these past few days of 2012 would be an understatement. I cooked a mini-pizza one evening last week and it sat there, half-eaten, on a white ceramic plate near the edge of my bed for the next four days, hardening into a machete-shaped slab of cheap bread, less than a foot from my face on the pillow. I couldn't smell it, and that's a good thing, because I was too tired and achey to climb off my mattress and dump it. That's how sick I felt and, for those who know me well, is better proof than any doctor's prescription that I wasn't faking it, not even to get a few extra days off from work. I'm the type of guy who would rather go to the office and infect all my co-workers rather than waste a precious sick day on something as unimportant and trivial as actually being sick. During the first days of 2012, I had weird technicolor dreams, cold sweats, fever, and coughing fits. I resembled one of those victims in Cloverfield, but without the cool yellow contagion suits or oxygen tents. I slept non-stop for three days. I sneezed and hacked for ten. I didn't watch a single hour of television. During times of lucidity, I read Roger Ebert's memoir, Life Itself, which had been a wonderful Christmas present from my good friend, Sarah Preston. In his book, Roger wrote about his recent struggles with cancer and the surgeries which left him almost unrecognizable. During his slow rehabilitation, and feeling depressed with his newfound situation, he re-watched a lot of films by the celebrated Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, an artist whose works I've appreciated but have never really grasped. "Recently hauled back from the jaws of death," Ebert wrote, "I was immune to laughter as a medicine and found some solace in his desperate seekers who confronted profound matters."
I like the way that sentence reads, not to mention what it means. Like Roger Ebert, comedy has always been a hard sell for my soul, especially during periods of ill health, boredom or depression. Give me a silly all-star disaster flick like The Towering Inferno or Meteor over a romantic comedy like Before Sunrise any day of the year. I can recite almost every single comedy that ever made me truly laugh, that's how few there are. What's Up Doc?, Seems Like Old Times, Postcards from the Edge, Tootsie, Cat Ballou, Grumpy Old Men, Private Benjamin, Nine to Five, The World According to Garp, and The Blues Brothers are films that immediately come to mind when I think of comedy. Not for nothing have I never programmed a comedy film festival. It's not my strongest genre, truth be told. After being so ill since the start of the new year, one would imagine that a good laugh is precisely what I needed to reboot my collective wellness, but you would be wrong.
Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the first film I watched in 2012 once I felt strong enough to drag my carcass into the living room and focus on the TV for more than a few minutes. An odd choice, I would agree. Prior to placing the disc into the player, the film had not really been on my mind that much, apart from booking it as part of the Nevermore Film Festival's upcoming fundraising event on January 28th. The 35mm print would be on the big screen at the Carolina Theatre in little more than two weeks, but I had a needling hunger to watch it right away. If you had asked me, I could not have given you an honest explanation. It was just a quiet sensation I had.
I have no memory of seeing Close Encounters in theatres in 1977, although I do remember squandering a whole week's allowance on several packs of Close Encounters bubble gum cards at a run-down Stuckey's on Interstate 20 near Abilene, Texas. In those days, a pack of bubble gum cards cost a measley quarter. I managed two complete sets from my $10 allowance. Somewhere in my basement, those cards are still around. Nowadays, you can buy that same set for $12 on E-bay. (Potential burglars reading this blog, please take note of this value.) It wasn't until The Special Edition was released in 1980 that I saw the movie at all; even though I had memorized the film, frame-by-frame it seemed, by scrutinizing the images on those black-and-red bordered cards. To be fair, I don't recall being very much impressed with Close Encounters on its first viewing, especially after the circus-like fervor surrounding The Empire Strikes Back and Flash Gordon that same year. As a twelve year-old, I do remember thinking it was a serious science fiction film intended for grown-ups, which is a rueful thought for a pre-teen.
As the years passed, however, Close Encounters has grown to become one of my favorite films of all time. It contains one of my favorite movie moments. It's the scene towards the end of the film. The mothership has arrived at Devil's Tower and is attempting to communicate with the gathered scientists through a dazzling fireworks display of light and sound. Richard Dreyfuss is standing there as John William's five-note melody begins to play. Da-da-dah, goes the first three notes. And then the mothership blares the final two: DAH-DUM! The glass shatters outward in an observation booth behind Richard Dreyfuss. The moment gives me chills and simultaneously fills me with joy. I'm not ashamed to admit that I tear up when that scene happens, no matter how many times I've seen the movie. Like Roger Ebert, there are certain emotions written into the DNA of my soul that laughter can never satisfy. That feeling of awe while in the presence of a higher power is one of them. No matter how sick I've felt these past days, for a few moments during Close Encounters, I felt fine. And isn't that one of the purposes of collecting your favorite movies, after all? To make you feel better after sleeping beside a four day-old pepperoni pizza?
Do you have a favorite movie moment that makes you feel good each time you watch it? A moment that lifts you out of the worst doldrums, even if its ephemeral? A moment that you can watch, again and again? Tell me about it.
JIM CARL is Senior Director of the Carolina Theatre. He has been in charge of its film program since 1995. Some of his favorite contemporary movies include True Grit, Jaws, Dolores Claiborne, Silkwood, The China Syndrome, The Right Stuff, Aliens, The Fog (1980), and almost anything involving Great White Sharks, Gilda Radner, George Burns, or is set underwater. His favorite movie of all time is Ordinary People. Some of his least-favorite contemporary movies include 300, The Other Guys, Moulin Rouge, District 9, Take Me Home Tonight, The Tourist, Sherlock Holmes, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Scarface (1983) and almost anything involving snarky twentysomethings, British gangsters, gross sexual humor, or extended action scenes in slow motion. His least-favorite movie of all time is Pulp Fiction. He is a firm believer in the presentation and preservation of 35mm film and will book any movie he suspects will make money, even if he hates it.