Culture on My Mind
April 10, 2020
This week’s “can’t let it go” is a Facebook meme.
Let’s face it, most of the “I’m bored so let’s make a list of things” Facebook memes are more than likely (often successful) attempts at social engineering. That data can be compiled over time by the right wrong people to hack accounts and spoof identities.
Since I’ve never been asked movie-specific questions as security thresholds, I feel comfortable putting mine out there for public consumption. I’m even going for a bit of extra credit because there are eleven titles encompassing ten experiences on this list.
Song of the South (1946)
People consider me strangely when I mention this movie memory. My family remembered this film well, and they took me to the 1986 re-release when I was young. I have little memory of the live-action sequences, but the songs and animated vignettes have stuck with me over the years, even considering the racial insensitivity of the presentation.
The movie is based on the Uncle Remus folktales as compiled by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881. He was a journalist in post-Reconstruction Atlanta, and he wrote the stories to represent the struggle in the Southern United States. He tried to do so by framing the stories in the plantation context, but he also wrote them in a dialect which was his interpretation of Deep South African-American language of the time.
Walt Disney wanted to produce a movie based on these tales, but since its Atlanta premiere at the Fox Theater in November 1946, it has been the subject of controversy for propagating racial stereotypes and representing plantation life as idyllic and glorious. Ironically, Atlanta was still segregated at the time of premiere.
Despite its financial success, it is one film of the Disney catalog that has never received a full release in the United States due to the controversy. However, it does live on at the Disney Parks as the animated characters and their stories are showcased on Splash Mountain.
It was during the 1986 re-release, which commemorated the film’s 40th anniversary and promoted the opening of Splash Mountain, that I saw it. I do want to see it again, nearly 35 years later with the eyes of a knowledgeable adult, but the only way I’ll be able to do so is via bootleg.
The Great Outdoors (1988) and Dragnet (1987)
My next two movie memories were a Dan Aykroyd double feature. When The Great Outdoors was released in 1988, the (now demolished) Davis Drive-In presented it alongside Dragnet.
I count this as my true introduction to comedy and satire, as well as my interest in drive-in movie theaters. My parents would often show me the pop culture of their childhoods, and the drive-in format was one such gem.
Starting just after dusk, the double feature led with The Great Outdoors, a John Hughes film about two families spending time on vacation in Wisconsin. It starred Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Stephanie Faracy, and (in her feature film debut) Annette Bening.
From the ghost stories of a bear that was made bald by buckshot to the zany antics of both family and coming of age, this is one film memory that I cherish. The thread of sharing movie memories with my parents would come back ten years later.
The second half of the night was Dragnet, a parody and homage of the long-running police procedural series from radio and television. It starred both Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, as well as Harry Morgan and Alexandra Paul. I knew of Harry Morgan from re-runs of M*A*S*H, which was a staple in my childhood home, and the comedy stuck with me. My most vivid memory is Sgt. Friday’s foot being run over by the car, an act that my parents assured me was fake despite what the Looney Tunes cartoons said otherwise.
Jurassic Park (1993)
I didn’t go to the theater much as a kid. They were expensive trips for a family that didn’t have a lot of money, and most of the movies I saw as a kid were on television. So, it would be five years until the next movie that spurred a vivid cinematic memory, and it was a big one.
I grew up loving dinosaurs, and, behind the Star Wars trilogy, the child-centric films of Steven Spielberg were among my favorites. So it only seemed logical to see how the two would mesh.
Instead of going to the local megaplex, my parents took my sister and me to a classic theater in nearby Riverdale. The Cinedome 70 featured two domed auditoriums, both with 70-foot curved screens.
It was magnificent, from the majesty of the John Williams score to the amazing visuals and pulse-pounding drama. I lost track of time and was surprised when the credits rolled.
It was one of the first movies that prompted me to buy a special anniversary boxset. It’s one that I revisit quite often.
The Last Action Hero (1993)
In the same month as Jurassic Park, my brother invited me to join him for a small birthday celebration. It included a movie that he was very excited about: The Last Action Hero starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I remember this experience in disjointed images, but the particular memory that stands out is how this film broke the fourth wall in a way that I had never experienced. Basically, teenager Danny loves the Jack Slater film series, and he ends up magically transported into one of them to have a little adventure.
This is another one that I need to revisit (27 years down the road) to really appreciate, but it stands out because of the time I got to spend with my brother doing something that he enjoyed. That was a rarity of its own in my younger days.
The Three Musketeers (1993)
Given that trips to the movies were a rare treat as a kid, I was overjoyed about winning sneak preview tickets to a new action film. Our local independent television station played the Disney Afternoon lineup every day, and to drive interest in their programming, they had a “kids’ club” with giveaways and contests.
Along with a He-Man Powersword roleplay toy, some foam quarterstaffs, and a Darkwing Duck action figure – none of which do I still possess, unfortunately – I won a pair of tickets to The Three Musketeers.
Starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, and Rebecca De Mornay, much of it went over my head on first viewing. The action was fun and the wit was quick, but it took later viewings to fully enjoy the scenery-chewing skill of Tim Curry and the underlying meaning of De Mornay’s “with a flick of my wrist, I could change your religion” repartee.
There are certainly better interpretations of this work by Alexandre Dumas, but this one has a level of cheesy lightheadedness and swashbuckling derring-do that provided a suitable introduction to sword and shield fantasy-adventure.
Besides, who can forget Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting teaming with Michael Kamen on “All For Love”? Pure ’90s cheese!
8 Seconds (1994)
When I was a boy, I had dreams of being a rodeo bull rider. My father was a bull rider and a rodeo clown, and my mother was a barrel racer, and while I was growing up, they offered professional photography for local circuits.
I grew up in the shadow of amazing athletes like Charlie Sampson (the first African American cowboy to win a World Title in professional rodeo) and Brazilian bull riding legend Ariano Morães, and I even dabbled in the sport myself. I even had my own riding rope which I used on several occasions.
When 8 Seconds was released, my family eagerly went to the theater to see it. Starring Luke Perry, the movie is a biographical film about rodeo legend and bull riding champion Lane Frost. Frost was the 1987 World Champion of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the only rider to score qualified rides from the 1987 World Champion and 1990 ProRodeo Hall of Fame bull Red Rock.
He drew a Brahma bull named Takin’ Care of Business at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo in 1989. After scoring 91 points, he dismounted and landed in the dirt arena. The bull turned and hit him in the back with his horn, breaking several of his ribs and puncturing his heart and lungs. He died at the hospital at the age of 25.
The reception in our audience that night was one of respect for Frost’s legacy and a humbling of some of the younger cocky cowboys who thought themselves invincible. I personally carried that same respect and sense of caution, eventually giving up my dream after cowboys that I personally knew died doing what they loved.
The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition (1997)
Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it was a milestone in my life and fandom.
Like so many in my generation, I grew up on pan-and-scan VHS versions of the Star Wars trilogy. The trailer for the special edition releases tapped into the spirit of that ethos, starting with a tiny screen before showing an X-Wing blasting out of its confines to a full theatrical presentation. It was the perfect commercial to sell the idea of seeing these films again for the first time.
The opportunity to see three of my favorite and most influential movies on the big screen was too good to pass up. The Special Editions were my first experience with Star Wars in theaters. More than that, it was my opportunity to pay my parents back for introducing me to those films. I saved up the money to buy opening night tickets for each of the films for the family, and those presentations were heaven for me.
I had seen each of them on worn-out videotapes so many times, but I was enthralled in that January theater. So entranced, in fact, that when Luke fired his proton torpedoes and the Death Star exploded, I cheered. When I realized what I had just done, I found my parents staring at me with grins on their faces.
I know that they’re critiqued now for being too shiny and modernized, but the Special Editions will always hold a place in my heart.
From a certain point of view, they were my step into a much larger universe.
I have written about these films before as part of the Seven Days of Star Wars series in 2015:
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999)
Following on the heels of the Special Editions and my love of the expanded universe of novels and comics, I was overjoyed to see new stories in the Star Wars universe.
It was once again an opening night event for the family and me, and I really enjoyed what I saw with Jedi Knights defending the Republic and paving the way for the trilogy that was a cornerstone of my childhood.
I know that others had buyer’s remorse when it came to this movie and the other two prequels, but I did not. I saw it three or four times on my limited income and found my fandom blossoming from the experience.
There are warts, to be sure, but I had a deep appreciation for what this film represented on the cusp of a new chapter in my life.
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.