When we decided to write personal essays for Jmore’s February “Love Issue,” my first thought was to take the sentimental, but obvious, route and pick my mom (who raised me as a single mother in a strange land at less than half the age I am now) or maybe go with something more fan-girl like my single greatest infatuation: Prince (more on that later).
But then it occurred to me that the most consistently emotional experience in my life — my closest confidant, my BFF, my great influencer, the one thing that connects me to all the people I care deeply for – was going to the movies. I love movies. Not a specific director or genre, but the actual act of going to the movies.
Movies are embedded in my DNA.
Several of my family members grew up in a New York where air conditioning was still a rarity. To escape the oppressive city heat, they’d spend summer days at the movies. My dad had a special affinity for Bruce Lee marathons.
Movies were what connected me to most of my relatives. Every Thanksgiving in New York after dinner, an aunt or uncle would inevitably give all us cousins money to go down to the Loew’s 72nd Street theater to catch the latest holiday blockbuster: Picture a group of five or six kids walking down Amsterdam Ave. clutching a $100 bill.
The decision would often be debated and negotiated in advance. We’d all have to agree and, during our movie-going heyday, our ages probably spanned from 8 to 18. Phone calls would be made in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend. We’d each present the case for our pick and await the verdict – usually determined by show times and when dinner actually ended. One cousin often took it upon himself to provide the contraband candy. (My cousin Jess told me recently that it was during those adventures that I taught her to always bring a sweatshirt – a life lesson she still adheres to.)
These are the holiday traditions I hold dearest to my heart, but they are also connected to my fondest memories of time spent with my grandmother. We never really knew quite what to say to each other or how to connect during those visits in my awkward teen years. So we would usually end up doing one of two activities in the neighborhood. Either we would walk down to whatever exhibit was at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center or she’d treat me to a movie at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Just me. Those outings were often the only times the two of us would do something alone together.
My fixation goes back even further than those family visits to New York. On my father’s custody weekends with me in Salt Lake City, we’d always go see a movie. I think “Grease” was the first film he ever took me to and I instantly fell in love with both Sandy and Danny. If it was his turn to pick, we’d usually end up at the latest Cheech & Chong flick. I didn’t fully understand why they were funny, but my dad would heartily guffaw until he cried and other moviegoers would shush him. Those were great times.
Also during my Utah childhood, I remember standing in line (twice, back then you went to see the same movie multiple times) to see “Star Wars” when it premiered. The big “brothers” I idolized and worshipped took me to “Blade Runner” when they were babysitting. I was 9. (It’s still one of my all-time favorites.)
My mom’s relationship with movies was a bit … different. She went to the cinema to see films and, to her credit, never prescribed to the ridiculous notion of MPAA ratings. If the movie theater in question would let me in, it was fair game.
She went to art houses – or anywhere she could find that showed indies. I probably saw “3 Women,” “Fanny and Alexander” and “Polyester” (I thought those scratch-and-sniff cards were the coolest thing ever) at way too young an age. She took me to Sundance before Sundance was a thing.
And now I’m the person you know today.
Continuing the questionable – but life altering – parental decisions theme: One summer in L.A., my dad and his girlfriend took me to see “Purple Rain.” I was an impressionable 11 and it shook me to the core. I can pinpoint that very moment as an experience that helped to shape much of my future desires and decisions. I was not only in love with Prince, the music and the movie, I was head-over-heels in love with the transformative act of seeing the movie itself.
I never looked back.
Much in the way music serves as such a potent memory trigger for many people, movie-going marked just about every milestone in my life – slumber parties, birthdays (No. 10 was at “War Games”), first dates, girlfriend outings. In high school in Baltimore, my classmates and I would all catch the bus to go see movies at Reisterstown Road Plaza, Harborplace, Yorkridge or (later, when I was in college) Westview. It was the one activity we were all permitted to do and were able to scrounge together enough money for. Movie theaters were where we learned, laughed, loved.
I can sit at home and stream or watch anything I want on Netflix, but I’m not surrounded by the people I love sharing experiences that helped make me who I am.
If you’re looking for me, I’ll be at the movies.
5 top movie-going experiences
–Sharing a screening cubicle at the University of Utah with my dad in the ‘70s watching “2001” and “Close Encounters”
–Going to Park City with my mom every winter during the early days of Sundance
–Routinely dressing up with my friend Bill for midnight showings of “Rocky Horror” at Golden Ring
–Renting the private party room at The Senator for “Lord of the Rings” and Chinese food
–A surprise premiere screening of “Little Miss Sunshine” at The Charles Theatre during the Maryland Film Festival
- “A Clockwork Orange”
- “Blade Runner”
- “Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2”
- “Purple Rain”
- “Run Lola Run”
- “Say Anything”
- “Usual Suspects”