Thursday, September 12, 2013

One Formative Night at the Movies

Some time ago I read this in the stage of the morning when my eyes are still only partway open. All the stuff in there is fine advice, but the only item that struck me as terribly different from other, similar online lists of advice from people who have grown old enough to know better than all of us was #8, which lodged in my mind.
When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen.  It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.
As I read other stuff and moved on with my day, I kept turning that over. What an interesting notion, I thought, that everyone in the whole world had some single formative experience that mattered so much to them that it impacted the whole direction of their lives. Of course all the stuff that happens to you before age 17 is formative in some way, as is pretty much everything else in the years that go forward from there - we're clay, after all, not steel - but the idea that there's ONE thing that mattered to every other moment in life, well, that got my imagination going.

It didn't take me very long, half an hour, probably, to think of what that one thing would be for me. It was seeing Romeo + Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann movie from 1996, in the movie theater.

My eyes hurt when it was over, because I didn't blink enough while watching.

It would be dumb to claim that the film's appeal to fourteen-year-old me had nothing to do with the romance of the story, nor with my attachment to both of the young actors who played the leads, and certainly I was in love with Shakespeare's language even that early. Plus, I'd been Balthazar AND Friar John in a high-school performance of the play (both of whom, incidentally, are main players in fucking up the kids' communication, leading to the suicides - go me). But the film of the film is what really made it the seminal experience it was for me.

I hadn't known movies could impose themselves upon the audience visually the way that one does, could grab me almost solely by the eyeballs and hold on for two hours. Previously I liked movies for their stories, I liked actors for their natural appeal. I didn't see movies as pieces of art, as projects undertaken by droves of professionals, but as entertainments that dropped out of the sky. I would never see cinema that way again, not after Romeo + Juliet. That one movie is why I got a degree in film. It's the catalyst for some of the most profound experiences I've had. It's why I see the world the way I do.

Food for thought. What's your pre-17 thing?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Reading “The Klutz Book of Magic” when I was a young lad. It impressed on me that the secrets to creating a sense of awe and wonder in people were actually pretty simple. And that I didn’t have to be special to do it, just had to be willing to practice. And lie a bunch. Seeing that look in their eyes when the magic's a great feeling.