Superman The Movie, 1978 / Superman II, 1980

Doo-dootdootdoot-doo dee-doo-doo… Doo-dootdootdoot-doo BUM-BA-BUM!!!

Few pieces of music can elicit such an impactful response. As soon as that fanfare hits, you’re flying along as well. And for my generation there was really only one person who brought the titular character out of the comic book pages (as well as from the black and white serial and the Saturday morning cartoon) and made him alive in full technocolour. Of course I mean Christopher Reeve and I mean Superman. Or rather, SUPERMAN!

Long before comic book heroes came to life as the requisite edgy and multifaceted bundles of angst and fragility, there were the pure idols, or as Genesis 6 would put it, ‘heroes of old, men of renown.’ Their causes were never muddled or unclear, their duties just and true. Their shortfalls didn’t come from inner conflict but from limitations beyond their control. In the end, there were always good guys and bad guys and you knew which was which, and morality would always prevail in the end. That was the big difference between DC and Marvel comics, and being still a lad then I was firmly in the DC camp. (Sure, Marvel had Spiderman, but he was always just OK to me—I was much more intrigued with the Red Skull.)

Superman (the film and the person) was the ultimate hero. If any evil overtook other heroes, Superman was the catchall, the last stop. With reflection I find it a little strange to think that with all my rooting for the bad guys (Darth Vader, the Joker, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Carl Anderson’s Judas, General Urko, etc.) that the hero I loved the most was the biggest good guy there is this side of Jesus. Never was a fan of Green Lantern, Batman was OK, and I didn’t quite understand the appeal of the Flash. Superman was all-encompassing. But then again, there were things that a chubby half-Samoan kid with an unusual name could identify with—the dark hair, the unruly spit curl, the unusual name (Kal-El wasn’t too far off in my mind from my middle name of Connelly), the bald-headed nemesis. OK, not so much the last one…at least not at age 8. I had a voracious appetite for the comics and graphic paperbacks. And while I did have a great affinity for Bizarro, my allegiance was always to the Man of Steel.

Long before Prince became a symbol, there was one symbol that stood for Truth, Justice, and the American Way—The S. One of my favorite memories was getting a navy blue S-logo shirt and doing the kid thing of tying a towel for a cape and jumping around to fly. Our back porch was torn out and getting prepared to make what we knew as a Florida room (though once we moved to Florida I’ve heard it referred to as a California room), so for a short period when you opened the back door there would be about a 30” drop to a dirt bed. I would go into the hall closet, close the door to slip on the cape, then burst out, open the door and ‘fly’ off. Well, not so much ‘fly’ as ‘plummet’. But still, it was great fun, and often integral to a playtime storyline. And a year before this, my mom made me the best Superman costume for Halloween--still probably my all-time favorite gear I ever wore.

So at 8 years old Superman The Movie finally hit the big screen, and it was everything I’d ever wanted to see in a film. Sure, there was an excitement in the air from the previous year’s space film (you know, that Star Wars thing…still was no Orca though), but as soon as the screen darkened and that musical fanfare hit there was nothing else in the world. Even with all the wonderful musical scores that have been composed over the years (by John Williams mostly), this one remains at the top of my list, edging out the Raiders theme. No piece of music can bring you to those heights so instantly—the closest piece would probably be the ‘William Tell Overture’ used in The Lone Ranger, but that was an existing piece of music—and that remains true to this very day. Having grown up watching reruns of the black and white Adventures Of Superman with George Reeves and finally getting to see him in his full colour glory was a religious experience. And maybe it was just because he was lucky enough to be chosen for the role from other actors, but Christopher Reeve was (and is) Superman. Of course, his nemesis was Lex Luthor, expertly portrayed by Gene Hackman, an excellent, albeit slightly comical, opposition to Reeve. And yes, the film was every bit as hokey, silly, cartoony, and fun as an 8-year-old would hope it would be, and boy howdy did it deliver. The story is like all the great comic books I grew up on, in the end the good guy saves the girl and the bad guy gets his backside kicked. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the earthquake scene with Lois—growing up in Southern California near the San Andreas Fault, and watching her car getting swallowed up by the fault line was a truly terrifying sequence. And, yeah, Superman turned back time 11 years before Cher did.

Then in 1980 came the sequel that set the standards by which all sequels should be held to, especially with regards to villains. Superman II was the be-all/end-all. Sure, in a lot of ways it was worse than its predecessor, being hokier, sillier, cartoonier, but it was just as much fun and packed full of awesome. It was so cool that it just had a ‘II’ at the end of the title, something that none of my beloved franchises have ever really done—there is no Star Wars II, Raiders Of The Lost Ark II, Batman II, Planet Of The Apes II, not eve Alien II. Absolute bad-assery, just number the damn things, they know what’s gonna happen. The biggest fault of the film lies in Superman’s horny factor which leads him to becoming ‘human’. This weakness clouds his judgment over the greater good that Superman always represents. Still, Non, Ursa, and Zod more than make up for it. I mean, come on—‘KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!’ F-yeah! He should’ve used that line in Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Once again, it ended up with good guy saving the girl and the bad guys getting their backsides kicked, but isn’t that really what you want to see in a superhero film?

And a side note, my first real big movie crush was on Ursa (Sarah Douglas). She was a total ass-kicker in her Siouxsie Sioux eye makeup and ominous black uniform. Sure, the first film had the quite intriguing Ms. Teschmacher (former showgirl-turned-Playboy-model Valerie Perrine) as Lex Luthor’s main squeeze who eventually saved the Man of Steel, but Ursa was just a presence on so many fronts. She was witty and could hold her own with the General and Non…dude, and she was hot. Even at 10 I knew that.

The series went on to two more sequels with Reeve, which were unfortunately pretty big disappointments. (I do regret never getting to see Bizarro on the big screen.) Margot Kidder went bat-shit crazy for a while. In 1995 Christopher Reeve suffered a fall from a horse which left him as a quadriplegic. He dealt with a lengthy list severe illnesses both related and unrelated to his accident, and he eventually died in 2004 from a cardiac arrest in reaction to an antibiotic. (Reeve’s wife Dana was diagnosed with lung cancer 2 months before Reeve died, and she passed away in March 2006.) A tragic ending to a legacy.

The franchise returned with 2006’s much maligned Superman Returns. I enjoyed this film—cut out about 20 minutes of hospital and stalker footage and it would have been a great movie. I saw it not so much as a proper sequel but as an homage to Reeve as Brandon Routh did a very complimentary and spot on version of the late Reeve’s iconic Superman. And I readily admit that when the credits started to role and the theme song hit, I was 8 years old again.

Right at 1:28 that stirring begins...

For me and probably to a good number of people in my generation there will only ever be one Man of Steel. We all wanted to be Superman, and if I'm honest, deep down inside we all still want to be him. There will never be a world without Superman.


Raiders Of The Lost Ark, 1981

This is it. This is the big one. The single most influential film of my life. The film I've seen more times in the theater than any other. The one that came along at at time to make the move from Southern California to Central Florida easier on an 11-year-old boy.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a name spoken in hushed, awed tones.

What is wrong with this film? Absolutely nothing. This is my perfect film, the one that had a hand in shaping my idea of the hero and single-handedly overtook the Star Wars films as my greatest obsession, which was a monumental task considering The Empire Strikes Back had only come out the year before. I still know and can recite every single line, something I can only do with Star Wars and Jesus Christ Superstar.

When we had left California I had already seen it 5 times. Upon arrival I saw it another 3 times in the first month when we were still house hunting. Thankfully, we found a house in Carrollwood that was only about a mile from the local theater (the much missed Mission Bell), and Raiders had just started what would be over an 18-month run there. Films were only $1 a couple of nights a week and my parents and I would be there religiously. More often than not, I would choose seeing Raiders over other films (like Condorman, Personal Best, or Herbie, The Love Bug), and a conservative guess is that I ended up seeing it at least 45 times on the big screen, though I would think that number is closer to 60. It's not that unique as this was before the boom of home VCRs. Plus, I've seen it at least another 8 times since it's initial run, bringing the estimated grand total to somewhere near 75.

Everything about this film was right, especially the timing. While I loved and still love Sci-Fi, I was just at that age where I was looking to mix my fantasy with my something a bit more tangibly historical. Even at 11 I had a fascination with archeology and Egyptology, I had a good knowledge of the World War II and the Nazis, and I had just begun delving further into my Biblical stories in earnest. All this plus Han Solo--that's what Raiders Of The Lost Ark was.

Indiana Jones was a hero, but he didn't always have the answers or make the right choice. He was cool at all the right times, but that didn't keep him from getting cold-cocked by his ex-girlfriend. In fact, the film opens he goes through a heart-racing adventure only end up losing his prize to his nemesis, Belloq. As the film progresses it's his faults that make him more interesting--his fear of snakes, his mispronunciation of words, his geeky professorial side. (You don't know how often I tell people I work in a li'bary.) Even with regards to the actor Harrison Ford. If it hadn't been for Ford's bout with dysentery and a very attuned swordsman one of the most memorable scenes in the film would have unfolded in a very different way:

I'm pretty sure that this is the first case of rumbly tummy contributing to a film being archived by the United States Library Of Congress.

In the wake of the success of Star Wars and the marketing juggernaut that it became (and still is), Raiders had a surprisingly small spread of toys and games. Only a handful of figures, playsets, and toys were released (and yes, I had the J.C. Penney's four pack--Indy, Marion, Toht, and the swordsman). I also had the board game (OK, still have) with the cool 1940s art work that looked absolutely nothing like Indiana Jones, which always disturbed me. Other than that and perhaps some comics and a hat there wasn't much for the rabid kid or collector. I did take to wearing khaki-coloured shirts and pants with heavy explorer boots and my great-grandfather's brown Fedora. Even found a small bullwhip and a 1940s small leather journal. Heck, he was even my penultimate Halloween trick-or-treating costume when I was 11 (I was 'Prince Charming'-era Adam Ant when I was 12).

There is one more aspect of the film I should touch on that has ended up being a pretty important factor, and that is gore. Yup, even though I was a huge monster/horror consumer at a young age, I never was one to stomach graphic gore. Raiders has a famous scene at the end:

Now the first few times I saw the film I hid my eyes at this scene--the screams, the melting, even the exploding face with huge chunks of meat flying out. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this and it was a bit of a shock. But I think it prepared me for further exploration into the horror genre, for my later love for Friday The 13th and Asian horror.

And then there are the sequels. I will never say an unkind word about the Indiana Jones franchise. I have seen all four films at least 3 times each in the theater (obviously, some more than others), and the worst criticism I will say is that Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is my fourth favorite Indiana Jones film of all time. But that being said, Raiders is the obvious high point, as most first films for franchises are. Every film has quotable, memorable scenes. Every film has that galloping wonderful John Williams overture.

And every film has The Man.

I've had a few heroes over the years, people I've admired or wanted to trade lives with, but very few have remained constant in my life. My parents have always been my heroes. Darth Vader has always been a hero. Mean Joe Greene was always been a hero. Jesus has always been a hero.

But Indiana Jones has always been my idol.


Gregory's Girl, 1981

In the spirit of the World Cup (or perhaps it's just commiserations because my three teams are out), I present to you the footie (henceforth referred to as 'soccer') themed film, Gregory's Girl. Gregory's Girl didn't actually make it to the US until a year after it was made, but it was a staple of my early HBO viewing.

It's a simple Scottish coming of age comedy about a young man named Gregory (played by the gawkish and endearing John Gordon/Gordon John Sinclair) and his infatuation with and subsequent pursuit of the school's new soccer star, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn).

The path through the film is a wonderful road beset with twists and plots that eventually lead him to Susan (Clare Grogan), which apparently was Dorothy and Susan's plan (and as we eventually discover the teamwork of all the girls in the film) all along.

A word should be said about Clare Grogan. She was already an established Scottish pop star and leader of the band Altered Images:

She would go on to play the original Kristine Kochanski on Red Dwarf.

Gregory's world is an idyllic and slightly surreal but completely wonderful place. The film is full of little moments that keep you guessing, like the gang of toddlers outside his door greeting him by name, his baking obsessed best friend, the bathroom stalls which double as swap meet of sorts, the recurring perpetually lost person in the penguin costume who appears throughout the film, the clueless soccer coach, and so much more. The younger kids in this film are portrayed as mature, wise characters who the older kids turn to for advice, in particular Gregory's sister Madeline and her friend Richard. And most of the adults in the film display a slightly flippant, immature side, more about fun than function. Those moments make this film as a whole incredible because they don't feel odd or out of place. This is his world, his perfect world, take it or leave it--and remember to keep dancing or else you'll spin right off of it into space.

Gregory's Girl is in my top 3 favorite films of all time, and I still watch it frequently. It's timeless, magic, comedic, romantic, and just about as perfect a film as you could get. There is a sequel, Gregory's 2 Girls, which I am leery about seeing and have avoided it for the past 11 years. One day I will give in and watch it, but for now, the past 28 years of the original is enough for me.


Star Wars, 1977

This is the Genesis Film for cinematic influence on my life at this age.

I figured I would start this blog post off in a seemingly innocuous and predictable way, and begin it with one of the most important films in history, 1977's Star Wars. And I don't mean Star Wars: A New Hope or Star Wars: Episode IV, I mean when there was only one film and that film was just Star Wars period. Kind of like when Orlando only had one Disney park and that park was just Disney World and not The Magic Kingdom.

What can I say about the film itself that could possibly bring anything new to the table? We all know the story, we all know the sequels, and we all know the prequels. To say that Star Wars is canonical to a certain generation is an understatement. Most in my age group were hit with the first all-encompassing wave of merchandising and inundation to ever affect a demographic in regards to a film. And most of us can probably rattle off the least known characters easier than remembering our own families, or have put more effort into debating the fine intricacies not addressed on the screen than we have into our daily work. Star Wars (as a new entity) was to a 7 year old as water is to a shark--essential and perpetuating. Even the poster at the top of this blog loomed over my first grade classroom like a holy visage even before any of us had seen the film. We were all too familiar with Darth Vader's gaze prior to our indoctrination.

Which brings us to another poster I had (see above) and my ultimate misunderstood personal hero, Darth Vader. Not Anakin Skywalker or the crusty old white man they pop the mask off of at the end of Return Of The Jedi, but Darth Vader, the black leather wearing, black helmeted, robotically-integrated man/machine/demigod. The first glimpse of his imposing presence on screen coming through the smoke was all I needed to see--I was hooked. He was unbelievably powerful, he could fly a star fighter, he had a cool ass voice, and he could crush your larynx with a flick of his finger. He was a big man in black controlling all the minions in white, his knights in shining armor. The only other people who wore capes back then like that were Superman, Batman, and Dracula, and I loved all those guys too, but Vader was all 3 rolled into one. Beyond evil or morality, he was law a bad ass spiritual mother... My favorite shirt was based off of this shirt (though a) my mom got it for me in red from JC Penney's, and b) it was spelled correctly):

There were other characters too that I loved, such as Chewbacca, Han Solo, and that cute powerdroid that was stuck in the Jawa's Sandcrawler, but no one even came close to being the majestic awesomeness of Darth Vader. Boba Fett would eventually come close, but he was no Vader.

Of course I had this record, which I eventually memorized:

And all the action figures you could get at that time, the original 12:

I have vivid memories of going to the Treasury (the Southern California version of Target in the 1970s), looking at the toys, turning the corner and seeing a hang card with the picture of a Stormtrooper (someone had ripped off the figure). At this point I knew nothing of Star Wars action figures, but it didn't take long to figure it out. This wasn't the Fonzie doll I was looking for, this was BETTER. I ran around the toy section until I found the full display, and there among the gangs of Stormtroopers and C-3PO figures was one Darth Vader, complete with push-out red lightsaber. My mom ended up getting him for me and I still have him (as well as the rest of the collection which grew through the first two movies by leaps and bounds). From that day until the sad day when I put aside the action figures they were my constant companions, even traveling to New Zealand and Samoa (where I got to see the film in a theater in Apia) with me.

And thankfully the action figures were the same size as my Fisher Price Adventure People so they all integrated nicely. And I had the posters, the games, the comics, the novels, the fast food giveaways, the cereal boxes. I would draw Star Wars related pictures for hours. Hell, I still have the original pillowcases from 1977 and I use them:

To say that this is just a film is like saying McDonald's has a red and yellow sign. It is a film, but it's more than that--much more. It's part of us, who this generation is, who we dream of being, what we think of our interaction with each other. Make a reference to a quote that Jesus made and some might not recognize it; make a quote from Star Wars and just about EVERYONE of a generation will get it. Star Wars can be best summed up by Obi-Wan Kenobi: 'It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.'


Pre-History: Jesus Christ Of The Apes

The focus of this blog is to write about the films I viewed from the age of 7 until the age of 12 that inspired and shaped who I am today. Not so much writing about them as a review, but more of impressions. For me, this time in my life was before VCRs, and most will be films I've seen in the theater (a few on cable TV, which we got when I was 11). This era's beginning is marked by the original release of the first film I ever saw on a VCR (as a bootleg in about 1979), Star Wars.

However, this weekend I Tivo'd one of my favorite films ever (if not the most important film) that could not be included on this blog because it falls out of the perimeters I've set. That film is Jesus Christ Superstar and it is one of the first films I ever saw in the theater. I grew up with the soundtrack on LP, 8-track, and cassette, and eventually purchased the CD, and by the age of 6 I could sing every line of every song. In retrospect, it was a film that (along with my treasured Children's Bible) shaped a good deal of my theological vision about who Christ was physically and mortally, and the relation with his apostles. Though it's not completely Biblically based it can give an insight into the humanity of Christ that you may not get from church. Plus, it had prototype Darth Vaders as the bad guys--the Pharisees were black caped, black leathered duders with square bejeweled chest plates.

When I was 23 my mom got us tickets to see the 20th anniversary touring cast of the musical complete with Ted Neely and late (and AMAZING) Carl Anderson, who played Jesus and Judas respectively--it is something I can't even begin to describe, almost akin to a religious experience.

Fast forward to Saturday, I was watching the film and V came into the room. Having never seen it, after watching the overture for about 30 seconds she said, 'This looks a lot like your other film.'

'Which film?'

'Planet Of The Apes. Even the background music and anachronisms remind me of it.'

'No...' Pause. 'Really?'

You see, one film (or rather series of films) I would never miss on my black and white TV was Planet Of The Apes and it's subsequent sequels. I had to watch it every time it was on, even at my aunt and uncle's house during a sleep over (vivid memories of watching Escape... there one night). The greatest and most frightening film ending ever was to Beneath...--it still haunts me to this day. And I just checked to see if my IMDB review of it from 8 years ago was still up. (Actually, the the first two films of the franchise are interchangeable to me because they are all part of the same event with only days separating the story.) The film has stuck with me through the years so much that even my first personalized e-mail address had the name 'GeneralAldo', one of the Gorilla generals from Battle... (and yes, I know that's a picture of General Ursus below, thank you fanboy).

So, with mere seconds of viewing she had entirely summed up my earliest cinematic influences in 8 words. And then she left the room.

It all started to click in my brain, cascading... The scenery. The juxtaposition. The posturing. The background sounds. The imagery. The starkness. Both played off each other. Both featured outsiders thrust into confrontation. Both ended in deaths. And both dealt with vivid crucifixions. And for Apes, that act was prominent in the intro to it's cartoon spin off:.

Now compare those opening credits to one of the last scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar, especially where the audio is concerned:

Oh, but imagine that you're a 5 or 6 year old already obsessed with both franchises. Yeah.

I only bring this up because I want to share with you, dear reader, what I had going as a foundation for the things I was attracted to. I loved Elvis and the Beatles, but also loved opera and bagpipes. I would religiously watch the sitcoms of the day and the old Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons, but kind of hated Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I was fascinated by science, but not too keen on mathematics. I favored Spock over Kirk. I loved triceratopses, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Billie Jean King, traveling, drawing, Popeye, and musicals; I didn't love electric guitars, strangers, rides with drops, olives, and Villa Alegre. And why I'm so koo-koo for Apocalyptic films.

I find it no coincidence that the Apes... series ended the same year that JCS began. Jesus was there, after the apes ruled the world. Isn't that the timeline that evolution presents us? I'll buy that. And Genesis 1:2 has been interpreted as 'the earth became void'--my money is on that ape/subway human battle at the end of Beneath..., which ends with the voiceover: 'In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.'

Well, that's about all I can add here. Enjoy the show!