Can you remember your first motion picture? For me, I don’t so much remember the first one I ever saw, but the first one that I remember seeing. Alfie, starring Michael Caine and Shelley Winters. I imagine that I was younger than the age when most remember their first movie. Perhaps you really had no exposure to them so you waited until you were older.
If movie going was a family thing for you then as a kid you didn’t have a say, did you? One thing I attribute my love for films to is that early on I saw so many of those classics of the 1960s. We lived in Alaska when the entire television broadcast consisted of one black and white channel. As chance would have it, one of my father’s duties was to operate the projector for the theater at the local naval base. I tagged along and got to watch whatever motion picture he was shipped to screen. For a kid to have free run of an empty auditorium is a special kind of adventure. Arriving early, I’d wander around indulging my fantasies unsupervised, while dad maneuvered the heavy metal film canisters, removed the massive cellulose reels, and threaded rolls of it through the machinery with surgical precision. Of course, one of my responsibilities was to police the seemingly razor sharp edged empties.
My impressions were memorable. Michael Caine could command a scene like few others, the charisma that has powered one of the most prolific careers in the industry was easy to see back then. The movies from 1966 were memorable for me and I treasure their artistry with a special place for the magic that I – among many – credit to them. Nevada Smith has that status. There is no better film for showing the talent that Steve McQueen possessed. His hero epitomized the essence of the revenge plot. The story portrays racial conflicts from an individual perspective, allowing the viewer to appreciate the reasons why how we treat each other matters.
My favorite western from that year is not The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, because it doesn’t capture the America of my imagination, in spite of Clint Eastwood’s machismo. The Rare Breed and James Stewart do. Depth of feeling is one way to judge a film, as a standard to assess quality. I did cry watching it. And I cried watching Born Free. More than once. But I laughed too. Though not while watching Born Free, watching The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. The masters of the art know it is more the facial expression, the body control, in concert with lines spoken, that capture funny. Don Knotts, his comic genius on full display, may not have garnered the full recognition warranted for his performances. Watch it yourself, and dare to disagree with me.
One last thing. In case you were wondering, one of my first movie memories WAS seeing Bambi on the big screen.