Gotta Love the Movies


The first movie I remember watching is Walt Disney’s Snow White in 1958, the year I turned five. I laughed and smiled, I was on the edge of my seat, and the witch’s scene on the cliff made me burst into wails and tears. My dad had to take me to the lobby of the grand old Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham (one of the true movie palaces, built by Paramount in 1927. Click the link for some amazing pics) to prevent me from disrupting the audience. Movies have always moved me that way, seemingly far more deeply than anyone else I know. At least the good ones do.
          I started piano lessons in the fall of ’64, a late bloomer at age eleven. The next summer, my parents took me to see The Sound of Music, and it moved me quite literally beyond words. I was enthralled and entranced by the music of Richard Rodgers and carried away by Oscar Hammerstein’s marvelous lyrics. After singing every song from the title tune to “Climb Every Mountain” countless times, I decided to try my hand at my own composition. I got a ruler, drew a staff on notebook paper, and laboriously put down eleven triads in half notes, all root position—no time or key signatures, and no bar lines—that I thought sounded good in that particular order. Mom told me it was a message from God that he’d given me a gift, a rare talent, and that I must use it for his glory. “You can never go back to a time when you didn’t have this responsibility,” she said. I believed her. For most of my adult life, a good portion of my income derived from composing songs.
          The next film I saw—literally the next film, not the next one that had a meaningful impact on me—was The Exorcist in 1973. I was twenty, a junior at Samford University, and I went to see the flick to prove a point. The talk on my Alabama-Baptist owned-and-operated university was that a Christian would never go to see such a film. Some said it would be a sin; others that it would be used by the devil to mess with your mind. I decided to prove to my friends that a strong Christian could see the film and come through without a scratch on his psyche.
          It was on at the Eastlake Theater, a good thirty-minute drive from campus. I had a car by then, thanks to an anonymous patron at Central Park Baptist Church, where I was the pianist and Assistant Minister of Music. I went on a Tuesday night, if I recall correctly, and found myself in a theater with only four other moviegoers. I sat near the back, in front of two elderly white ladies who sat in the last row and knitted quietly until the lights went down. There were two basketball-tall black fellows a few rows ahead of me. This was before cell phones had been invented, so they chatted loudly to entertain themselves. That’s how I discovered that this was their ninth viewing. The film started, and before very long, I was engrossed. When the head-spinning and pea-soup projectile vomiting began, I was simultaneously horrified and mesmerized, unable to stop watching the way a deer’s eyes drink in its impending doom on a dark country road as a car hurtles toward it.
          The lights came up. At the front doors of the theater I discovered the sky was in turmoil. This was before the weather report could be had at times other than the morning and evening newscasts on local TV stations. I ran to my car in pouring rain, turned on the ceiling light and pumped up the radio to full blast, and drove back to school as fast as I dared. I didn’t sleep at all that night, and only poorly for the next several. To say I was jumpy was a severe understatement. I wouldn’t close my eyes in the shower for six whole weeks, preferring instead to let shampoo run into my eyes as I washed my hair (I had it then).
          I’ve seen plenty of movies since then: thrillers, blockbusters, serious dramas, knee-slapping guffawfests, and some, a rare few, that have been significant in my life, films that have altered how I see my world and the world at large, films that can still transport and transform me even to this day. I’ve thought about why this is, and the best answer I can come up with is that good movies, the best ones, are works of art. “The literature of our time,” someone has said. This, of course, is no big insight. But for me, it’s an important one, and here’s why.
          Art is as close as we can get to the other side. Whether you believe in the God, a god, no god, or the Universe by any name you care to give it, if there is something beyond the physical world, the best hope we have of touching it is through art. This also is not a new insight. Check out Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, one of the works that influenced Richard Wagner.
          So excellent movies, like excellent sculpture, music, dance, and poetry, are capable of transporting us to another realm, taking us to the heights of ecstasy or the depths of human suffering, inspiring, frightening, or entertaining us, and above all, teaching us about ourselves and life itself.
          That’s why I like the movies. Oh, and they provide endless opportunities to cuddle with my husband over too-big dishes of Ben and Jerry’s.