Sean Wilson asks his fellow Flickering Myth writers about the film experiences that shaped their childhoods…
I was more than a little startled when hit with the recent revelation that nineties family classic Free Willy this year passed its 22nd birthday. It’s not a lengthy period in the grand scheme of things but for me it encapsulates an entire aeon of time having passed, as it was one of the first movies I vividly remember watching at the cinema. I couldn’t have been older than 7, the theatre was the Paignton Picture House (one of the world’s oldest cinemas, currently undergoing a new lease of life following its tragic closure in 1999) and the movie was the sort of rollicking emotional rollercoaster that sears itself into young minds.
This seemingly unassuming piece of news nevertheless hit me like the proverbial wave, making me wistful and reflective on the nature of formative cinema experiences, and of the movies that emerge out of nowhere to define an entire generation. On that note, I asked my fellow Flickering Myth writers about the movies that defined their formative years – and as expected, the choices were as diverse as they were gloriously nostalgic.
“Jurassic Park. My mum says I cried when the guy got eaten on the toilet seat and had to be taken out of the cinema to calm down.”
“My first cinema trip was with my dad to see Jurassic Park. It scared the shit out of me but I was obsessed with it for years after.”
“I was 8. Completely crapped myself when that clever girl attacked Muldoon.”
“My Dad made me watch The Others when I was 8, I think it scarred me for life.”
“The first ‘grown up’ film I saw at the cinema was Doctor Zhivago. I was so bowled over by the whole experience that I obsessed about it for days afterwards. It also turned me into a lifelong David Lean fan, but that’s no bad thing!”
“Masters of the Universe. As a He-Man obsessed nipper, when the live action film came out it was the greatest thing ever to 6 yr old me. I still love it now, even if its a bit naff.”
“My first time was Ghostbusters 2. I sat on the steps in the middle aisle completely in awe (and a little scared of Vigo).”
Robert W. Monk
“I remember watching Ghostbusters aged 7 and the audience dancing around the aisles at the end. Awesome.”
“I actually think mine might just have been Space Jam it’s one of the only ones I can remember going to see at the cinema with a group of friends. I was about 10 I think and I still to this day love that film.”
“I watched An American Werewolf in London on video when I was about 8 (early 80s)at the local community centre. I really shouldn’t have been there and they really shouldn’t have been playing it. It gave me horrific nightmares for the following few days and I still jump at the hospital bed scene in the woods.”
“Steven Spielberg’s Duel. The first film I remember watching properly on VHS and it repeatedly scaring the crap out of me as a child. Even now it gives me chills and it’s why I think, against the grain, that it’s the greatest thing Spielberg has ever done.”
“Watching Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the theater was really the movies that hooked me on cinema from a young age. I watched all the original SW and IJ movies in the theater. It was such spectacle on a grand scale. Heroes and villains, battles and daring plans. Sound so loud that the seats rumbled. THAT was an experience I’ll never forget.”
“Not just my first cinema memory, but my first memory in general, was seeing The Lion King, aged 3. All I can really remember vividly is standing on my seat for the opening scene. However, my older siblings often like to remind me that I totally lost my chill during the stampede scene, declaring to the entire cinema that ‘the naughty reindeer hurt the daddy lion!’. Cue uproarious laughter, and a childhood trauma for me!”
“My first cinema experience that I remember is Super Mario Brothers. Mostly because my dad fell asleep and snored so loudly! It was very embarrassing. I don’t remember the film though fortunately. Other than that I think it was seeing The Lion King and crying all the way home because of what happened!”
“My earliest cinema memory (and one of, if not my earliest memory in general) was watching The Jungle Book in a dingy cinema and all I can really remember is barely being able to make it out through the cloud of cigarette smoke between me and the screen. My earliest VHS rental was a Ghostbusters and A Nightmare on Elm Street double-bill. I was allowed to rent anything I wanted as long as it didn’t have exposed nipples on the cover (and there were quite a few of these at the time). I must have had 50 nightmares about Freddy afterwards.”
“Nightmare was my first rental too. I used to stay at my sisters at the weekends (she’s 15 yrs older than me) and she would let me rent horror movies. Got to see some nasty stuff at a young age. It was great.”
It may just be a relatively tiny straw poll but this list encapsulates a wealth of extraordinary cinema; more than that, it marks the moment in every Flickering Myth writer’s career when the wondrous and ongoing love affair with cinema first began.
For my part, although I’d hardly describe Free Willy as the greatest movie I saw during my formative years (as far as cinema experiences go, The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Secret Garden were all more significant), it nevertheless solidified one thing in my 6-year-old mind: that there is nothing better than the wondrous, big screen experience. 22 years later, those feelings have never left me.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack enthusiast and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.
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