Also posted on Confessions of a Cart Jockey.
This work is my intellectual property. Please request my permission before re-blogging or copying and pasting anywhere else. If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to check out my two books, available at Smashwords and many fine online retailers. The links are available at the front page of this blog.
1998 – I Saw the Movie First
Leonardo DiCaprio was in Romeo and Juliet.
Leonardo DiCaprio was in Titanic.
Leonardo DiCaprio was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Leonardo DiCaprio was going to be in The Beach. I was going to see The Beach.
“But I think it might be rated R,” I told my mother that week.
“Just buy a ticket to another movie and go into The Beach anyway,” she suggested.
No one could accuse my mother of being a helicopter-parent. Her rules were simple.. Don’t wind up in the news.
I could never bring myself to buy a ticket to a movie I wasn’t going to see. Fortunately, in those days, the Cinema 7 management wasn’t so militant about what movie an unaccompanied teenager was paying to see.
On the screen there was guns, there was drug usage, there was sex and fairly mild nudity. The only difference between what I was watching on the screen and what was going on at the house across the street from where we lived, was that going to the bathroom did not necessarily interfere with what I was watching take place at the house across the street from where we lived, because the bathroom window, which was next to the toilet, had the same view as the living room window (we had a blind).
I did go to the bathroom once during The Beach. I don’t remember exactly when, but one time when I was telling a friend about an entirely different movie I had seen, he asked me, “Please don’t tell me what scene you were watching when you got up to go to the bathroom. I don’t want to be watching that movie later and thinking of you going to the bathroom.”
I had seen the movie first. I didn’t realize there was a book until much later. I’m not so sure I like the movie now, but whether it’s related to reading the book, I can’t say.
2004 – A Free Movie
I was a student at Northlands Job Corps.
There are three kinds of people who go to Job Corps. Students. Residents. Criminals.
Students work hard and pay attention to what is told to them. They use their time and their weekly stipends wisely to learn that the self-guided classes have to teach them about the trade they are studying, with the hopes of finding a job in that particular field. Some students get their GEDs, Learner’s Permits, Driver’s Licenses. They rack up an impressive resume of extracurricular work that reflects positively on their Job Corps center, and sometimes they pursue extra job training at another campus elsewhere in the country.
Residents do the bare minimum required to remain on the Job Corps campus. They live in the dorms, watch the televisions, eat the free food, participate in the free activities. They do this for the allotted two year maximum given to all Job Corps students. Because the government allots a certain amount of money to each Job Corps Center for each student on campus, the staff are content to ignore the blatant freeloaders.
Criminals are self-explanatory. Criminals do criminal things. Criminals may, or may not be caught doing the thing that they are doing, thus leading to termination and/or arrest. There are criminals at Job Corps.
I was a student.
Students could expect a twelve hundred dollar completion bonus for finishing the coursework of their chosen trade. There would be on going “support” to students for up to one year after completion of Job Corps. I completed trade courses at two different centers.
Sometimes I still think the residents and the criminals had the right idea.
Students at the Northlands Center could earn incentives for special activities. Residents could earn these too, if they knew how to game the system. Criminals knew no boundaries between incentive and reward.
I earned the incentive to see a movie.
The movie I chose to see, was Constantine.
Constantine was first introduced to me in graphic novel that may or may not have had Neil Gaiman’s influence or involvement. He was an ensemble character in that particular story. In the text-only version, John Constantine is described as the cool one that you want to impress. His actions within the tale were definitely of the bad ass variety.
When I saw, online, that Keanu Reeves would be playing the titular character of Constantine, I was not aware of this thing called Hellblazer. I knew that Constantine was a British character, originally blond, but I had not read any of the Hellblazer comics. Still haven’t. I caught the trailer for the television series that didn’t last more than a season, but I never saw a full episode (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Job Corps has many rules. When you’re on an outing, the simplest one to remember is: don’t wind up in the news.
Constantine harkens back to when the comic book movies were just learning how to walk. Studios were really experimenting with what they could translate from the page to screen. But man was I glad that they gave it a shot with Constantine.
It was such beautiful balance of special effects and storytelling. The mythology was thought provoking (yes, in the context of the movie, the Christian allegories were all mythological. Unless you want to be super blasphemous and suggest that the angels can do evil things and the Devil can be the hero) and this, along with Kevin Smith’s Dogma, were the inspirations behind a work of fiction that I would go on to rewrite about six times.
Most impressive, even more so than the chain smoking exorcist, was the Archangel Gabriel.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that Gabriel was a male character being played by a woman.
2005 – Cousin Matt’s Birthday
You bet I read the book. Okay, at first, I only saw the last hour of the BBC production back when it aired on PBS. I was nine at the time. I didn’t know what I was watching, but when it was over, I wanted more.
Internet wasn’t available to the average person yet. And sometimes, the most frustrating thing about being nine, is that I could only describes in the terms that were available to me. So when I asked my third grade teacher if what I had seen resonated with her, I got nothing. School librarian? Nothing. Nobody had heard of a story that involved a lion bringing a statue to life, or a witch turning everyone into statues, or a girl giving a potion to her dying brother to save his life, or any of the stuff I was talking about. They probably thought I was making it up, because it’s easier to pretend that a nine year-old doesn’t know what he’s talking about then to actually help him find it.
PBS didn’t let me down. Later, when we had the Disney Channel, and having the Disney Channel was something to brag about, they also aired the BBC production of The Chronicles of Narnia. The stories simultaneously transported me to another time, another country, another world. Even at twelve, I was so entrenched in my fantasy world that I never wanted to go to Narnia. I was already there. I was a Duke some island. I would go on quests with King Edmund and Queen Lucy, and Eustace Scrubb, and Reepicheep (any more detail would qualify as fanfiction).
Then I read the books. Only the first four, which at the time meant the books in the order they were released.
It was towards the end of high school when I really started getting critical of movies that weren’t like the books. This manifested in my first ever online review of Queen of the Damned. The response: “Get over it. It’s a movie, not a book.”
My feelings didn’t change much, but I’ll admit that I was hopeful when I saw the trailers for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. But oh, I was going to rip this movie a new one. I was going to make a note of every deviation, every violation, and every instance in which this movie trashed the cherished first edition of C. S. Lewis’ timeless classic.
At this time I was at the Loring Job Corps. A vast improvement over the Northlands Center, except in one key aspect; if you were still on the campus during vacation time you would be pressed into unpaid manual labor.
During one of these vacations, I was at my parents’ house acting in the capacity of devoted oldest son, favorite big brother, and Cool Grown-Up Cousin. The movie was showing during the week of my cousin’s birthday and my aunt and uncle let me take him.
You never know how nervous you can be until you are entrusted with the safety of the cousin who thinks you hang the sun and the moon in the sky, because you are the Cool Grown Up Cousin who can (not yet drive, but that doesn’t matter because I can) speak the language of Pokemon. My aunt remained with us just long enough so that Matt could get his other birthday gift: A Game Cube, with the latest Pokemon game.
Then she left us alone, because my mother would pick us up later. But I could not let Matt out of my sight in this shopping mall with, actually, no memorable incidents regarding child abduction.
I had one rule to follow: Don’t wind up in the news by having Matt be the first child to ever get kidnapped from this mall.
I did manage to teach him one thing. How to mix your sodas at the soda fountain. Not as useful as how to smuggle cheaper candy into the movie theater, but still a valuable lesson.
Soon, I was eating my words. They tasted an awful lot like Snow Caps, but they were great words to eat. Andrew Adamsen was my favorite director from that moment forward. He took a beautiful childhood classic and made it into an epic film that was very much the equal to Lord of the Rings.
“Let me guess,” Matt said, at the end of the film. “You didn’t like it.”
“No,” I was surprised to respond. “It. Was. Awesome.”
The best part of it all, aside from Liam Neeson being the voice of Aslan, was the White Witch. I didn’t know her name. But she was beautiful and terrifying all at once and whoever she was, she was perfectly cast.
2005 – Later That Year
Burlington, Vermont. Job Corps is over.
It was a shaky return. Literally, because I had to take a plane from Limestone, where the Loring Job Corps is located. And it seems as if FAA regulations require that all passengers be compelled to soil themselves on the final approach to all airports.
My mother and sister met me at the airport. Mollie had just started talking a few months earlier and now I was telling her all about my journey from Maine, to Boston, to Burlington via the wonderful mode of transportation that is flight––wisely choosing to omit the part about soiling myself.
Burlington was new territory. My mother had lived there, long ago. I only visited it a handful of times, but this was going to be home.
Not to worry. I had an uncle working for an organization that gives money to the local shelters. Getting a bed should be no problem, he assured me, so long as I dropped his name.
That first afternoon when I was all alone in what passes for the big city in the state of Vermont, I went straight to the shelter and dropped his name. It would have helped if the staff at this particular shelter knew their asses from a hole in the ground.
My only option was to get a motel room for a week. That burned a good chunk of the five hundred dollars of the twelve hundred dollar stipend I was given upon completion of Job Corps. The rest would come when the magical fairy of jobs and living situations waved her wand, or it would it come to be in six months. Whichever came first. I’ll let you guess.
Finally, my uncle made some phone calls and put me in touch with the director of the shelter. For the next couple of weeks, I pounded pavement, always making sure to return to the night shelter by check-in time. Other than the curfew and having to do a chore at least twice a week, their only major rule was don’t wind up in the news.
Before my stroke of luck that was landing the dish washing job at the long since defunct Coyote Cafe, I would end an evening of job hunting on a slightly relaxing note by stopping into the much more recently defunct Borders Bookstore. There, in the performing arts section, I found a book about the making of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
I read all of the interviews. All of the production notes. I fully agreed with Adamson’s decisions regarding the pacing of the story and the children he chose for the pivotal roles. The decision I agreed with was his casting of Tilda Swinton in the role of the White Witch.
In her interview, she mentioned the part of Gabriel in Constantine. She described the character so succinctly and so beautifully. Others told of how important it was to her that the kids had fun during the filming. She treated them to bowling, to mini golf, to movies. The wonderfully human person who must have been a literal angel trapped in human form came to life for me in these pages.
Homeless in Burlington, on the verge of catching my second wind off the breeze from Lake Champlain, I had discovered the name of Tilda Swinton.
2007 – Prince Caspian Pulls a Power Move
His Dark Materials was a brilliant trilogy. I was looking forward to seeing the movie, which was on posters all over Burlington. I had two jobs at this time and a little more money to work with after rent and necessities.
Then I saw the trailer for Prince Caspian.
Later that year, I was making more money at one job than I had made in my life. I had an apartment in the center of Burlington. I had a simple rule of only seeing two movies per year and not winding up in the news.
I saw Prince Caspian that year. I didn’t see The Golden Compass. Tilda reprised her role as the White Witch. I now knew her name and knew that I had seen her in other things.
2011 – An MIT Lab Rat
2011 was the worst year of my life. If I am the ground zero patient for a newly discovered disease that proceeds to ravage the population every time I exhale, then that would not be as bad as the year 2011.
Homeless again. Living in Salem, Massachusetts. My first attempt at employment and a living situation failed in the previous year. So in 2011, I spent most of that very cold winter at the shelter. Shelter staff differ very little from state to state in that few of them know their own asses from a hole in the ground.
But this shelter differs in one aspect from the one in Burlington. They don’t apply any real pressure on you to improve your situation. Unlike the shelter in Burlington, which relies on government funds to remain open, and therefore has an incentive to actually motivate the residents towards improving their situations, this shelter is privately funded by major donors. They could not care less if you lived or died, so long as it didn’t end up in the news.
I used EBT wisely, pushing my job search further and further beyond the city limits of Salem. I spent most of my time at the college library. I bullshit my way through one study, which paid for a new pair of shoes. Then I found out about the studies at Harvard and MIT respectively.
Yep. I was a lab rat in 2011.
The Harvard study had to do with Asperger’s. Nothing invasive, but it paid enough. And I liked them apples very much.
The real step up came from the MIT brain study. Four hundred dollars. And it got me out of Salem for a little bit as I spent time before and after each visit in Cambridge and Boston. The money and the endorphin rush from doing something productive is probably what led me to landing a job in Danvers and finally a place to live.
During one of the many visits to MIT, I found a magazine, and killed time by reading it.
Tilda Swinton was in a vampire movie. She was played a 5,000 year-old vampire named Eve. I remember the article finding it unique to have a movie about vampires played by actors who were adults and not teenagers.
I had not yet seen the film.
2012, 2013 – Film Brain’s Projector
The library in Danvers is generous with Internet time. Four hours. On a day off, with very little to do, the paycheck going towards food, clothes, and my roommate’s drug habit, the library and a pair of headphones was all I needed to pursue the endless backlog of web review shows.
Nostalgia Critic, Nostalgia Chick, Spoony, SciFi Debris, and Pop Arena provide insight and education into books, TV shows, video games, all while making us laugh our asses off in a place where riotous joviality is generally frowned upon. And if you follow any of these reviewers long enough, you will learn of other people within the same community who also have their own review shows, and occasionally do crossovers. This is how I discovered Obscura Lupa, Todd in the Shadows, and Film Brain, or Matthew Buck.
Projector, created and produced by Buck, has a focus on films from all over the world. And here he reviewed a movie with Tilda Swinton called We Need to Talk about Kevin.
Admittedly, I haven’t been such a devoted follower of Tilda’s work to know what is and is not a departure from her usual stuff. Also, I don’t know if the book the movie was based on was a true story, or if it was simply a story that was inspired by true events. Either way, Tilda’s presence alone was not enough to get me excited about a movie that follows a mother’s struggle to deal with the societal backlash of having a son who has been incarcerated for murder.
A few months later, I was down to one reasonably well paying job. I escaped my roommate’s baggage by returning to Salem, better than when I left.
For the first time since living in Burlington, I had Internet in my home again. On a lazy afternoon of web browsing, someone posted a link to a Youtube clip from We Need to talk About Kevin. In this scene, Tilda’s character is trying to get her son, Kevin, who is eight years, to do some simple math problems. He mouths off, get smart, and then soils himself. It’s unclear to me if this scene takes place on board an airplane that’s about to land.
This may not have been a movie I would ever have seen of my volition, but Tilda busted out the acting chops in that five or six minute clip. It was all I really needed to see.
2015 – The Blood Popsicle
I moved in with John at the end ’14. John and I have widely different tastes in movies. When picking out movies at the library, I have a checklist of things to remember in regards to what he will watch and what he is not comfortable with. As such, I rarely pick out movies that I have not seen yet, because it can be quite annoying picking out a movie for both of us, only to have him walk out of the room when he sees something he doesn’t like.
We’ve found an equilibrium, he and I. Some movies I watch on my own.
Only Lovers Left Alive is now one of those movies.
This is one of the movies I will defend with my life. I had actually watched this before seeing Thor, but obviously Tom Hiddleton was not the reason I jumped on the title when I saw it in the library.
This is the movie I had read about. This is one with Tilda.
Tilda and Tom were immortal lovers. Vampires. And John Hurt was there!
Some will criticize this movie for being slow paced. Not an action heavy movie, it deals more with the melancholy of Adam, a vampire who has spent his life writing music and hiding in the shadows from a humanity that is bent on destroying itself. Eve is the long lived survivor, who has seen it all and read it all, but continues to find new reasons to live and to love.
Her crowning moment, among the many in this movie, is the introduction of frozen blood upon a stick. Put aside the disbelief that a standard store bought freezer could freeze blood into a Popsicle shape and just watch the movie for this scene.
John Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe. It’s funny to watch Tom Hiddleton, a professed lover of Shakespeare, taking the historian’s side of Christopher Marlowe.
This is a beautiful movie with beautiful sounds and music. It is a vampire movie for grown-ups.
2016 – Now Virginia Is In My Head
One thing John and I share is an admiration for Tilda Swinton. So much so that he insisted I find the movie Orlando.
I found it and we watched it together.
This movie was made in 1992. Tilda plays the immortal Orlando, who begins a four hundred year life as a boy of noble heritage. In the course of events, Orlando becomes a woman and viewers get to see 99% more of Tilda than they may have seen in previous films.
It’s worth noting that in this movie, Orlando meets a character played by Billy Zane.
Tilda and Billy Zane have a sex scene in Orlando.
Billy Zane is in Titanic. So is Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leonardo and Tilda have a sex scene in The Beach.
The Beach is the first movie I had ever seen with Tilda. Orlando is the first movie I had seen after discovering Tilda.