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Alternate Oscars: One Critic’s Defiant Choices for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress–From 1927 to the Present, Danny Peary

I have never been a big fan of movies, or even television for that matter. When I was young, I didn’t express it in quite so haughty a way, possibly because I was jealous and wished that I could watch the Banana Splits like everyone else. An actual movie required a car trip of ten minutes because the small town we lived in didn’t have a theater; so it wasn’t just the matter of begging the admission price. Books didn’t really fulfill the entire need when I was young, either. I think most people need some sort of visual stimulation. Since TV and movies were unavailable, I turned to comics and “interactive” play (i.e., that running around with other kids in the neighborhood rather than being glued to the telly).

I can remember seeing movies as a kid, mainly because I can probably list them with 80% accuracy and completeness. The first one I remember was Love Story (which, as some would say, probably has something to do with my dislike for movies as well). My mother says that we saw Bambi earlier, but I just don’t recall it. I recall a B-grade horror flick that I saw with my brother in the early 70s. I think it starred Doug McClure, and it was based around the Sargasso Sea (I still get the willies when thinking about some kind of trapdoor and a squid-like thing). Then there’s Star Wars, which I remember seeing clips for on a local broadcast noon TV show, and which my brother and I had to see in the first week of screening based on that clip. In fact, I guess I went to movies with my brother a lot (mom was probably trying to get rid of us at the same time, as well as it just being easier logistically). Jaws II, Smokey and the Bandit (I remember the whole family went to that one), Cannonball Run, and Dirty Harry. We saw the popular stuff; my parents were not fans of movies or TV as well, but could be convinced every once and a while.

In high school, the town we moved to had a theater (actually a combination drive-in and walk-in), but because I had moved there “later” than most, I felt apart from the other kids in town, and so I never really “hung-out” at the movies like the majority of my classmates. What films I did see remained the more popular kind: E.T., Superman, Risky Business, the Star Wars sequels, the Star Trek movies. The only brief glimmer of hope in those days was the extraordinary effort I went to in order to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

So it wasn’t until I went to college that I discovered the movies could be more than entertainment. But I never “fell” for movies like some people (reference Harlan Ellison’s introduction to his collection of essays on media, Harlan Ellison’s Watching). I was learning that books, which I had read up till now for their entertainment value also, could be more than simply entertainment as well, and that seemed much more exciting for me to explore.

You would think that after moving to L.A., I couldn’t help but get more into movies. It is, of course, the movie capitol of the world. But L.A. is a city of facades. Just like the always balmy summer days they foist off as the truth in TV and movies hides the fact that L.A. has something like 90% smog-filled days, so is the movie culture hidden beneath the physical monument of the studios. I went to one “special” screening while in L.A., for the movie Soapdish. Nice performances by Kevin Kline and Sally Field, but nothing substantial.

Colorado? Even though I was back in a college town, movies weren’t something I hungered for, or even looked forward to. But here I am, in Radville, Washington, and, frankly, we’re bored stiff out here. You’d think that I’d get more reading done, but the absence of other culture makes reading feel monotonous. There is one bright shining light–Battelle’s employees started a film club years back, and it’s still going strong. This past year’s most popular feature was Like Water for Chocolate, which the Film Club sold out in three different showings, and which prompted the local discount theater to book it for a couple of weeks. Through the Film Club I’ve seen some movies that I can tell will be favorites for times to come (The Palm Beach Story, Strictly Ballroom, and Roger and Me), as well as films that are helping to fill in the gaps of my video education (La Dolce Vita), and modern foreign-language films such as Raise the Red Lantern and Europa Europa.

What does all that have to do with Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars? It should explain why, after all these years, I’m suddenly interested in film, and, specifically, the history of the medium. Peary’s book provides that history in excellent page-long essays, as well as catching me up on the critical classics of the medium. Perhaps not its intended use, but that’s the thing with art–once it is finished, it rarely remains the artist’s.

[Finished 2 July 1994]


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First Impressions Copyright © 2016 by Glen Engel-Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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