Friday, May 11, 2007


What a Lifetime of Movies Has Taught Me

By Odienator
Today is my birthday, and it's William Wyler's fault.

Wyler was not my father, nor was he the obstetrician on call at Margaret Hague Hospital when I was delivered. It's more sinister than that. On May 10th, my mother went to see the last movie William Wyler directed, The Liberaton of L.B. Jones. The legend states that she, my late aunt Brenda and her equally pregnant friend Diane drove to the theater that afternoon. Please don't ask me why two bigger than house-size pregnant women, both in the last month of their pregnancies, would go see a movie. They did, and Diane kept having to use the ladies' room every five minutes. My aunt said "she's going to have that damn baby right here in the movie." Apparently, if you pee a lot, that means the baby's coming. Or something like that.

Diane did not go into labor during the movie, much to the relieved sighs of her fellow theater patrons. After the movie, however, my mother got hit with rather unexpected labor once she got home. I was due May 19th, and usually the firstborn is late, so my timing was a rather revolting development. My aunt came back and drove her to the hospital, and the rest is history. I was born on May 11th, just like Salvador Dali, Irving Berlin, Natasha Richardson, and Phil Silvers. They can't blame famous directors for their birth, but I can. (well, Natasha Richardson can too.) The Liberation of L.B. Jones was such a bad movie that I demanded to be born immediately afterward, so I can rail against (and sometimes rave about) bad movies. This explains why I have temper tantrums after I see crappy movies.

Blaming Wyler is admittedly a stretch, but you know what they say about printing the legend over the facts.

Birthdays are a time of reflection, especially if you're over 35 and your family's life expectancy hovers around 56. So please indulge me a few reflections on what a lifetime of movies has taught me. Perhaps taught is a bad word, for nothing is a better teacher than experience. Maybe this is a meditation on what life lessons movies prepared me to learn.

The love of movies is etched in my DNA. I do not remember a time without them. I even remember my first moviegoing experience. My cousin and I went to the theater under the pretense of seeing Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We saw The Exorcist. I had no idea what the movie was about, except that they said lots and lots of curses. At the end of the film, my cousin was so terrified that her hair stood up like Don King's. She sneaked us into Snow White, presumably so I wouldn't tell anyone that Snow White's head spun around while she said something about eating chicken in Hell. I learned my first lesson that day: one's belief system is a powerful motivator, especially the parts about punishment and fear. Had The Exorcist been about an alien possession instead of Old Scratch's, I honestly believe it wouldn't have made a dime.

Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck gave me a few lessons on women, love and deception. "Everybody has a heart," Ms. Davis famously said in All About Eve, "except SOME people." Little did I know I'd date those people. "Some girls aren't the marrying kind," she told me in Now, Voyager. Little did I know I'd marry one of them. "You mean all this time we could have been friends?" asks Davis' Baby Jane. I wish I'd asked that question in more than one botched relationship.

Like Davis, Barbara Stanwyck was a tough woman with a lot to prepare me for, except her lessons were more fun, more dangerous, and sexier. "You see Hopsi, you don't know very much about girls," says Stany in The Lady Eve. "The best ones aren't as good as you think they are and the bad ones aren't as bad." Ms. Stanwyck also advised me on what a tough woman needs in a man, courtesy of Forty Guns: "I need a strong man to carry out my orders." Most importantly, in Double Indemnity, she showed me what could happen if I let my hormones get the better of me. Of course, I didn't listen.

Chinatown prepared me for some of the most brutal lessons I'd learn in my reasonably short tenure here on earth. It was the first movie I saw where there was no happily ever after, revealing to me that life was not fair. It also clued me into the true nature of human beings, as uttered by John Huston's infinitely creepy yet true line: "See, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of... anything!"

Teenage sex comedies told me that my first time would be a magical, rollicking experience, a rite of passage I should do anything in my power to make occur. Unfortunately, I listened to this lesson. Someday, you'll read all about it in two paragraphs of my autobiography. It'll take you longer to read about my first time than it actually took to execute. And you'll have more fun. Speaking of sex, Fast Times at Ridgemont High gave me bad advice on how to get women in the mood: "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV." Have you actually tried screwing to "Stairway to Heaven"? It's like doing pushups in quicksand.

All the lessons I learned from the movies weren't traumatic or pessimistic. Imitation of Life told me to love my mother and to tell her while she can still hear me. Miracle on 34th Street reminded me that "faith is believing when common sense tells you not to," and Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip warned me against freebasing and let me know that "when you're on fire, people will get out of your way."

Lastly, Richard Roundtree's John Shaft gave me the best piece of advice I didn't listen to, which is unusual because when I look in the mirror, I wish I saw Shaft staring back. The man was so bad and so cool, even his theme song started cussing to describe him. How could I not listen to him? He even uses my first name! Judge for yourself:

Shaft: Why don't you stop playing with yourself, Willie?

Anybody else got any lessons movies taught them?

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Happy birthday Odie.
My mother in law started watching The Caine Mutiny three times and each time she went into labor. She has refused to watch the movie again ever since her third child was born over thirty years ago.

Happy birthday...
For someone who has devoted as much of his life to moviewatching as I have, you would think I'd have something profound to say about what movies have taught me, but I'm coming up blank. I was trying to think of lessons from my 10 favorite films, and this is the best I could come up with:

1) If at all possible, always do the noble thing, even if it it's against your best interests.

2) Never place too much significance on a childhood toy.

3) Never let them see the Big Board!

4) Do your time and keep your mouth shut.

5) Politicians and entertainers usually don't mix well.

6) Corporate control of news is dangerous.

7) If you're down, few things heal better than movies.

8) Don't leap to conclusions.

9) Everyone has their reasons.

10) Never try to make your career by latching on to an unstable, has-been actress.
Odie, that's interesting. The last movie my wife and I saw on the day she went into labor was Changing Lanes, so does that mean that my child may one day be Affleckted? Let's hope not. But now that I think of it some Hitchcock movie was on while she was in labor, which may explain that very long 17 hours...I can't for the life of me remember which film, but it wasn't Psycho, thank God!

Ed, as far as lessons, how could you forget: We all need the eggs!

Happy O-day, man. William Wyler was never a particular favorite of mine, though Ben Hur and The Best Years of Our Lives were two indelible cable TV memories, growing up. But he moves to the top of the list now that I know he brought you into this world.

What kinda jactup world would we have without "tantrums" such as these:

"Pokemon is a sensation in Japan and here, with its effective way of teaching kids how to gamble and rob other kids."

"Monster-in-Law- J. Fo and J. Lo star in a P.O.S. about a M-I-L and a son only said M-I-L could love. When J.Lo comes to take J.Fo's blander than Wonder bread son away from her to marry him, J. Fo turns into Mo Fo."

"Jack- Francis Coppola has created the cinematic equivalent of his daughter's acting."
Anon: My mother in law started watching The Caine Mutiny three times and each time she went into labor.

She should have sued Bogie for child support!

EC: 7) If you're down, few things heal better than movies.

Truer words have never been spoken!

Shamus: does that mean that my child may one day be Affleckted?

I don't know, but if your kid meets someone who was born after Gigli, it might rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

J. Fo turns into Mo Fo

Aw, c'mon, Boone!! At least you didn't pull something I really regretted writing, like:

In The Cut: the teacher-in-distress plot plays like National Lampoon’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

or (and I REALLY regret this one)

The Cat in the Hat: ...the worst pussy I've ever had.
"The Cat in the Hat: ...the worst pussy I've ever had."

LMFAO. X-rated Stewart Klein. (You grew up in the Tri-state. Surely you remember Stew...?)
Great piece, Odie...I think you've learned a lot more than I have, but here goes...

Movies have taught me that it's nice to have talent, but it's better to be pretty.

Most of the what I know - history, politics, whatever - has been gleaned from films. I essentially consider high school to be a waste of time (on more than one level). After a child had aquired basic reading and comprehension skills, and knows enough math to be able to balance a checkbook, they can learn everything they need to know from the movies. I have no idea what Physics is (are?), but I can tell you all about the succession of The Tudors, starting with Charles Laughton, and I have a pretty good handle on how Watergate went down, courtesy of Bob and Dusty.

I can do English and Australian accents. Never been to either place (England is the one with the big clock, I think), but the movies have gotten me to the point where I can fake it. If, by some trick of fate, I find myself tracking dingos in Canberra, there's a good chance I'll blend.

Happy Birthday!
Odie, your story is the stuff of moviegoer legend. Here are a few lessons learned from watching horror movies.

1. Don't walk backward into a dark room.

2. When the thing that just startled the shit out of you turns out to be only a cat, it doesn't mean you should sigh with relief.

3. Just because the boogeyman looks dead, it doesn't mean he is.
Oh Lord, Stewart Klein! He hated EVERYTHING! He was on WNEW 5, along with the weatherman who used to draw pictures of the clouds and sun on the weather map. That was also where they had Bill McCreary (sp?), the tough Black guy who looked like, at any minute, he was going to jump out of the TV and beat your ass.

Yeah, I remember Stewart Klein!

Wagstaff, I think the best way to combat those cats that pop out of nowhere is to put them in Spaghetti Westerns! (Confused readers, see my other piece on Sergio Leone!)
I like your blog, it’s always fun to come back and check what you have to tell us today.
I love All About Eve...Bette at her finest! I just did a post on Classic Movie lines- of course a line from this made it. Stop by and say hi sometime.
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