I suppose that when you grow up in a country that has only two TV channels and no programming between midnight and 4 pm, films become a big thing and going to movies even bigger.
The first movie that made an impression on me was Escape to Witch Mountain. The 1975 version, not the 1995 version which I made Wife watch just as we had started dating, thinking it was the 1975 version, my version, the movie that explained my love for harmonica, and by extension, for Huey Lewis.
It was not. We did watch the entire movie, with me first complaining about how I didn’t seem to remember anything, and then about the poor quality of the re-make.
It was the harmonica. In my version, the real Witch Mountain, the one that I saw with my parents at Helsinki’s Scala movie theater which later specialized in adult entertainment, the boy plays a magic harmonica to open doors and fly. That’s what I wanted to do as well. Open doors and fly. And play harmonica. To open doors and fly. I even dug up the harmonica my uncle had given me for Christmas.
A couple of years later, I was at the same theater with Mom and Dad, but that time, the hero could fly without a harmonica. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? No, it was the Superman. And when he [SPOILER ALERT] turned back time by putting a backward spin on the earth to save Lois Lane [END OF SPOILER] I was sold.
And yes. I went to see Superman with Mom and Dad. Got a problem with that? I didn’t, even though, I remember how proud I had been when my cousin had called and asked if I wanted to go to movies with him. First, we never hung out, so the call came totally out of the blue. Second, would I get to go to the movies on my own, with just a buddy? I was only eight years old. And Uuno Turhapuro, a modern-day Finnish classic was a grown-up movie, right? Dad dropped me off at the theater, and picked me up afterwards, but I got to buy my own candy, and had officially gone to movies without my parents.
Candy, yes. No popcorn. I don’t think popcorn was even sold back then, but I probably would have still gone for the candy. Always candy. Always Chewits because they were chewy and lasted longer than the Royal chocolate bars, but of course I always had a red Royal, too.
The Superman might have been the last movie I went to see together with my parents. I did see the China Syndrome with Mom, and the thing I remember it for are the anti-nuclear power demonstrators outside the movie theater afterwards.
One Saturday, my best buddy and I went to see Woody Allen’s Bananas, which in Finland was called “Bananas, me and the revolution.” A comedy with a funny name must have sounded like a great idea, but we sure didn’t get all the Latin America references.
New York Times wrote:
Any movie that attempts to mix together love, Cuban revolution, the C.I.A., Jewish mothers, J. Edgar Hoover and a few other odds and ends (including a sequence in which someone orders 1,000 grilled cheese sandwiches) is bound to be a little weird—and most welcome.
We certainly agreed. Woody Allen was our new hero, and the very next day, we went to see Manhattan. We were 11. “The movie is full of moments that are uproariously funny and others that are sometimes shattering for the degree in which they evoke civilized desolation.”
I haven’t seen Manhattan since. I think I will now. I hear it’s a masterpiece.
Looking back, that five-year-period seems like the golden era of the silver screen to me: Superman, Kurt Russel’s Elvis, the Woody Allen flicks, Disney’s animated Robin Hood, the China Syndrome, Herbie (the anthropomorphic Volkswagen Beetle who also went bananas). And then then big one. The Empire Strikes Back.
I had missed the first Star Wars movie when it had come out, so the sequel might also have gone unnoticed, if a friend hadn’t asked me to go see it with him. What made it even more special, what actually made the whole thing an event, was that we saw it on a weekday. Darth Vader may have been larger than life, but to go to downtown Helsinki on a weekday, catch a movie, and eat Chewits was not far behind.
The coolest part of the event may have even come after the movie. Oppo, my buddy, and I took the bus home as well, hopping on bus number 63 that left from the main post office building, and getting off close to Oppo’s home. I lived on the other side of the highway, so I had to walk another kilometer.
It was dark. It was a weekday. I had just seen Darth Vader chop off Luke Skywalker’s arm.
So I ran. I ran as if I was running to the witch mountain.