In the latest issue of Empire*, English director-writer-producer Edgar Wright invites his famous friends to tell about their magic movie moments, things they remember about having watched movies with others in a theatre.
Because, as we all know, that’s where the real magic happens.
In the magazine, there’s Steven Spielberg talking about the desert crossing in Lawrence of Arabia, and Chris Evans looking back at the time he saw Neo stop the bullets in Matrix, and Paul Rudd chuckling at his memory of seeing Indiana Jones shoot the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The list of movies isn’t exactly surprising for the most part. Some of classic moments are shared and classic because they’re, well, shared and classic. If you’ve seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you will remember the scene in which they jump off the cliff. You can’t un-see the shark in Jaws. Or un-hear the fart in Three Amigos! (Rian Johnson’s magical movie moment).
I read the stories, and I nodded and smiled. Some of the memories had nothing to do with the movie, except that they took place in a movie theatre when that particular movie was playing. Like, say, somebody laughing so hard they fell off their seat.
And then finally, Daniel Craig opened his long list of movie magic moments with Escape To Witch Mountain which he saw with his sister. I almost dropped the magazine together with my jaw. Witch Mountain is one of my earliest movie memories, and one that left such a lasting impression that when I met Wife (then Girlfriend) and saw that it was going to be on TV, I arranged a special screening in my little studio apartment in Stockholm.
I dragged my little sofa bed across the room and set it sideways in front of the TV and ot the snacks ready for showtime. I gave Wife (Girlfriend) a long and winding recap of the time I had first seen it in a Helsinki movie theatre, “the same one where I also saw Superman and Disney’s Robin Hood and The Sword in the Stone.” I went on and on about the kids in the movie, and their superpowers, and telepathic speech and that harmonica, oh, the harmonica that the boy played to make things happen.
It wasn’t until about fifteen minutes into the movie that I realized it wasn’t the same one. In my defense, it had been more than twenty years since I had seen it, I had only seen it once as a small boy myself, and I was trying to impress this sweet Swedish girl on my sofa.
I kept waiting for the scene in which they float in the air, and – yes! – play the harmonica, but they never came.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed.
Fortunately, I had someone special there to make me feel better.
I’m telling you all this just to underline the fact that it had truly been a magic movie moment for me and that Edgar Wright and his friends are right, of course. There is something magical about watching movies in a theatre with others, I get that, even if I only have two memories that have to do with other people. One is a teenage boy picking his nose and eating the snot at a Tarzan movie and the other one is a couple walking out of David Lynchs’s Lost Highway – ten minutes before the end.
The rest of my movie memories have nothing to do with the audience or the company I’m with. It’s just me and the movie.
When I saw Witch Mountain, I wanted to be those kids when I walked out of the theatre with Mom and Dad, just like two years later, I wanted to be Superman when I walked out of the same theatre and Robin Hood, and Prince Arthur.
Or how I wanted to be just like Marty McFly when I saw Back to the Future for the first time, by myself, in a movie theatre. I didn’t know then what a Moment it had been, but looking back, I know that it was.
Wife (formerly Girlfriend) had her birthday a few weeks ago, and I struggled to come up with a great idea for a present. In the end, I decided I’d take her to the movies.
Since the pandemic is what it is, going to the movies is pretty special in itself, but I opted to get her tickets to a special dine-in screening so that we could get a nice lunch while we watched the movie. Now, movie theatres are only allowed to take eight people so I couldn’t get tickets to a show on her birthday, or the week after that, or the weekend after that but a week after that.
Finally, I got us tickets to Dirty Dancing, the 80s classic and this week, we drove into town and walked into the theatre.
We had a nice sofa in the back, and two minutes into the movie, the usher came in and brought us our pizzas and then we were whisked away to the Catskills where Johnny Castle was the dance instructor. It was the summer of 1963 – when everybody called Frances Houseman “Baby”, and it didn’t occur to her to mind.
I should mention here that I had never seen Dirty Dancing before.
Shocked? Don’t be. It came out during a time when I was a young, single boy who definitely wouldn’t have gone to a movie called Dirty Dancing by myself and probably even less with a buddy of mine. And while I’m sure it’s been on TV a hundred times since, I’ve always skipped it and watched another episode of Columbo instead.
I’m happy I was on the sofa in a movie theatre, next to Wife, when I finally heard Patrick Swayze’s character tell Baby’s father – the true hero of the story – that “Nobody puts Baby in the corner. “
That was a movie magic moment.
It may even bump the booger eating kid down on my Top 5 movie memories list.
*) “Latest?” Poor writing. Risto doesn’t know it’s the latest issue. For one, maybe it takes Empire two months to come to Sweden just like it took Rolling Stone a while to get to Joensuu when he was a teenager, but more importantly, he doesn’t know when you read this. Maybe you googled “dirty witch” and somehow ended up here (in which case, welcome!) It’s the March 2021 issue. — Ed.