Friday, August 12, 2005

Fixing a Hole

Writing the other day about Kurt Russell, I mentioned Robert Zemeckis, who early in his career directed I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), about a group of teens trying to get to see The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, which in turn reminded me of the first time I saw Yellow Submarine (1968), an event that says much about my parents' willingness to indulge our movie-going habit, and the price they sometimes paid for their indulgence; I recall inadvertent encounters with Rosemary's Baby and Barbarella at the drive-in (back when they ran five or so movies dusk-till-dawn); I can still remember my mother insisting every ten minutes that I shut my eyes during the latter. Fortunately, her mania for finishing the picture ensured we'd stay to the end. But seeing Yellow Submarine was more than yet another instance of spoiling the kids at the movies. I look back on the experience as a rare moment when it seemed life was making certain promises that for once it would keep.

For some reason, we had to travel to Philadelphia to see the movie. This was unusual, because by 1968 we had two big theaters in the malls near us, not to mention two or three drive-ins, and the old Whitman Theater in Camden--which we actually did not frequent much, except for two memorable visits, which I will relate at a later date. Maybe Yellow Submarine had not yet made it to the malls; however, as soon as we arrived at the theater, I began to suspect it wasn't just a lag in distribution, even though some Philadelphians still think of South Jersey as "the sticks," so it made sense that some films might not open immediately beyond the mighty Delaware. But no, something else was afoot; for one thing, virtually everyone else lining up and milling around outside the theater was older than me--well, I was eleven, so sixteen was "older"; still, most of the males had beards, long hair, seemed like adults--adult hippies, to be exact, actual heads, which were rare, at least for me. Maybe this happenin' was too far out for the suburbs, man.

Inside, the theater was tiny. Now, this is a commonplace today, but back in 1968 movie screens were typically broad-shouldered affairs, many set up for 1950s-'60s widescreen formats like VistaVison and Cinerama. So to feel our way down a narrow aisle in a narrow theater with a postage-stamp-sized screen was disconcerting--and something to comment on, at least as far as my Dad was concerned, who had expressed some doubts about this excursion. And for the record, I'm not sure who suggested we'd go, me or my sister. It's true, though, that she was the one who generally led such charges. She had already convinced my Mom to chaperone her and her friends to a Dave Clark Five concert, and was on the verge of making it a yearly ritual to see Tom Jones at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, NJ for her birthday. Now that was an experience. So every April for a while there my father arose like Gleason from the nervous depths of the working class and asserted his Italianamerican cool as he greased palms, got us the front table, ordered lobster, made sure a flaming Baked Alaska arrived at the end of the meal, and generally acted like the Wheel he could've been. For myself, I was lost in this electric ladyland, as my sister swooned and panties flew--fortunately not her own, and thank God not my mother's--while Tom unsuccessfully tried to reassure me that it's not unusual, pussycat.

The Latin Casino he could handle, but my father was not in charge of this Fab Four cartoon caper, so he grumped that the movie theater was too grimy, the seats too unaccommodating, and the hippies too, what, hairy? Smelly? One did notice a sweet smoky smell in the air--and I'm not being cute, just factual--and something else, as I remember it from this remove, a feeling that my world and my parents' were separating. Now, children always tend secret gardens, of course, but watching Yellow Submarine and stubbornly refusing to feel my parents' irritation--in fact, moving sharply contrariwise and imagining I was really digging it, me and the hippies--I felt ready to grow up and go to college--forget high school--and let everything grow out, and for the rest of my life agree with The Beatles that love is all you need. And I will admit I still agree with them, even though I didn't make it to college until 1974, when the hippies were practically gone, and soul and funk decided to finally make some real money and become disco, and the Catholic college I was attending routinely booted off campus any stray pamphleteer, with their mimeographed manifesti and Daily Worker convictions--which got them nowhere, at least not among the Jesuits, liberation theology or not; all those potholes-to-come aside, in that cramped movie theater in 1968 The Beatles themselves showed up at the end to inform us we had to continue to fight Blue Meanies by leaving the theater singing. And we did, following the bouncing ball to "All Together Now."

I don't know if my parents sang along, and it's okay if they didn't, because I wanted to make my own world. And even if the one I've ended up with feels much like my parents', I know it also has its own geography, and is guided by the Blue Meanie admission that "my cousin is the Bluebird of Happiness."


sherry said...

I too saw Yellow Submarine with my mom (and younger sisters) at a neighborhood theater in Brooklyn-one of the brand-new multi-screened deals (3 or 4 screens). Mom thought she was taking the kids to a cartoon, and came out into the sunshine shaking her head and muttering about the Beatles not being what she thought they were, not for kids that's for sure.I remember feeling mostly faintly bewildered. I knew something was going on but what it was was beyond me. I just pretended I thought it was "cool" but why I had no idea.

Paul J. Marasa said...

Well, maybe it WAS a multiplex after all. And while Peter Max's "mod" look for the movie was instantly commodified, and one indeed had to "pretend" it was cool, as time went on it proved to be something more than "cool": a cartoon with great music. Hard to come by; how many songs from cartoons post-1968 do you still want to whistle? I knew Yellow Submarine was a keeper when my kids fell in love with it. Maybe it's the simple fact of living in a post-Beatles world, but those mumbled Liverpudlian accents and gleefully groaning puns, coupled with those officially culturally entrenched tunes, make for a still-toe-tappin', goofy-grinnin' time, whether we know better or not. And Sherry, congratulations for being the first post on my blog. Some day I''ll be a www site, and such quiet moments together will be but a fond memory. In the meantime, stretch your legs and enjoy; lotta room in here.

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