Monthly Archives: May 2008

A Dozen Years as a Californian

This week marks the 12th anniversary since I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Southern California.  Those 12 years have resulted in so many major changes in almost every aspect of my life that looking back at that move almost feels like I’m looking back at a different lifetime.

My father (who has now retired to Florida) was a social worker and typically worked in non-profit or government agencies that didn’t always have a lot of long-term stability.  As a result, we moved around a lot.  Prior to my move to California, I lived for various lengths of time in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.  As long as I can remember, though, I always had a dream of eventually settling in the Los Angeles area once I grew up and was on my own.  I never really liked the cold mid-western winters (I don’t care for snow) and the stories of the very mild Southern California weather along with my affinity for the entertainment industry combined to form a very appealing destination.

After finishing college in Milwaukee, I actually sent a lot of resumes and applications out to various California-based companies, but without any success.  I ended up spending that summer with my parents back in Ohio and then found a job with Columbus-based CompuServe, the online information service pioneer.  Although I spent the next 4 1/2 years living and working in Columbus, I never really lost the interest in a life in California and I even privately set a 5-year goal for eventually figuring out how to make that change.

In 1995, my sister and I started having conversations about vacationing together in Los Angeles.  She lived in Orlando (actually still does), so our idea was for each of us to fly out there separately, but split the cost of hotel accommodations, rental car, and other expenses.  We ended up actually making the trip in September of that year.  Other than a family trip when I was too young to remember, this was my first actual visit to the Los Angeles area.  During those 10-days, we visited many common tourist destinations (Hollywood, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic  Mountain, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, Century City, Beverly Hills, etc.) and, thanks to a friend that I knew from the old GEnie information service, we even were able to visit the Paramount studio lot and the non-public part of the Universal lot.  As a special splurge, we even ate dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago restaurant one night.

My reaction to this vacation was that my expectations for the area were pretty much met.  What had been a personal dream based largely on stories and reputation was now much more rooted in reality.  I returned to Columbus determined to start a very concentrated job search with a goal of getting moved as soon as possible.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was starting to see the future at CompuServe as somewhat limited with the rise of AOL to industry leader and the growing influence of the World Wide Web.  I was increasingly aware that my career would benefit from a change of employer, regardless of whether I moved or not.

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Indiana Jones Memories: Last Crusade

Click here for my post on Raiders of the Lost Ark
Click here for my post on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The 5 years between the second and third Indiana Jones sequels were pretty eventful ones in my life, as is probably typical for the years between age 14 and 19.  In early 1985 (a little over 1/2 year after Temple of Doom came out), my family moved from Flint to Kenosha, Wisconsin.  My parents ended up making another move to Sandusky, Ohio just 3 years after that, although I was attending college in Milwaukee by that time.

We ended up all seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on opening day at a theater in Cleveland, so the movie’s opening day (the Wednesday before Memorial Day 1989) must have been shortly after I completed my sophomore year of college and returned to my parents’ home for summer vacation.  While there were a couple movie theaters in Sandusky at the time, they were generally older theaters and their presentation usually left a lot to be desired.  As it was only about a one hour drive to Cleveland, we quickly got into the habit of going there to see most movies.  My grandmother also lived in Cleveland at the time, so we were able to often combine a trip to the movies with a visit to see her as well.

I don’t remember the name of the specific theater where we saw the film, but we basically picked it out by looking in the paper for the closest theater that listed a 70mm 6-track presentation and Lucasfilm’s THX sound system, which had become pretty commonplace in larger cities by that time.  Our whole family (including my mother this time) got up fairly early to head into Cleveland for the first opening day matinee of the movie.  I’m not sure if there were any midnight showings of this one, but we did go to the first regularly scheduled showing at that theater.

Even with the show being fairly early in the day on a Wednesday, the theater was pretty full, although I don’t recall for sure if it was a completely sold-out show.  The most memorable audience moment actually came during the previews.  Just a couple minutes into them, the film broke and the lights came back up.  A few moments after that, someone in the theater started loudly humming the Raiders March.  It took only another moment or so until pretty much the entire audience had joined in.  I strongly suspect that this was considerably more frightening to the poor employee that was tasked with getting things up and running again than the more traditional audience taunts and complaints would have been.  Fortunately, they were able to get it fixed pretty quickly and the movie itself played through without interruption.

Last Crusade is a very good film with some considerable strengths.  Sean Connery is absolutely great as Indy’s father and he and Harrison Ford played off each other wonderfully.  It was also nice seeing Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies reprise their roles from the first film and, of course, the action sequences and big set pieces were as much fun as ever.  I can easily understand why most people seem to prefer this one to Temple of Doom and some even consider it to be the best of the original three movies.

For a couple reasons, though, it is pretty solidly in third place for me.  While Temple of Doom was able to genuinely surprise me by going off in a different direction in setting and style compared to its predecessor, Last Crusade instead repeated a lot of key elements from Raiders pretty directly, whether it be the reuse of the Nazis as the key villains, the quest for another famous Christian religious icon, or even the use of some very similar settings and locations.  I couldn’t help but feel like Lucas and Spielberg took the complaints about Temple of Doom too much to heart and responded by largely reworking Raiders for the third film.

I also can’t help but think that the difference in my memories of the films are somewhat reflective of the different viewpoints of an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 19-year-old.  By the time Last Crusade came out, I was a pretty avid moviegoer that was seeing a pretty wide variety of movies of many different styles and genres.  As excited as I was about seeing this one, I doubt I was quite as receptive to it as I was when I was younger.  I do recall still seeing the film a few times over the course of that summer, but I don’t think it was more than a handful.  Even taking into account home video, I have a hunch that I still probably haven’t seen Last Crusade as many times in total as I saw Raiders in the theater during its first year of release.

With that in mind, I’m very excited to go see an opening-night showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tomorrow night, but I also can’t help but wonder exactly how I am going to respond to one of these movies now that I’m 38-years-old, married, and a father.  There is a good chance I’ll write a review of the movie over the next couple days, but I suspect I won’t really have enough distance to write another one of these "memories" articles about it for quite a few years.

Indiana Jones Memories: Temple of Doom

Click here for my previous post on Raiders of the Lost Ark

By the time the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out in 1984, the dominance of the multiplex was really starting to take hold.  The sequel opened both at the big single-screen Flint Cinema where Raiders played, but it also opened at a suburban multiplex (the Genesee Valley Theaters) that was much closer to our family’s home.  This was the same release pattern that was used for Return of the Jedi the year before.  My sister and I saw Jedi at the first after-school matinee at the multiplex and then saw the film again that weekend in the better 70mm 6-track Dolby presentation at the Flint Cinema.

We had expected to follow the same basic pattern with Temple of Doom, which was also opening the Wednesday before Memorial Day, a week or so before school let out for the summer.  Much to our surprise, my father had other ideas.  At the time, the local newspaper in Flint came fairly late in the afternoon.  After work, my father was looking through the paper and called my sister and I into the room.  He then showed us the full-page ad for the movie that announced a midnight showing that night at Flint Cinema and asked us if we could promise to still get up and make it to school the next day if we all went to see it.  Of course, our answer was a definite "yes". 

Not being a night person at all, my mother again opted out of the first showing (another good excuse to see the film again soon…), but my father, sister, and I headed out to the theater late that evening.  This was my first experience seeing a midnight movie.  It wasn’t a sold-out show, but the enthusiasm level of the audience was about as high as it could get.  The crowd cheered and applauded at all the right moments and clearly was having a great time.  I particularly got a kick out of the reaction to Indy’s entrance.  The first time we see the character in this film, he is well-groomed and dressed in a white tuxedo.  The audience reacted with applause, although it was a bit restrained and even a little delayed as it took a moment for it to register that it was him.  At the end of the prologue, Indy makes a second entrance dressed in his traditional leather jacket, fedora, bullwhip, etc. and that prompted cheers and wild applause.

I obviously had a much better idea of what to expect than I did prior to the release of the first film, which led to quite a bit more heightened excitement about the film, but also a lot less mystery and surprise.  What I actually liked a lot about the film (and I’m a bigger fan of it than many people are) was that I felt that Lucas and Spielberg really did find some surprising and unexpected directions to take the movie.  Right at the very start, I certainly wasn’t expecting the movie to open with an entire Busby Berkley style musical number.  I even recall momentarily wondering if they were running the wrong movie.  A lot of people were also put off by the darker tone and overall modified structure compared to the first film, but I felt that it made the movie seem a bit fresher than most sequels.  The film was, if anything, even faster paced than the first and, even with the ultra-late showtime, I certainly had no trouble staying awake for the movie.  Yes, I did make it through the school day the next day as well.

I liked the film a lot and did see it several times in the theater that summer, but not as many times as the first film.  In fact, it wasn’t even really the movie that most dominated my attention that summer.  As a 14-year-old boy, I was right in the primary target audience for Ghostbusters, which became my favorite movie of that summer and the one that I gave the most repeat viewing.  The Indiana Jones films have overall likely withstood the test of time better over the last 24 years and I suspect most people might even be a bit surprised to learn that Ghostbusters was actually a bigger box-office hit overall that summer.  Still, it did play through the whole summer and I do recall several return trips to see it again.

In my post on Raiders, I mentioned that the John Williams score was something of a milestone.  While the sequel score wasn’t as much of one, it did come as something of a surprise to me and still remains one of my favorites.  The big surprise was Williams’ decision to abandon all of the themes that he had written for the first film with the exception of the iconic Raiders March.  At that point, I never really had conceived of a sequel score that would essentially start from scratch instead of further developing the first film’s music.  It caught me a bit off-guard, but also appealed to me very much.

I will close with probably the silliest and oddest personal story that relates to this movie.  At the very end of the credits is a somewhat cryptic credit that simply says "Thanks to Reed Smoot".  Being a couple teenagers, my sister and I both thought that was kind of a funny name and were also intrigued by the mysterious credit.  It then became a running joke for the two of us for quite some time, with us often joking about being the only members of the "Reed Smoot Fan Club".  Without the vast information available online today, we didn’t have any success finding any information on Mr. Smoot.  We were pretty sure he wasn’t the early-20th century Utah Senator that was the only reference we found to the name.  I now know that Mr. Smoot is actually a respected cinematographer that is best known for his work on a variety of IMAX features.  He apparently did some second-unit photography work on the film, which was the basis of the credit.  If Mr. Smoot ever stumbles on this, I hope he doesn’t mind that a couple silly teenagers had some goofy fun with his credit.

Indiana Jones Memories: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Unless you have been living under a rock (and possibly even then), you probably know that a brand-new Indiana Jones movie is opening this Thursday.  My wife and I have already arranged for a babysitter and purchased our opening night tickets.  With that in mind, this seems like a good time to reminisce a bit about my experiences seeing the previous movies in the series.  In this post (and later ones about the other two films), I’m not really going to write reviews, although I expect to reveal at least a bit of my opinion of each.  Instead will just tell a bit of the story of my own experiences.

With 19 years having past since we last saw Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 27 years since the character was first introduced in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m part of a likely pretty large group of adults who will be going into this new movie with a hope of recapturing a little bit of magic from my childhood.  I was only 11-years-old when the first movie came out and was 14 and 18 when the previous sequels came out.  As a long-time movie enthusiast, I probably would list other films (including others by Spielberg and Lucas) as somewhat higher on both my lists of favorites and bests, but I can think of very few that invoke more fond memories or that had quite as much influence on my love of movies and my cinematic preferences.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out back in 1981, I was already a fan of the Star Wars films (The Empire Strikes Back came out one year earlier) and, not surprisingly, was immediately very receptive to the promotion of a new George Lucas movie starring Harrison Ford.  My older sister (who was 14 at the time) also had a definite movie-star crush on Ford, which also helped to build our family’s interest in the movie.

The first that I ever heard about the film remains my pick for possibly the most amusingly wrong magazine article I’ve ever seen about a movie.  I don’t remember the specific publication (although my sister may still have the clipping somewhere in her files), but it was a movie rumors column in either a teen magazine or a general entertainment magazine of some sort.  The short article ran right around the time that The Empire Strikes Back was released and announced that the 3rd film in the Star Wars series would be coming out only one year later and would center around the character of Han Solo.  The title of this new film would be "Lost Raiders of the Ark".  I’m sure that whoever wrote that is very proud…

Back in 1981, I didn’t really follow the movies very closely and certainly didn’t have access to the kind of ready information on the topic that is out there today.  For the most part, the first real awareness of Raiders came primarily when the ads started hitting.  Back then, George Lucas and, especially, Steven Spielberg were not really household names, so the ads heavily promoted the movie as "From the creator of Star Wars and the director of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  As I said, the Star Wars connections were the big draw for me, although I had seen and enjoyed Close Encounters (but only on TV).  I didn’t see Jaws until a few years later.  After seeing Raiders, I quickly became a Spielberg fan, something that really solidified a year later when our family went out to see a sneak preview of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial without knowing much of anything about the film other than that it was from the same director.

My father took my sister, my best friend, and me to see the first evening showing of Raiders on its opening night.  We were living in Flint, Michigan at the time and saw the movie at The Flint Cinema, an old-fashioned single-screen theater.  Built in the late 60s shortly after the end of the movie palace era, it wasn’t anything overly fancy but was mainly known for a large screen and 70mm, 6-track Dolby presentation.  I think Raiders was actually the first film we saw there as the first two Star Wars films had opened at the nearby Eastland Mall Cinemas instead.  The movie pretty much blew us all away.  We knew it was supposed to be a fast-paced adventure movie, but I don’t think any of us really were prepared for the scope of the film or the sheer level of adrenaline it would pump.

My Mom wasn’t originally sure she was that interested in the movie (she hadn’t really liked Star Wars) and decided that she didn’t feel like dealing with the opening night crowds for the movie.  We, of course, all came home and told her that she needed to see the movie as soon as possible and we all went out to see it with her the next weekend.   As a joke, we all conspired ahead of time to repeatedly warn her that the movie started out very slowly, but promising her that it got better as it went along.  As you might expect, the very exciting opening sequence in the idol cave caught her very much off-guard.  She really loved the movie, although the intensity did get to her a bit at times.  She was holding my Dad’s hand during much of the movie and afterwards they laughed that she instinctively pulled her hand to her mouth, thus biting my Dad, during the Well-of-Souls sequence when the snake climbed out of the skeleton’s mouth.

Over the course of that summer, this became the first movie that my sister and I went to see multiple times in the theaters during its initial release (we had seen Star Wars and a few Disney films more than once due to re-releases).  By the end of the film’s run, I saw it a total of 13 times.  My father absolutely fell in love with the movie as well and went along with us to many of those showings.  Prior to that, he had never been much of a movie fan and didn’t typically see anything more than once.

John Williams score to the movie also represented a bit of a milestone for me.  I had started to become interested in movie scores a couple years earlier.  My interest was first sparked by John Barry’s orchestral score to Disney’s The Black Hole, which ended up being the first score soundtrack that I purchased.  My interest expanded dramatically after getting first The Empire Strikes Back and then the original Star Wars soundtracks and I then started a collection of movie score LP’s from movies involving outer space.  Over a year or so, I bought a bunch of albums including Close Encounters, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.  After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and hearing Williams amazing music for the film, I immediately wanted that soundtrack.  It was at that point, that my interest really broadened to film scores in general instead of just to souvenirs of space movies.  This really established my musical tastes for the long term as film scores remain the dominant part of my collection and my music purchases today.

I loved the sequels and have certainly been very impressed and excited by other action/adventure movies over the years as well.  I think Raiders will always hold a very special place in my memory, though, and I don’t really believe any other movie will ever quite match the surprise and excitement that surrounded this one.

Obama vs. Clinton and the Primary System

I’ve been resistant to delving into political topics on this blog, mostly out of fear that I might expose too much about my own ignorance. :)  I do tend to follow political debate (particularly at the national level) quite a bit, though.  As a registered Democrat that will almost certainly end up supporting and voting for whichever candidate becomes that party’s nominee, I have certainly been taking a lot of interest in the 2008 primary season.

I disagree with the increasingly widespread commentary accusing the Democratic Party of self-destructing simply because both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still active candidates with more than 3 months remaining before the party convention and with several states still having yet to have their primaries.  As I see it, the Democrats are prompting a fair amount of criticism and doomsday predictions simply because the candidate selection process is working essentially as designed.  This primary instead seems to be illustrating how the basic method being used to select candidates usually doesn’t work very well and has largely become an outdated relic of a very different time.

I think that the result of the Republican nomination is much more troublesome, although very typical of the process for both parties during the typical modern election, including all the ones since I’ve been eligible to vote.  John McCain was widely accepted to have clinched his party’s nomination after the March 4th round of primaries, even though the primary season still had several months to go.  Much has been made about the voters of Florida and Michigan being disenfranchised in the selection of the Democratic candidate due to those states violating party rules regarding scheduling, but it is that really worse than the fact that the Republican primaries in 10 states have ended up being basically irrelevant?

The extended, highly staggered primary process made quite a bit of sense in a time when traveling from state to state could take days or weeks and when 24-hour news networks and the Internet weren’t available as a means for the candidates and parties to get their views, positions, and even personalities quickly and widely disseminated to every part of the country.  In today’s era of air travel and mass communications, though, campaigning for a simultaneous, nationwide primary would certainly be feasible and would avoid large portions of the population from being essentially disenfranchised from the selection of the candidates.  There might be a grain of truth in the concern that such a system could pretty sharply reduce the importance and influence of smaller states and rural communities, but the current system usually seems to have largely the opposite effect, which really seems to make even less sense.  I really hope that this year’s primary will prompt some serious discussion of this long overdue change.

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