The Spark

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I generally attribute my love and appreciation for film to my decision to minor in film during my college years, since I got to experience a broad spectrum of different genres and styles from a multitude of different directors and eras.

Prior to that, I didn’t go to the movies all that much – at least, not as often as I would have liked. Now, I try to go once a week or every couple of weeks, and sometimes I go three times in one week, it all depends on what’s showing at the two theaters in my tiny backwoods town. I also get my friends saying things like, “Please tell me you didn’t go to see Pete’s Dragon by yourself,” like it’s a bad thing to take in a 10AM Saturday show solo to enjoy a nice Disney flick with some gummy bears.

But there is one film that I consider to be my “aha!” moment – the one that opened my eyes to how beautiful, compelling, and powerful cinema can be. And that film is Chris Nolan’s 2008 genre-breaking superhero flick, The Dark Knight.

MV5BMTMxNTMwODM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyMTk2Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_This was before the days of assigned (and reclining) movie theater seating, so my parents and my best friend and I showed up an hour early in order to ensure we got the best seats in the house. As a massive Batman fan, I was psyched to see the Caped Crusader take on the newest iteration of his arch-nemesis, the menacing Joker. As the film unfurled onscreen, I was totally blown away. The music, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance, and the more grounded version of Gotham and Batman that Nolan crafted quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and I left the theater already yearning to see it again… which I did. Twice more, including a one hour trip to see it in IMAX with my dad. To this day, I have a huge movie poster of the Joker hanging over my bed; the first film poster I ever bought for myself. Now, many others have joined the ranks. I will still see any film that Christian Bale is in, regardless of ratings, will always spy a bit of Commissioner Gordon in any Gary Oldman performance, and will forever contend that The Dark Knight was robbed of a Best Picture nom at the Oscars.

As such, I consider The Dark Knight to be “the spark” that ignited my adoration of the cinema, the first film that made me think about how movies work and how all the parts come together to make one solid, functional piece of art capable of wowing and moving audiences. It opened the door to a whole new world, for me – and it didn’t even require a death-defying magic carpet ride to get there. Sure, I loved other movies before that, but The Dark Knight is special for me, and it always will be. Now, I’m one of those obnoxious people who love to talk about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and the male gaze and all that jazz, and I have a comic book movie to thank for that.

If any one else reading this has had a similar experience, what was your “spark?”

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Five Memorable Film-Going Experiences

Sometimes, it’s not the film itself that makes a film-going experience memorable… sometimes, it’s the circumstances surrounding it. And I’ve had a handful of these experiences during my years as a film “buff”…

1.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 (2011)
I made it to the front page of the paper for this one, so it’s probably going to be on the most memorable list for a while. My group of friends and I had to line up for this one four hours ahead of time, since this was before the launch of the assigned seating era. One friend dressed as Bellatrix, my best friend made Potter Puppet Pals masks for us to wear, I wore my “Particularly Good Finder” homemade shirt (Hufflepuffs represent!) and we re-enacted the “Mysterious Ticking Noise” while waiting behind the stantions. Needless to say, we were the most spirited and entertaining group in line, which is why a reporter took our picture to platdter on the front page the following day. This film was the end of an era for Potterheads everywhere, and even though I had to be at work at 7AM the morning after, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of that night.

2.) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters (2013)
I did not like this film (though I loved the books) but had a rip-snorting good time watching this movie because my best friend and I were completely alone in the theater, so we were free to be as obnoxious as we wanted and we took total advantage of it. We loudly called out the inaccuracies, speculated on the plot changes, and made jokes throughout the entire thing, so even though the film wasn’t  quite up to snuff, it was a great and memorable film-going experience for the sheer enjoy-ability of it all.

3.) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
TDKR was the final movie I saw as a midnight premiere, before my local theater started doing showings earlier on the night before a film’s release. The Dark Knight actually sparked my love for film, and I was eager to see a conclusion to the Bale/Nolan trilogy. The theater was mobbed, because this was also in the days before assigned seating so you couldn’t roll up to the show five minutes ahead of time and get a primo spot, plus this was the first and only time I ever had to park in the upper parking lot of the theater. Anticipation was thick in the air as folks lined up and waited outside the individual theaters, and I remember getting into my seat in between my mom and my best friend and tapping my foot on the floor, waiting for the film to start. This experience was most memorable because it gave a definitive ending to the film series that sparked my love and appreciation for film. Aaaand I sobbed like an infant at the end.

4.) Iron Man (2008)
Way back before the MCU was as huge as it is now, I had absolutely 0% interest in seeing Iron Man. My dad and I eventually struck a deal; he would go and see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with me, if I would go to see Iron Man with him. And the arrangement worked out quite well for both of us! My dad actually enjoyed Prince Caspian, with it’s chatty badgers, triumphant music, and rightful heirs ascending the throne, and I fell in love with superheroes and garnered an appreciation for the then-fledgling MCU, which continues to this day. I remember sitting in that theater, watching RDJ sell the role of Tony Stark like he was born to play it, and being absolutely blown away. There hasn’t been a Narnia movie since 2010, but 10 years later, my dad and I still see almost every Marvel movie together, and I have a 2008 bargain to thank for that.

5.) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
I wish I could say this experience was memorable for a good reason, but actually, this post is ending on a sour note. After studying film in college and expanding my cinematic horizons, my mom and I made the trek across town to see Birdman after we heard a bit of Oscar buzz about it. In total, when the film began, there were five people in the theater… by the end, there were three. And I’m pretty certain only two of us were awake. I totally get why folks didn’t like this film, and I love “average joe” films just as much as the next film-goer, but it’s still a huge bummer when more “artsy” films don’t get recognized by general audiences. In Birdman, the cinematography was gorgeous (I mean, that tracking shot in the beginning is a stunner) and the acting was phenomenal, yet still, two folks walked out midway through. And the film won Best Picture.