Monday, February 27, 2012

The conditions.

The first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia was on a black and white television, on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1977. The movie came on the television.

My husband said, "This movie is so great." I settled in to watch, a famous long shot where the Omar Sharif character, Ali, comes riding from a great distance. In the script it reads like this:

[Find the script here]

This took, believe me, at least a minute. I was watching this black and white screen for a long minute, and maybe even longer, watching a guy, a Bedouin, coming from far away, except I couldn't see the guy. All those long shots meant that you could see that there was a guy, but you couldn't actually see the guy. I looked over at my husband. He was mesmerized. I looked back at the screen. Still no guy. I thought, what the hell.

It was years later--1989, in fact, because that's when a restored cut of the film was re-released--that I saw Lawrence of Arabia, this time in the old Regency Theater up on Parley's and Foothill. It was a great big theater with a great big tall screen. My husband and I were practically the only ones there on a weekday afternoon. I remember very well when the scene with the long, long shot came on the screen. That desert, expansive, shimmering with heat, broad and deep and brilliant, with a far-off stranger getting closer and closer--I felt the film reveal itself to me. It was truly one of the unforgettable cinematic experiences of my life.

Here are some other films where the circumstances of my viewing them made them indelible:

Seeing The Last Waltz in an old theater in downtown Provo, and falling in love so much with the music and the band that I stayed for a second showing, without paying (remember when you could do that? anyone?).

Seeing Young Frankenstein on New Years Day with some friends from high school, in a theater in a deserted downtown L.A.

Seeing Urban Cowboy with friends at a drive-in in Springville, UT when the summer was at its hottest.

Seeing There's Something About Mary when the historian had been diagnosed with cancer, and we were trying to see movies that would make us laugh--we saw it at Brewvies, where most of the audience had some beer in 'em, and the house was packed.

Seeing The Man With the Golden Gun on New Years Eve with my brother at a theater in Torrance. (He also endured my florid emotional reaction to a second viewing of Annie Hall at that same theater the following summer. He's a good brother.)

Seeing a zombie movie--I think now it must have been Night of the Living Dead--at the on-base theater (15 cents admission, 10 cents for popcorn, or was it the other way round?) at Yokota AFB, Japan--I was staying the night with my friend, whose parents apparently thought it was cool to take, like, 10 year olds to zombie movies. It scared the bejesus out of me.

Where, how, who with--for me, these are part of the story of seeing the movie, part of why you fall in love with some and not with others, part of why the residue of some movies will never, ever leave you.


  1. Great post!

    I remember seeing a daytime showing of "Contact" when I had first moved to Japan. There were about 6 people in the theater. I was completely moved by this film, in this situation, at that particular moment in my life. I don't ever want to see this movie again because it is probably, in reality, very cheesy, and seeing it now will undoubtedly destroy my memory of it...

  2. Seeing our first Bergman film in downtown Los Angeles was indelible, too. Fantastic post.

  3. I will always remember seeing The Princess Bride. Also, I remember you bringing popcorn we've popped at the house in brown paper bags to the movies in Kearns.

  4. i still don't get lawrence of arabia, but perhaps it is that i've only ever seen it on my desktop screen. I shall eventually give it another shot.

    I will always remember seeing Titanic and Aladdin in the theaters. great moments in my life. OH and the Dark Knight on IMAX. WOW.

  5. Oh, this is so good. We should make a little mini book of rememberences of seeing movies. If only I could spell that. Whatever.
    I remember seeing Brazil in a lecture hall at UO. And Manhattan and Annie Hall.
    Star Wars in a movie theater in Davenport, IA, the big city. And watching "Day of the Dolphin" and "Sound of Music" every time they came on TV, which was once a year.
    My first time seeing "Lawrence of Arabia" was also son's first time, during a snow day. So that was fun.

  6. Hm, maybe Lawrence must be seen on a larger than life screen. I tried it once and gave up (I think) seven hours in. Right at the spot where they're in the desert. Still.



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