There’s a funny thing about my love of TV and movies. Namely that growing up I just figured everyone watched like I did. That everyone noticed camera angles, how different shows had different lighting, color palettes and camera work, that movies tended to use music differently from TV shows and so on. I assumed everyone in their head came up with alternate lines of dialogue for things they felt fell flat. That everyone constructed next week’s episode in their head as soon as they saw a preview. That everyone found some sense of the world and guides that weren’t provided in their own life.
Among my earliest memories of watching TV is watching Sesame Street and loving all the animated short segment pieces. From Ladybugs’ Picnic to the Madrigal Alphabet to the pinball number segments. For some reason the animation, mixed as it so often was with music, just stuck in my head more than anything else. I loved all the rest of the show, but the animated bits were always my favorites.
Beyond Sesame Street, there was The Muppet Show, The Waltons, The Dukes of Hazard, The Incredible Hulk, Dallas and others. Though I’ve never figured out how, from early on I was aware that each one looked different. Each one sounded different. Each one was different in other ways. And there were all the little things I noticed and wasn’t even necessarily aware of or didn’t have a way to explain then. I would notice the sound of voices was different on different shows but it would be a while before I learned why that is. Or learned what a tracking shot was. But I noticed you’d see more of them in some shows than others. Among the other things I noticed was how differently characters spoke on different shows. And I got that that was part of what made each show work. That changing dialogue would change a show.
Then there were movies, The Great Muppet Caper, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, E.T., War Games and others. And with each one I got that part of what makes movies different is how they look, how they use music and so on. Star Wars without the instrumental leitmotif’s just wouldn’t be the same movies. Even though they have nothing to do with the story as such, they are a part of it. Course it wasn’t all like that, as in the rest of my life there was some lack of consideration for age appropriate things from my mom and dad. So I got taken along to see Kramer v. Kramer, The Blue Lagoon, An Officer and Gentleman some other movies, that you probably shouldn’t see with a kid whose age is in single digits. Then there was The Blues Brothers, which if not a movie for kids, well at least it wasn’t going to present anything a kid wouldn’t get. But even if I didn’t get the stories, I still picked up on various things. Figuring that was part of watching a movie, because I was still away from discovering that no, not everyone does that.
And being a child of the 80s, there were Saturday morning cartoons, after school cartoons and so many old TV shows in reruns. Including Wonder Woman which was the only superhero I felt any sort of connection with. Where something stirred inside making me think “I want to be her when I grow up”. Something that didn’t quite stir with any other female character. But beyond that, there was seeing how very different TV shows used to look, beyond some being in black and white. Also with some Saturday morning cartoons was my first experience with the reality that some ideas aren’t good. Like a cartoon based on the video game Pole Position. Or a cartoon about a Rubik’s cube that comes to life when it’s solved. Never mind that I was rapidly noticing when things like plots seemed very similar between shows. And how some didn’t look as finished as others.
And as with seeing movies I probably shouldn’t have so young, things weren’t exactly right. My dad would mock me for watching TV so much and get mad at me for talking about TV and movies as much as I did. Or repeating favorite lines or scenes from movies. My mom flat out ignored most of my wishes to see movies at the theater. I got to see E.T. mostly because my mom wanted to see it because it was everywhere. Ditto, Karate Kid. Meanwhile it would be at least a few years before I saw movies like Tron, The Dark Crystal or The Last Starfighter.
In wanting to see Tron was the first time where I desperately wanted to see a movie even without friends and schoolmates talking about it. I saw the commercials, posters and film stills and just had to see it. But like I said, it would be a few years. And by the time I saw it the backlog of movies I had wanted to see in theaters but hadn’t was a few dozen movies long. Along the way neither one my mom or dad ever show the interest to ask that since I love movies and TV so much, is that what I’d like to do with my life? Be a director? A writer? As it was, I never did mention that from about the age of 9 I thought that would be pretty sweet, especially writing. The screenplay categories at the Oscars being my favorite two categories each year.
And somewhere along the way bit by bit, I started getting that no, not everyone notices what I do. Not everyone’s mind thinks up stuff like mine. Not everyone gets the stuff that makes Miami Vice so different from every other TV show, even though it was on paper at least just another procedural. And with Miami Vice and shows like MacGuyver came having an entire roster of shows I watched on my own not because my mom watched them. That along with my newfound realizations just made me long for someone somewhere who got things like I did. But even as I pined for that, I saw in Clark Griswold a father who even if everything blew up in his face, it did so only because he was trying so hard. In the characters of John Hughes’ teen movies, someone to relate to and some idea of what life could be like. And in among other movies and TV shows little bits and pieces of things that weren’t there in my life, but I desperately wished they were.
There also came other things along the way, like that I had from early on no problem standing by my opinions. I to this day maintain that Max Headroom is one of the most underrated and underappreciated TV shows ever. And that it only got one season is damn near a crime. Also I started to hold that any list of best American directors that doesn’t have Steven Spielberg in the top 3 is a waste of space. As well as, even way back then, there are far too many things that haven’t been done, stories that haven’t been told. Where’s the girl version of Ferris Bueller? How about a chick-flick that isn’t you know, a chick-flick? What about something about various people who aren’t usually the subjects of films that doesn’t reduce them to tropes of “strength” and “perseverance”? Who’s ass do I kick for cancelling Max Headroom? Why was there never a Sweet Valley High series?
That stuff has always stayed with me, just changing over time a bit. As has the love of TV and movies that go back to when I didn’t even know what the words were for what I was noticing. The feeling of awe from watching Tron, when I finally first got to see it, has never left. Nor has that feeling of something that made me think, oh so this is what you can do in film that I hadn’t considered before. Even if there was no one who when I was 12 or 13 who would’ve listened to me and gone “So, NYU, USC or UCLA once you finish high school?”, my head never stopped. Even when I knew saying I wanted to go to UCLA would’ve caused more headache than it was worth with my mom and dad, the love I felt didn’t dwindle. Somewhere out there I’d just have to find the path that I set for myself so many years ago. And I still plan on finding it.