In 1990 at age twelve, I passed for age eleven…
Ok, I passed for nine…I was a little guy.
It was the end of May, the first weekend of summer break, and being eleven was important, because eleven year olds and younger got into the Drive-In for free in Shelley, ID. It was the first time I was hanging out with my older cousin and his friend–who could drive–away from my aunt and uncle’s house with no supervision. My cousin was thirteen, his buddy was fifteen.
Our goal was to go get some fast food and hit the Drive-In. It was a double feature. I can’t for the life of me remember the other movie, but the one I can remember is one of the best I’d ever seen…I’m not exaggerating.
I remember being nervous when we went to pay for our tickets since one of the features was rated R and children under seventeen generally had to be accompanied by their parents. I knew I could pass for eleven, but I thought I’d still mess things up because I wasn’t with my dad. I can’t remember what my cousin’s friend said to the ticket clerk, but we all got in and I didn’t have to pay.
I love the Drive-In experience.
Summer time…outside under the stars…in the back of the pickup on a mattress pad with a blanket if it started getting a little chilly, the analogue speaker right next to you. The screen looked like a floating saucer in the sky. I always felt like we were on the bridge of the Enterprise, watching those scenes unfold in front of us.
I remember the MGM Lion with the patented double roar as the opening of the film begins in the eerie woods “Near Quantico, Virginia.” I am sure the adults knew this was going to be an FBI story…I was elev–twelve. I didn’t know that FBI training occurred there until after I saw this movie.
While in the woods, the camera panned to a set of two ropes, and I remember seeing a very disheveled, woman use one of the ropes to make it over the steep hill and into the frame.
The score by Howard Shore was ominous. It had a tinge of, “Things are okay, we’re out in nature…but you better have eyes in the back of your head Clarice.”
Yes, for those of you that have guessed it by now, the feature was “The Silence of the Lambs,” and rarely has there ever been a movie with lasting power like this one.
Jonathan Demme was masterful at dealing with mood and tone with his use of lighting (lack there of; some would say), filming on I believe 16mm–gave it a sense of a documented news reel; and the focus and attention that was put into the Starling character made it a fascinating thriller.
People would classify this as a “horror” movie. I have never liked the label of “horror” for a film that did not have Bela Lugosi as Dracula or Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster. Films like “Jaws” and the “Exorcist” are given that label too, as well as a lot of Stephen King novels. I don’t like the label because I believe our initial, gut reaction is not to take them seriously and hold a small smile at the notion of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins. I find all of these as examples of things that thrill us. These are thrillers that help us experience a range of human emotion like holding us in suspense, shocking us, disgust, anguish, and redemption.
It’s fair to say that those emotions, and many more, can be felt by the viewer that is willing to become engaged with these characters.
It was an experience to see a woman like Clarice Starling that took the lead to find a murderer. Prior to this, I found myself watching men chase down bad guys. This was a breath of fresh air. Never had I seen a hero seek out help from a maniac before. Another interesting concept.
I remember the second that we are introduced to Dr. Lecter, as the camera pans around the corner into his cell, that he would be a character that would not be easily forgotten. Rarely has there been a performance with such little screen time with SO much impact. Truly a performance worthy of the label “art.”
I found out later that this was based on a novel and I had to read them. I started with Red Dragon and then read The Silence of the Lambs. Thomas Harris is a great writer and I find them to be must reads for people that enjoy writing.
After it was over, I had to spend the night at my cousin’s house. The spare bed that they had for me was not in a bedroom with a door. It was part of a jumbled, unfinished basement that would eventually become a very nice family room. The ceiling was not covered in sheetrock yet and there were a lot of pipes and beams jutting out of it. Being that the room was a “work in progress” it became a place where extra stuff started to gather–like a large junk drawer. There was a spare bed in the corner that I was to sleep on that night.
If you haven’t had a chance to see it, do it. Just make sure you’re sleeping in a familiar environment. That’ll give you at least half-a-chance at a nightmare-free night; but I make no promises…
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