While visiting my nearly 96-year-old mother in Chicago a couple weeks ago, we chose a Monday afternoon to hit the local movie theater together. These rendezvous often make their way into my brief itinerary with her affording us some “real-to-real” time together.
On this most recent trip we took in the based-on-a-true-story movie “Breakthrough” at a plush cinema with reserved reclining seats. My mother sat up straight and still managed to sleep through a third of the movie. I was most comfortably prone, and cried like a baby for almost a third of the gripping drama.
Hardly an aficionado, and disinclined to join any movie clubs, I still manage to monitor what’s coming to a theater near me soon. With my earliest recollection being that of “The Wizard of Oz,” which I first viewed on our family’s black-and-white television, I couldn’t understand all the hubbub. Many years later I finally viewed it in an actual theater and was overcome by how the entire land of Oz was in Technicolor. Now “that’s a horse of a different color!”
Over the years, as with countless others, movies have captured my attention, tugged at my heartstrings, sent my mind whirling, inspired me to greater heights, and even, at times, lured me into almost becoming a character in the story.
As a junior in high school I innocently said “yes” to taking in “The Exorcist” at a local theater with friends. Dreadfully haunted by the movie, and even with my companions in tow, the walk back to the car in the parking lot was traumatizing for fear someone would come out of the shadows and possess me. From then on I steered clear of demonic leaning story lines. Get behind me, Satan!
While on a basketball recruiting visit at the University of Missouri, I and another potential recruit had some evening entertainment watching “The Sting” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, among others. In jaw-dropping fashion, we were both bamboozled by the corkscrew ending. It was like an “ankle breaking” cross-over dribble with the sudden change of direction.
The summer before my seminary internship, my wife and I worked at a rather remote family church camp in Michigan. We had no access to television or newspapers to speak of and when we got our first weekend off, we took in a show about which we were clueless. As such, the opening scene in “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” nearly paralyzed us as we cowered in our seats as the hero scurried out of the cave trying to avoid being flattened by the fast approaching mammoth boulder. Spoiler alert, he made it out safely.
I recall the drastic and unforeseen mid-movie unlearning forced upon me when the “alternate reality” experienced by Dr. John Nash, plaguing him with delusional episodes brought on by paranoid schizophrenia, was revealed in “A Beautiful Mind.” “There’s no point in being nuts if you can’t have a little fun.” I couldn’t agree more.
And who can forget the engrossing and alluring possibilities of those near-endless “do overs,” as weatherman, Phil Connors, was trapped in the surreal repeats of “Groundhog Day?” I could think of a few days I’d like to do over.
Though I never became one because I cut too easily, I faintly consider pugilism as a profession whenever watching the overachieving underdog in the hard knocks and captivating determination of “Cinderella Man.”
A half dozen years ago, my wife and I ventured up to Traverse City, Michigan, for their annual film festival. It was almost movie-going on steroids as venues and films were everywhere in the engaging city.
Novices to such excitement, on opening night we caught the late show of a documentary entitled “Searching for Sugar Man” highlighting a curious and provocative guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose home was nearby in inner city Detroit. For most of the movie it was presumed upon the audience the artist was no longer alive. Living as a somewhat transient individual in impoverished conditions, the man, whose name was Sixto Rodríguez, signed a record deal that went, in the U.S. anyway, nowhere. As the story unfolds and unbeknownst to Rodriguez, in apartheid-afflicted South African, his songs and popularity grew exponentially surpassing even the likes of the Rolling Stones, selling millions of albums overseas.
This Academy Award winning documentary feature struck us in deep ways and accelerated our heartbeats with profound pathos as the mesmerizing story unfolded of this amazing musical talent living in obscurity in Detroit while celebrated beyond imagination a continent away. Captivated by emotion at the film’s end, we were transported to an even more ecstatic and dreamlike place as a man came walking down the aisle of the darkened theater, stepped to the stage, was handed a guitar, and began to sing and play for us. Yes, it was Rodriguez himself, nearly “raised from the dead.”
Stroll down the stairs and into a spare room in our basement and, to no surprise, you’ll discover my cinematic fascination continues with shelves full of a collection of nearly 500 DVDs revealing the diverse and enticing storylines ranging from “Absence of Malice” to “Zootopia.”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org