Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Summer 1998 Movie Season

Reading The Gross by Peter Bart all day today, about the summer 1998 movie season that changed how Hollywood goes about its business, I was thrust into memories of my own experiences during that summer, in the section in which Bart, the now-former editor-in-chief of Daily Variety, analyzes the box office take from week to week.

Reading "WEEK FIVE Monday, June 8," I remembered wanting to see The Truman Show, because I was a huge fan of Jim Carrey. In 1995, at Regal Sawgrass 23, right against the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, Florida, I saw Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and liked it better than the first one. I knew that Jim Carrey would not be the slapstick comedian he was there, but I was prepared, curious to see what he could do as a dramatic actor. And, seeing it at Regal Sawgrass 23, three years later, he was incredible in it, helped along greatly by preeminent director Peter Weir and the screenplay by Andrew Niccol, which gradually showed the cracks in Truman Burbank's manufactured world. I was stunned at the end, knowing I had seen a truly great movie. I still believe that.

However, that experience doesn't compare to the opportunity I got later that summer, in August. An aviation enthusiast since 11 years old, I was 14 when I had the chance to go to a weeklong summer camp at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. I would be among like-minded enthusiasts who all had an eye toward a career somewhere in the industry, two as pilots. In fact, Philip, one of my campmates, was going to start classes there after the summer camp was over.

I loved it. I remember the nights that Russell, Evan, Philip, and a few other names I've forgotten discussed all aspects of aviation, poring over navigation maps, talking about our favorite aircraft. One of our campmates had flown in on the Boeing 777 and we were all envious. We sat in classes and learned about the basics of aircraft and of flying, and we flew from the Daytona Beach airport to a small grass strip in DeLand, two roomates to a plane, along with an instructor, switching places on the way back. I got the route on the way back, but permitted to fly only for a few minutes, not the entire time.

In the Student Center across the street from the dorms, I remember being introduced to Semisonic when Philip played the first bars of "Closing Time" on the piano in the rotunda. There was a significant echo in that space and it made those bars all the more haunting, and that memory lasted me for years, until the beginning of "Clocks" by Coldplay.

One of my fondest memories was on Friday, August 14. I remember the date specifically because in The Gross, in "WEEK FIFTEEN Monday, August 17", Bart mentions that the box office take for Halloween: H20 dropped 48 percent, and I still have the binder from that summer camp, including the activities scheduled for each day. On that day, one of our campmates was leaving, having chosen the half-week package, and we had a luncheon for his departure, and then in the evening, after dinner, we went with our RA to the Daytona Beach boardwalk.

This was after long, late nights we all spent discussing various facets of aviation. We had energy, but not a consistent supply. Or at least I didn't.

I don't remember what the movie theater was called in that area, but according to Fandango, there's one called R/C Ocean Walk Movies. Certainly if this is indeed the theater I'm thinking of, it had to be a lot smaller and more reserved back then. We were there to see a movie, the choices for us being Halloween: H20 and Saving Private Ryan. I had never seen any of the Halloween movies, still haven't, but I didn't mind what it was. I just loved being part of a group that loved what I loved, and I thought I was the only one, since neither Mom, Dad nor Meridith were interested in aviation.

We didn't seem like the types who would go for Halloween: H20, so Saving Private Ryan it was. And one of our campmates sprung for the tickets for all of us, so he got to call shotgun for the final days whenever we went somewhere in the van.

The movie wasn't until 10 p.m., however, so we spent a few hours wandering the boardwalk. Not a typical walk, though. We acted like we were air traffic controllers and pilots, giving our location, requesting clearance, taking off from runways, and on approach to airports. I was in the best company. Couple that with Daytona Beach itself, walking along the shoreline, and there was a deep beauty in the world that night.

We went back to the movie theater, and got seats next to each other. I remember the opening sequence, all battle, all gruesome violence, but everything else was sporadic or not at all. I got as far as the scene where the men are talking in the bombed-out church and the next thing I remember, the credits were rolling. I had fallen asleep, and not only that, but my campmates told me that I had been snoring and had to be poked a few times. I wasn't embarassed. Better them, who cared enough to try to keep me quiet, than someone potentially pissed off at the noise.

Reading those particular sections, and what the studios had put into these movies for the summer, I wasn't as interested in the behind-the-scenes details then as I am now. I didn't know anything about how Hollywood worked. There were all those figures in Hollywood worried about how their movies would fare, how much profit they could expect, and there I was, 14 years old, in a movie theater in Sunrise, seeing The Truman Show, and at that Daytona Beach theater, which was the furthest you could get from Hollywood. It didn't seem like the kind of theater that those who compile box office statistics would call often to get the per-screen total. It was the next year that I would begin writing movie reviews and learn so much about Hollywood itself that it seemed like as soon as I understand what I thought was everything, there was still more. And here I am now, hoping to use this knowledge to my advantage. My favorite movie experiences include that night, when I didn't know anything about Hollywood, and I sometimes prefer that now, but not being a film critic anymore, I'm happiest studying Hollywood in the 1930s because nothing can change what happened then. It's concrete, whereas the business of Hollywood today is always fluid. There's a feeling of comfortable security in that.