Film critic Bob Tremblay muses about the movies that shaped his movie-reviewing career.
When I tell people I’m a film critic, I typically receive a comment and a question.
The comment is “That must be a great job.” My response is, “Yes, seeing movies for free isn’t a bad gig. It definitely beats covering the Board of Public Works, but you should know that for every superb film I see like ‘The Artist’ I see 20 wretched ones like ‘Jack & Jill.’ ”
The overwhelming majority of movies I see fall in between those two extremes. These are films that aren’t so horrible that you’re tempted to poke your eyes with knitting needles, yet that they’re not so fantastic that you can recommend them as God’s gift to cinema. Basically, there’s a lot of mediocrity in the multiplex these days, prompting an oft-heard quote from critics, “That’s another two hours of my life I’ll never get back.”
The question is, “How did you get that great job?” My response is “I ran over my predecessor in the parking lot.” Seriously, when my predecessor moved on to greener pastures (yes, the kind found on bills), I inquired about the position, and the arts editor, knowing of my passion for film, gave me the job.
Looking for my qualifications? You can find them in the movie theater.
I began my cinematic education at age 7. The first film I remember seeing at a movie theater was “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” at the Scituate (Mass.) Play House. I didn’t recognize any of the famous actors in the cast, but I did laugh at the zaniness, and the vision of the coconut trees crossed into the shape of the letter “W” is permanently etched in my memory.
I saw the film years later and wasn’t as enthusiastic, thinking a movie with a cast this talented — the ensemble included Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters — could have been better. I’m sure they all cashed their paychecks.
I didn’t change my opinion of another film that left an indelible impression from my youth. When “Gone with the Wind” was re-released in the 1960s, I saw it at the Community Playhouse in Wellesley, Mass. The story didn’t captivate me as much as the images. The burning of Atlanta, the tattered Confederate flag waving above railroad tracks littered with dead and wounded soldiers, a Yankee getting shot in the face, the vision of Scarlett O’Hara standing defiant under a barren branch.
I didn’t know much about the Civil War back then, and I never understood what Scarlett saw in Ashley Wilkes. The guy’s a wimp, I thought. I also thought Scarlett wasn’t the nicest of human beings, stealing her sister’s Mr. Kennedy, for example.
Seeing the film years later, I realized why many people object to its portrayal of African-Americans. Yes, it’s a picture of its time, but it’s still hard to watch characters behaving like Stepin Fetchit. All that said, the movie still gets to me. When Scarlett delivers her “I’ll never go hungry again” speech, I turn into a bowl of mush.
The full tear-duct overflow came when I saw “Romeo and Juliet” in 1968. The leads were only a few years older than me, and here they were falling in love madly and dying tragically. Just play the theme music by Nino Rota and I start welling up. The 1996 remake with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes is decent, but it can’t compare with Franco Zeffirelli’s version. Then again, there may be fans of the 1936, 1954 and 1966 renditions.
I was fortunate to be a teenager during the early 1970s when such directors as Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin were making their best movies. I remember going to the opening of Coppola’s “The Godfather” at a theater in Phoenix in 1972 and being part of a line that encircled the theater. I was mildly shocked by the horse head in the bed scene.
The first R-rated film I saw was Friedkin’s “The French Connection,” in 1971. Technically, it was the second, as I saw it as part of a double feature at the Academy Cinemas in Newton Centre. The first film was “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” and it contained plenty of nudity, which pleased this teen with raging hormones immensely. When I saw “The French Connection” afterward and it had only one nude scene, I was thoroughly disappointed. I wisened up later. The car chase alone is worth the price of admission, though to this day I still don’t understand what picking your toes in Poughkeepsie means.
I also talked my father into taking me to two X-rated films: “A Clockwork Orange” and “Last Tango in Paris.” Why the theater operators let me in, I don’t know, since I was clearly not 18. My father was clueless since he didn’t read movie reviews. When he asked what “A Clockwork Orange” was about, I told him it was an action film. As for “Last Tango in Paris,” I told him it was a love story. I don’t think he ever took me to another movie.
I remember falling in love with Cybill Shepherd — who didn’t? — while watching Bogdonavich’s “The Last Picture Show.” The film also depressed me for days.
I also fell in love with Jennifer O’Neill while watching “The Summer of ’42.” I wanted to be Gary Grimes in the worst way. His character, who was my age at the time, starts an affair with this older woman. That never happened to me.
I commenced my George Lucas fixation with “American Graffiti,” a film whose profits helped finance his next film, something called “Star Wars.” I saw that film at the Kingston (Mass.) Drive-in, and my jaw didn’t return into place until that massive spaceship left the screen during the opening sequence.
Two years earlier, I saw “Jaws” about nine times at the Hanover (Mass.) Mall, taking pleasure in watching my friends jump out of their seats during certain frightening scenes that I knew were coming.
My brother and I went to see “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” at the Paramount Theatre in Newton Corner. About 20 people were in the theater, and we were the only ones laughing. Kind of awkward.
My girlfriend at the time was so rattled by “The Shining” that when I teasingly repeated “redrum” — complete with moving finger accompaniment — after we exited the theater, she hit me. I, of course, deserved the beating.
“The Exorcist” freaked us both out. Good date film, huh?
I would later make numerous sojourns to the Orson Welles in Cambridge, Mass., to feed my art house film addiction.
While most of the above-mentioned theaters have since closed, I am fortunate to live near the West Newton Cinema, which still shows foreign movies.
And thanks to Netflix, I am renting all the classic movies from A-Z in “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” that I haven’t seen.
Also, a former colleague, Jan Gardner, has expanded my film book library with enough movie tomes to keep me busy for a while.
Finally, I would like to thank my predecessor for giving me the opportunity to continue my lifelong love affair with the movies and not have to pay for it anymore. I also hope my tire tracks didn’t ruin his suit.
It’s now time for Trivia.
Last month’s tester: This person, who was nominated for People Magazine’s “sexist man” list, appeared in a documentary that won 14 awards. Clue: The film’s director has been nominated for an Oscar. Name the person, the documentary and the director.
Answers: Sven Haakanson Jr., who appeared in “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog.
No one answered the question correctly.
This month’s tester: What famous outlaw in a recent film recites a Shakespearean sonnet before committing a crime? Name the outlaw, the actor who played the outlaw, the film and the sonnet.
The first reader to answer the question correctly will receive products from Fruits & Passion.
Trivia enthusiasts can call me at 508-626-4409 or email me at rtremblay@ wickedlocal.com.
Make sure you leave your name, address and phone number on my message machine or email so I can contact you if you answered the question correctly. The address is needed so winners can be mailed their prize. Callers should spell out their names slowly and clearly so their names will be spelled correctly in the column.
Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12. Good luck!