Friday, February 23, 2024

Insight: Reel thoughts and special memories

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


My love of movies and visual storytelling began somewhat auspiciously at the age of 7 in 1961 when I was in second grade and it’s a passion that’s stayed with me for my lifetime.

I had been hospitalized to have my tonsils removed and when I was to go home, my mother picked me up and we rode the bus home. When she wanted to get off at a stop that I was unfamiliar with, I knew she didn’t plan to go home immediately. Instead, we walked to the Loew’s Theater, and she paid for tickets for us to see “Gorgo,” about a sea monster that attacks London after its baby is caught and taken there.

The experience of going to watch a movie in a theater was amazing. I was impressed by the size of the screen, the wall d├ęcor, the smell of popcorn, the array of candy, and the movie posters in the lobby.

Our family didn’t go to the movies often, so for a few years the best way for me to watch movies was on television and I took advantage of that every time I could. Some of what I consider classics that I watched were Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” with Farley Granger and Robert Walker, “A Place in the Sun” with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters, and “Portrait of Jennie” with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones.

By the time I was in high school, I found movies to be a great way to spend a few hours away from home, see things from another viewpoint, or ride a roller coaster of emotions. I cried when Dorothy said goodbye to the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” and laughed at the antics of the chimpanzee Cheetah in the “Tarzan” film series. No matter how many times I see “Lassie Come Home,” I always have tears streaming down my face when the collie completes her journey and makes it back to young Roddy McDowall and his family.

When I was in college in the early 1970s, the theater in town became a place of refuge for me. It was inexpensive and some nights would have a “double feature” of two movies shown back-to-back for the price of one. I can recall paying $2 to see a double feature of “Patton” and “M*A*S*H.” It was a nearly five-hour marathon of film watching, but I still remember it vividly.

Through the years, I have accumulated many incredible memories from going out to the movies. That includes attending a midnight screening of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and standing in a line during freezing temperatures for more than two hours to watch “The Exorcist” in January 1974.

Imagine how delighted I was when I was asked to write about a movie being filmed nearby in New Mexico in 1975. It was just my third professional assignment as a reporter. The film was called “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” and it was directed by Nicholas Roeg, who had been a cinematographer on “Lawrence of Arabia.” I visited the movie set during the summer when temperatures were near 100 degrees and interviewed the director and the cast, which included Rip Torn, Buck Henry, Candy Clark, and some English musician and actor I had never heard of before by the name of David Bowie.

More than 21 years later, in 1996, I was living on the Space Coast of Florida and wrote a story for the newspaper about a talent agency that was recruiting locals to serve as extras on movies being filmed in Central Florida. Because of my interest in movies, I filled out an application and submitted my photograph to work as an extra, never dreaming that someday I would get that opportunity.

In January 1997, I received a phone call to serve as an extra on the film “Contact” which was filming at the Kennedy Space Center. I discovered that being an extra requires long hours and extraordinary wait times. We had to be there at 4 a.m. for wardrobe fitting, and then boarded a bus to the filming location. In the four days I worked as an extra, we worked past 9 p.m. every day, making it more than a 17-hour day.

If you look closely, you can find me in four scenes at Kennedy Space Center appearing as a cameraman. I also was thrilled to meet actors Tom Skerritt and Jodie Foster, who showed her kindness by purchasing breakfast one morning for the entire group of 250 extras working on the film.

I still am fascinated by movies both old and new. The last film that my wife and I watched in a theater was “Elvis” with Austin Butler and Tom Hanks in 2022. Last Saturday night, we watched “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” from 1961 on television. I still cry each time Audrey Hepburn throws her cat into an alley in the pouring rain, drives away, and then returns trying to find it.

I have watched more movies than I can recall, some good and some bad. We all probably have one film that stands out above all the rest though. What’s yours?

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