February 27, 2009
A thought by James Berardinelli

The problem with being 13 years old and wanting to go to the movies every weekend was that transportation was an issue. With the nearest theater not within bicycling distance (my preferred means of traveling to most nearby destinations), that meant orchestrating rides. My parents were accommodating as long as I didn't ask too often. The same was not necessarily true of my friends' relatives. So, most of the time, it seemed that my mother or father would end up providing chauffeur service to and from the mall where the theaters were located.

For the first five months of 1981, I didn't see a single movie. There really wasn't much out for a young teenager. Titles like Friday the 13th Part II, The Howling, and The Omen III were all past my age limit. So I spent the second half of my final year in junior high school doing what I did for most of the previous year: playing Dungeons and Dragons and watching General Hospital on TV. As bad as soap operas are, there's something addictive about them and, once hooked, it can take an intervention to break the habit. (In my case, the "intervention" was the arrival of the ninth grade late schedule, which meant I didn't get home until 30 minutes after General Hospital had ended. In a pre-VCR era, that meant no soap opera except on days off. I even missed Luke and Laura's wedding. By the time I was home every day at 3:00, I no longer cared.)

When I wrote that I didn't see any movies in early 1981, I meant that I didn't see any theatrically. But I did see a few in school. My English teacher was a bit of a movie buff. I can't remember his full name, but he went by the moniker of "Mr. Swi." In addition to discussing literature and enhancing our writing skills, he provided cinematic education of a sort. He would borrow a VCR and color TV (27" on a high stand) from the A/V room and show a film over the course of several classes. 25 students gathered around a TV does not make for the best viewing experience, but I always made sure I was near the front. I remember some of the titles: The Great Escape, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roots (the mini-series), and Patton. Yes, that's the first time I saw Patton. It didn't immediately race to the position of "favorite movie of all-time," but it left an impression - enough of an impression that I made sure to see it the next time it showed on TV (Memorial Day). Then, I was able to experience the story in one sitting rather than having to spread it over five days. I audio recorded the opening speech and, at one point, had the whole thing memorized. (My favorite part remains: "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." That has stuck with me all these years.)

Then came June, and it seemed like every movie being released was something I wanted to see.

In 1981, the last day of school was June 16, but that essentially meant the last meaningful day of school was June 12. That was also the day when two must-see films opened: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Clash of the Titans. I managed to see both: Clash on Saturday and Raiders on Sunday. Going into that weekend, I had been more excited about Clash. After all, to someone who overdosed on D & D, what could be more enticing than a chronicle of one of Greek mythology's greatest heroes? I found Clash to be somewhat lacking, however, but the same was not true of Raiders, which earned an instant spot in my personal Top 10 movies (somewhere between Close Encounters and King Kong).

On June 20, the first Saturday after school had ended, I allowed myself to get dragged to the Echelon Mall GCC five-plex to see The Cannonball Run. I wasn't interested but it gave an opportunity to double up with Superman II, which I wanted to see. Curiously, I hadn't seen the 1978 Superman yet, so the opening credits recap was useful. I would end up catching Superman when it debuted on ABC in the fall with the 2-part version that has become legendary among Superman fans far and wide.

For Your Eyes Only became the first Bond movie I saw theatrically when it opened the weekend of June 26. Of course, I was familiar with Connery and Moore (didn't know a thing about Lazenby at the time) from the 007 movies that showed fairly regularly on Sunday nights, but it was a great experience to see one on the big screen. The same weekend, The Great Muppet Caper opened. I saw that with my family the following weekend, just before the fourth of July.

By the time Independence Day arrived, I was all "movied out," having gone to an astounding six films in less than a month. I was sure at the time that was some kind of record. But July and August meant spending time and my grandparents' and a two week vacation at the shore, so by the time September arrived along with my entrance to high school and my 14th birthday, I hadn't seen anything since The Great Muppet Caper. The prurient side of me had entertained vague notions of how I might see Tarzan, the Ape Man (featuring a very naked Bo Derek), but I never pursued it. I certainly wasn't going to ask my father to take me. There was also a sexy thriller called Body Heat that a 17-year old acquaintance couldn't stop raving about, but going to that presented the same problem: getting around the R-rating. Looking back on it, I really should have learned the trick of sneaking into those movies. Enough of my friends did it. Too much of a square, I guess.

For the rest of the year, I only saw one more movie: Time Bandits, meaning that of the seven movies I saw in 1981, two featured John Cleese (the other being The Great Muppet Caper). Having become a Fawlty Towers devotee a year or two before, this was not unwelcome. My only disappointment about both movies was that he didn't have bigger roles. The Oscar winner from 1981 (award handed out in 1982), by the way, was Chariots of Fire, a film that I wouldn't have seen even if paid to sit through. I eventually watched it many years later and, while I thought it was an all-around good motion picture, it didn't in any way seem like something deserving of a Best Picture statue.

1981 closed as quietly as it opened. The storm occurred in between. The year had given us a new President, with the grandfatherly Ronald Reagan replacing the much-despised Jimmy Carter. I didn't pay a lot of attention to politics or current events, but I was glued to the TV set the day Reagan was shot. I remember Walter Cronkite, retired less than a month from the CBS news anchor chair, remarking how eerily similar the day was to November 22, 1963. I don't recall a lot about the economy, either, except that it was bad. Unemployment was high and interest rates were astronomical. I remember getting better than 5% on a passbook savings account and that was considered low. As bad as things are today, they seemed worse then, but maybe that's because I was looking through younger and less experienced eyes.

So the calendar changed and it was 1982, and that meant only one thing to me: a new Star Trek movie. Khan was on his way.

Supplemental reviews for this article: Body Heat, Clash of the Titans.