It would be difficult to determine the first movie I ever watched. Like many others, I grew up with a television as my secondary babysitter. Inundated with visual stimuli as a children, we sometimes take for granted what we see on a screen and possibly even confuse or intertwine what we have seen with own separate realities. Growing up on movies not only influenced the development of my inner dialogue, it made me the man I am today.
Our house had HBO... Not because we could afford it, but because my parents convinced the cable guy to give them the premium channel package in exchange for a few tokes of what they had been smoking. I was lead to believe this was a common practice in the early 1980's, and it wasn't until my early adolescence that I realized my parents were flaming potheads, and not everyone else condoned this behavior.
The content delivered through these channels widened the edges of my eyes and caused my jaw to slowly gape with each new and exciting experience. There were titties and bush, guts and gore, explosions, implosions and so much more (I also fell in love with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein). After a steady diet of Revenge of the Nerds, Nightmare on Elm St., the Police Academy movies and a barrage of skin flicks, I happened across a little movie called The Shining.
It was late one night (or early one morning), and my folks were asleep. I had not seen a preview, nor had I even heard of the film prior to seeing the "up next" bumper. I wrapped myself in a blanket to protect my feet from the cold leather love seat and began to stare at the screen. I was about 8 or 9 years old when the movie began.
The opening shot of the Volkswagen winding through the mountain roads made me feel as if I were floating. My feet tingled a bit. I can still remember the eerie synthesizer compositions, which I later compared to those used in the score of Apocalypse Now. I can recall thinking that the interview scene was boring and it almost lost my attention (remember I was young), but then there was this kid on a tricycle.
No need to recap or give a review of the film, but what I witnessed in the next few hours had such a profound effect on my perspective and self awareness that I felt physically changed after the viewing. Nothing that I had watched or experienced before this had EVER done this. It was a roller coaster ride for the mind and I was in love.
At this time I still did not know who Stanley Kubrick was. For all I know, back then I probably thought Jack Nicholson directed the movie. I never paid attention to it and had no real knowledge of how movies were made. Fast forward through a decade or so of yanking it to paper magazines with fold out pictorials, and I found myself with a thirst for quality entertainment. It was around this time that I began to take notice of the directors for the films that moved me. Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, Burton, Scott, among others and in no particular order... but I still did not know Kubrick (granted, this was before Google and IMDB).
By my Freshman year of college I had seen some the cliche and unforgettable moments of Full Metal Jacket, but never sat down to watch the whole thing. I picked it up on VHS at my local Blockbuster for less than $10 and headed to my apartment to watch it by myself. When the movie was over I was left with an old familiar sting. I couldn't quite place it, but it felt like freshly baked chocolate chip cookie smelled. Mmm... I wanted more. I went back to the movie store and asked the clerk about this Stanley Kubrick guy and asked if he had any other flicks. The clerk's chuckle made me feel like there was a cool kids club and I was not a part of it.
He handed me A Clockwork Orange and said, "good luck."
I felt like a kid again. Naive, eager and just a little bit dumb. I had unintentionally usurped a breadth of technical and historical information about this guy and I had no idea who he was. My eyes sucked the marrow from the bones of his work and I wanted more. I watched it all a hundred times. Without any research or reading a word about the man who made these films, I felt connected to him (and humanity) in a way that I have never felt before and probably will not experience again.
The Kubrick Effect, to me, is a standard of measurement. Art is subjective and should not be rated, cataloged, or confined. However, I have found comparison to be a healthy exercise for the soul. When I view a new film I have no expectations. I try not to watch trailers, but that is at times unavoidable. After viewing and a brief digestion period, I hold the dynamics of the project up to cliffnotes of a Kubrick production.
If the story blossoms instead of being force fed and sloppily spewed out, it might hold water. If the dialogue is captivating enough to make you want to hear what is said next, even better. If the cinematography moves you in and out of the story, all the while maintaining a fluid and comprehensive representation of the director's intention, you're cooking with gas. And most importantly, if you, the viewer are left with overwhelming emotion and contemplation of the underlying themes present in the film, then it is evident the director and production crew have the gumption it takes to make great art.
Cut to nearly two decades later, this generation X'er is about halfway through life and likely a bit out of touch with generation Y and Z. The exciting thing is each of the little hatchlings that stumble upon the work of this great giant with get to experience these worlds over and over again. I would equate it to a budding musician finding Floyd, Zeppelin or Zappa for the first time after listening to Mozart, Back and Beethoven... It is all great music, but some of it is louder.