When I was a kid, my parents had very strict rules about what sort of movies I could watch. They were baptists...very sheltered, very suspicious of popular culture. So for the most part, I was not allowed to watch a lot of movies. Once or twice a year maybe, they'd take me to see something.
It was torture. I'd watch cartoons on television...see commercials for new movies...and I'd beg to see them. Commercials tend to be flashy, vibrant and like most kids I was susceptible to the hype; I'd go ape-shit watching TV ads. I'd spend whole days thinking about a movie I wanted to see...replaying the commercial in my mind, trying to guess what the story was about, trying to image what emotions I would feel as I watched it. I would develop such a huge sense of anticipation that I'd get really anxious about it. I'd yell, "I have to see that! Have to!" I'd lose sleep over it. But my parents rarely budged, they thought most films were immoral.
My parents had several methods for determining whether or not a film was appropriate for me to see. They always adhered to the ratings system, for example...I could see any rated G film. I could never see a film that was PG-13 or R. If a film was rated PG...it was iffy. It required investigation. My mom would investigate by talking to other parents at church. She'd ask, "Is there any violence? Sex? Filthy language?" An answer of yes to any of those would get the film blacklisted. I'd never see it. In cases where a film was possibly okay to see: my dad would investigate by watching the film before hand. He'd go to the movie alone, watch it himself (mom never went to movies, they weren't her thing)...if it was "clean", inoffensive, he'd report back to mom, tell her it made the cut. Then and only then would he take me to see it.
I remember, one day, I was watching cartoons. I was lying on the floor, on my back, staring vacantly at the television; watching some rerun I'd seen a million times before. And then a commercial came on for a new movie called Ghostbusters. I flipped out. It looked unbelievably awesome. I ran around in circles, screaming my lungs out. I begged to see it. I yelled, "Take me! Aaahh!" Mom said that when the movie came out, she'd ask around...but when she did, she was told that it contained curse words, sex jokes, violence. In other words, it hit the filth trifecta. They wouldn't let me see it. I reached deep into my kid toolbox over that one...I tried whining, begging, the silent treatment...I tried anger, sadness, feigned indifference. Nothing worked. I tried reasoning with them. I'd say, "Mom, it has a giant, walking marshmallow! Obviously I have to see that!" But no. They wouldn't allow it. Every day, seemingly for months, that commercial came on...and it was torture. I'd see that giant marshmallow guy walking around and I'd feel miserable.
The only time I remember my parents being flexible was when Back to the Future came out. Same deal: I saw a commercial for it...flipped; ran around in circles, screaming. Mom asked around...it was ok, but had "filthy language". So she said no. Into the kid tool box I dug: whining, begging, silence, anger, etc. Finally, dad caved a little...he said he would go watch it himself and report back. He went...and you could tell he really liked the movie. He seemed pretty excited about it. He wanted me to see it, but the language was definitely an issue. He and my mom spent weeks hashing that one out...they talked and debated and considered. They prayed about it. Finally, they called a family meeting. Dad explained that he would take me...but he gave me this big lecture about the dangers of filthy language. Bad words could vitiate a mind...turn one's thoughts away from god. I just nodded a lot and thought about time travel and cars with fire-shooting tires; I got anxious with anticipation. A few days later, he took me to see it. I thought it was great. I remember the main character said "shit" more than once; every time it happened, I cringed and glanced at my dad, making sure he wasn't about to change his mind, drag me out of the theater. We stayed through it. I was happy.
My parents were pretty broke, so we were late getting a VCR. We got one years after everyone else did. Very little changed when we finally bought one: the same restrictions applied. Mostly my mom would go to the local video store and rent old-school disney movies or TV detritus from the 70's and early 80's. Her choices ranged from okay to excruciating.
The one perfect rental set a high water mark that we never again matched...it also happened to be the first VHS tape we ever rented: Star Wars. We'd all seen it a million times at the theater, but we couldn't believe we were watching it in our own home; an actual movie movie...without commercials! Holy shit! It really blew us away, we were feeling pretty modern that night. Then, a few weeks later, mom rented The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again...with Don Knotts and Tim Conway...and the VCR suddenly felt mundane, normal. It would never again feel the way it felt the first time we watched Star Wars.
Still, I was just happy to have more movies around, even if my mom kept things as vanilla as possible. She picked out The Absent Minded Professor...I was okay with that one. The Shaggy D.A.: torture. There was one about Don Knotts turning into a cartoon fish...I think the fish wore glasses; that one just confused me.
Mom also rented a lot of Sid and Marty Kroftt material...that stuff messed with my brain. It all had a weird emotional texture that didn't sit right with me. I'd watch Sigmund and the Sea Monsters...and turn it off after five minutes, it put weird feelings in my head (look at the image...garish!). I took one look at the cover of an H.R. Puffinstuff video and refused to watch it. Which irritated mom...she'd spent a few dollars on the rental. She was never happy when I rejected something. (Only later, in college...when friends smoked pot and watched H.R. Puffinstuff...did I realize that kids may not have been the target audience for that show).
She rented this collection of episodes from a show called The Great Space Coaster...for some reason, I loved that one. I made her rent that one over and over. I can't recall now what it was about...I remember it was set in space...there was a weird, obese, lumpy guy that spun in circles and did magic...I remember one character was a speed reader...that's all he did, it was his only schtick, he read books really fast; there was a puppet version of a gnu that sat behind a desk and did news reports; that's all I remember.
Trips to the theater were rare...VHS rentals were hit and miss...but my primary source for movies was the local library... every Saturday, the local library showed kid films for one dollar. I went to these once or twice a month for a few years. You'd go into this side room, where the blinds were closed...a medium-sized TV was set up, with a VCR. Fifteen, twenty kids would sit on the floor, next to a parent. The library mostly showed Godzilla movies. I liked those, I thought they were pretty funny. Like everyone else, I'd patiently tolerate the talking parts...I just wanted to see Godzilla kick buildings over, and I really liked it when he fought other monsters. They'd punch and fly around and spit lasers. That was fun to see. Less often, the library would show dog movies...like Benji and Lassie and shit; I hated those. I'd feel pretty bummed out anytime we went and a librarian announced that we'd be watching 'Lassie Save the Fair!' or whatever. I'd grumble and lay on my back and wait it out.
In the summer of 1989, Batman came out. It was rated PG-13...I was 12. I ran around like my hair was on fire, begging to see that one. The commercials looked amazing. Every human on the planet was wearing batman shirts, batman hats...constant reminders that it was obviously going to be the coolest movie ever made. But I was 12. It didn't matter that I was a few months away from 13...I was 12. There was zero wiggle room: my parents refused to let me see it. The movie came out...people went crazy, it made a bajillion dollars. I asked everyone, "Was it good?!" Everyone said, "It was AWESOME!" So I screamed and ran around like the world was ending, but to no avail. It's rating placed it in the forbidden zone. I did not see Batman until many years later, when I was in my early 20's. I was in a grocery store...I saw a used copy of it for sale for just a few dollars. I hadn't thought about it in years; I was curious. I took it home, watched it; absent the charged atmosphere and insane levels of hype, it seemed pretty ridiculous...Batman was just a dude in a costume...The Joker was hammy and over-the-top...the music was outdated; I think, at one point, The Joker dances around to a song by Prince. Still, my 12-year old self would have loved it...that younger version of me would have gone crazy for the explosions and the sounds and the feel of it all.
I think about it sometimes, all of those elusive dreams I chased around when I was a kid, all of that visual incense...I'd get so curious...