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Movies & My Life

I don't remember the first time I saw A Christmas Story. I must have been about seven, a second-grade student at St. Tim's. Thinking back to those days, I remember watching the movie constantly: after school and on Saturday mornings when I had the good TV all to myself. My parents will vouch for the fact that I drove them crazy watching that movie. When I compare it to other movies I've loved, I notice a pattern. Movies transport me into another world, if only for 90 minutes at a time.

I know I didn't have earth-shattering problems when I was seven. But to me, the little things I got mad at were huge. Why did I have to be inside for dinner at 5 p.m., when all my friends didn't have to be in until 6? Why did my mom always say things like "We'll see," whenever I asked for something? And why could my parents use words they didn't like me using? Ralphie, the star of A Christmas Story, imagined the world as if he were in charge. He knew how unfair parents could be. The movie took me to a world where kids ruled, where imaginations ran wild and, on some level, the kids were right.

His parents, teachers and even Santa Claus told him "You'll shoot your eye out!" when he asked for a Red Rider BB air rifle, but he didn't stop scheming. He saw himself in a dazzling white and blue cowboy suit, rescuing the family from dangerous robbers. "That would show them!" he thought.

Ralphie just knew he could show his parents he was right if they gave him a chance. But they wouldn't give him that chance. I knew that Ralphie would have understood my feelings. He would have understood that I just needed another Cabbage Patch Kid, even though my parents thought two Kids were enough. Ralphie would have understood that I didn't want to clean my room cause it would only get dirty again. My parents just didn't get that.

After a while, I got sick of A Christmas Story. My parents actually regained some sanity before I discovered musicals and Grease became my new favorite movie. I didn't realize when I was nine that it painted a completely ridiculous portrait of what high school would be like. I just liked the story. Grease took me to a world where teenagers ruled and I thought maybe I could be "cool" in high school, the way the Pink Ladies were at Rydell High.

I loved the songs and the cheesy dance routines. To this day I can't listen to the Grease Megamix without doing the arm movements that Danny, Kenickie and the others do while singing "Greased Lightning, go Greased Lightning!" I can't listen to "Summer Nights" without doing the final arm movement that Danny does while standing at the top of the bleachers ("Those su-um-mer ni-iiiights!"). These dance routines play in my head whenever I even think of these songs.

When I watched Grease, my most serious concerns were the characters. I got mad at Danny while I watched him being mean to Sandy. I worried about Rizzo when she thought she was pregnant. I didn't have to think about the long hour of homework I was supposed to do every night. I didn't have to worry about all the crucial issues of being nine, like how un-cool I would look if I followed my Catholic school's nit-picky rules and pulled my socks up to my knees.

And even though I worried about the characters, I knew everything would work out okay in about an hour-and-a-half. I knew Danny and Sandy would walk through the funhouse, singing "You're the One That I Want." I knew Rizzo would jump off the Ferris wheel with good news for Kenicke. The stories of Danny, Sandy, Rizzo, Kenicke and everyone else at Rydell High took me to a world far away from the trials and tribulations of fourth grade and Mrs. Blinebury's English projects.

I later realized that Grease was really the beginning of me getting sucked into about a zillion movies with romance as a major theme.

During the summer of 1991, my friends and I were riding high, just graduated from eighth grade and ready to tackle high school. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was playing in theaters, and the story of Robin and Marian got me hooked. Some of my friends got a few giggles quoting Will Scarlet's line, "Fuck me, he cleared it!" But I liked the gallantry and chivalry of Medieval England.

We were just starting to figure out the whole ritual of dating, and I didn't feel the need to get married anytime soon. I still don't feel that need. But I wanted to believe that someday Mr. Perfect would come and sweep me off my feet. I wanted to be Maid Marian, saved by Robin Hood from the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. I didn't want to be a captive, I just wanted to be rescued. I liked the dream of that fairy tale.

I think I got the video Robin Hood the day it came out. I know I watched it right away. Probably twice. My parents must have been having flashbacks to A Christmas Story. But once the initial novelty wore off, they were safe for a couple of years.

Sometime during junior year of high school, I saw Aladdin for the first time. It was the same basic idea of Robin Hood, but with a more mystical, Middle Eastern atmosphere. I don't mean that the plots are the same, but both movies tug at the romantic heartstrings. They both make a girl say, "I want that to happen to ME!"

While the story was another cute little romance, the movie also represented a regression. I had thought cartoons were for kids. Aladdin wasn't like Beavis and Butthead, a cartoon clearly written for adults. Aladdin was just a cute cartoon with nothing offensive for young audiences. But I watched the animated movie many times, and I let myself move back into my childhood. For me, this movie was an escape from the pressures of Sister Carol's chemistry class, SATs and the start of the Great College Search.

Aladdin easily transported me to a world of mystique, a world filled with princes, princesses, sultans, sorcerers and genies. It was easy to lose myself in the city of Agrabah, filled with its identifiably Middle Eastern buildings. Agrabah truly represented "A Whole New World." Like every other little girl, I enjoyed the dream that I could grow up to be like Princess Jasmine--someday it would happen to me.

But Aladdin is not a good movie when you're getting over a relationship. After a bad breakup at the end of junior year, I was ready for a movie with some action. I wanted explosions, shootings, random violence. I didn't want to see how cute Aladdin and Jasmine were together. I didn't want to think about Jasmine's fairy tale. However, I couldn't get totally away from love stories. I found explosions, violence and romance all in one movie: The Crow.

Literally, The Crow is a darker movie. It rains throughout most of the movie and is overcast the rest. It is also a darker kind of romance, a story of love transcending death. We see how strong Eric and Shelly's love is, even after death, when they re-unite at the end of the movie. Even though it had that romance that I couldn't get away from, the movie took me to a surreal world. It was an escape to a world more hellish than my own when I thought that my life sucked.

In The Crow, the city of Detroit is crippled by organized crime. Eric Draven returns from the dead to enact revenge on the gang who killed him and his fiancee, Shelly Webster, a year before. It is this gang which controls Detroit with evil power. Eric methodically finds each member of the gang and kills them the way he and Shelly had been killed. While I know there is plenty of organized crime in Philadelphia, my hometown, the extent of influence this group exerted over the city was incomprehensible to me. This movie made me think, "Some people have it a lot worse than I do. I'm glad I'm not in that world!" I realized when I watched it that there are people who have real problems beyond ex-boyfriends and the pressure of trying to get my driver's license. My life didn't seem so bad after all.

By my first semester here at Syracuse, I was well over my bitter anti-romance phase. Over a year after the bad breakup, I found a new cute romantic movie to drive people crazy with. Over Thanksgiving break, I got the video of While You Were Sleeping. I had seen the movie in the theater and I was really excited to get the tape. I watched the tape every day I was home. I think my parents were okay with that because they knew I was headed back to school. Then I could drive my roommate, Becky, insane. I watched it every day for a week when I got back to school.

This movie was my return to good old romantic comedy. However, it gave me a slightly different message than my other favorite romances. In this movie, a woman named Lucy saves the life of the man, Peter, whom she's been admiring from afar. She is then "adopted" into his family because they think she is his fiancee. It gets really complicated when Lucy falls for Peter's brother, Jack. Eventually everything works out and Lucy marries Jack, and they live happily ever after.

Lucy never expected that working an extra holiday would lead her to the man of her dreams. She just wanted to get through another lonely day. This movie tells a different story than my other favorites. It says, "The fairy tale will happen to you, but when you least expect it." Maybe some guy in my Psychology class will turn out to be that special someone. Or maybe some guy I always see around the neighborhood at home. While You Were Sleeping told me that I will find Mr. Perfect in good time. I just had to stop spending time looking at Mr. Ideal-Looking.

We see Lucy transform from a lonely, sad woman into a loved member of a close-knit family. We can see a real change in her appearance. In a scene near the beginning of the movie, Lucy has her hair tucked under a scruffy gray knitted cap and she's wearing a ratty pair of gloves with no fingertips. Near the end, when Jack goes to propose to Lucy, she wears her hair pulled back loosely and naturally and her hands look freshly manicured. She exudes happiness and confidence.

After watching While You Were Sleeping for something like 13 days straight, I was ready to take a break from movie addiction. By the second semester of freshman year, I regressed into my childhood again. I needed some relief from the pressures of college. I was worrying about things I didn't need to care about at home: when would I have time to do my laundry? how would I pay for the phone bill and little things like dish detergent? Watching Muppet Treasure Island got me laughing at some really corny jokes and bad puns. The movie's sense of humor, warped as it was, rekindled my interest in the original, The Muppet Movie.

The Muppet Movie isn't really a romance, but a story of true friendship. The Muppets become a family. The world of the Muppets is a world where all kinds of people and creatures get along. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great (a "whatever") and all the others represent a harmonious society. The Muppet Movie also has the catchy music I liked in Grease. Songs like "The Rainbow Connection" and "Movin' Right Along" never fail to bring a smile to my face.

There is one scene near the end of the movie in which all of the Muppets crowd into a movie producer's office to get their shot at stardom. Because they stick together, and because the secretary is allergic to animal fur, the secretary sends them in. They get their chance to make their movie through their unity.

I have learned that we all need to form these networks. I would not have made it past my homesickness freshman year without the "family" we developed on our floor in Flint Hall. A group of us on my floor bonded together and helped each other through different problems we all had. Janelle was always a good listener, someone who understood why I was homesick for Philly. Stacey always had a good sarcastic remark to make me laugh, sometimes at myself, and I understood her sense of humor. Kerri could always help me with philosophy homework. Shana and Arty could always be counted on to find a party, and I almost never had to be convinced to keep them company. I helped however I could, bringing back candy or pizza to share after a concession shift at the Dome. I felt that we had bonded so tightly that I even felt "school-sick" after I went home for the summer.

Movies have always been a way for me to escape into another world. Sometimes I dream of worlds that seem better than where I am, but sometimes a trip to a more hellish one makes my life seem great. Some movies use romance, some use friendship. All of these movies have spoken to needs I've had at different points in my life. A Christmas Story gave me hope that someday my parents would see my side of things. Grease painted my first picture of high school and the kinds of relationships I might find there. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Aladdin, and While You Were Sleeping let me dream about the fairy tale of one true love. The Crow made me realize that my life was pretty good even when it seemed bad. The Muppet Movie helped me see the true value of the group of friends I had made here at school. Each of these movies gave me an escape from whatever pressures I was facing at a certain time, including parents, boyfriends, schoolwork and independence. Movies have given me a valuable pressure release, one which I'm sure I will continue to use as pressures begin to come from new directions, including career, marriage and family.

10/22/97

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