I get asked from time to time about my first movie memory. (You probably do as well.) You’d think that as much as I love, talk and write about movies that I’d have that answer ready to go on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t. The first movie I saw in the theater (which would’ve been the Town Theater in Forest, Mississippi, where I grew up) was probably a Disney animated film. The first image I remember is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). No, I wasn’t part of any 1937 audience (as some have actually asked me); I’m not that old. Films – especially Disney films – got rereleased all the time, so I’m guessing this would’ve been when I was four or so, around 1966.
However old I was, I probably wasn’t following the plot very closely, especially if this was my first movie experience. I was a kid, taking it all in, watching the Seven Dwarfs doing their thing, listening to the songs, just being carried along like a kid in this large, magic room filled with sound and color. It was a dark place, but it felt safe with bright colors, happy music, the beautiful Snow White, dwarfs, animals… I’m having a great time and everything’s going to be fine, just fine…
Until the nasties show up. To be honest, I have no memory of the witch from Snow White. I do remember the Evil Queen, but only slightly. What has stuck in my mind all these years is the Slave in the Magic Mirror.
Remember that I was probably four years old and when you’re that age, you have to look up at everything. The movie screen was impossibly high in the air and the Slave in the Magic Mirror seemed enormous, like it might just bend down and eat me right there in the seat, my mom sitting next to me, helpless to do anything about it. The vast darkness, the green mask of the slave, the smoke onscreen, all of it combined to make a four-year-old tremble in his seat. I’m sure a part of me also thought, “Hey, we’ve got mirrors at home… What if I see this in one of our mirrors???” I don’t know if I had any sleepless nights as a result of that scene, but I do remember it strongly.
The other moment I remember comes from Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). This was another rerelease and I was probably five or six years old at this point. When you’re a little kid, you don’t really know about what type or genre of movie you’re watching (at least I didn’t). You’re either watching an animated (“cartoon”) movie or a “real person” movie. I knew that Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was a “real person” movie, but beyond that, I didn’t know anything else about it. You have to remember that I went to every kind of movie when I was growing up and if someone (probably my brother, in this case) offered to take me, I’d go. My mother probably regretted my brother’s taking me to this one since it gave me nightmares for a long, long time, particularly due to one scene.
The scene in question involved a severed head which probably would’ve sent me into kid therapy if such a thing had existed back then. I’m sure I woke up in the middle of the night from having dreams of decapitated people and severed heads (maybe even inside magic mirrors?) chasing me. I don’t think my parents let me go to any movies for awhile after that, but thankfully my exile didn’t last for very long. Once I understood that there were different types of movies with different expectations, I was okay. If it was a horror movie, I knew that you were supposed to get scared. If it was a Western, people (hopefully the bad guys) were going to get shot. A romance, people were going to kiss a lot. A musical, people were going to sing and dance around. Once I knew the rules, I was okay. But of course, things aren’t always that easy, are they?
So… What’s your first movie memory? Please share.