Through the years we’ve read and heard of some awful, tragic events that happened because someone was inspired to do something they saw in a movie. We’re all mimics at heart in one way or another, and although we see behaviors from movies imitated mostly by kids, none of us are immune. (We might not do it, but who hasn’t thought about yelling “You can’t handle the truth!” or another famous movie line at someone?) The instances from my own experience have thankfully not been tragic, but were at times just plain dumb. In some cases, I was able to observe these lapses in common sense from a somewhat safe distance.
Case in point: my friend Ben. Ben and I were beyond kids at the time, band directors (yes, young men in their 20s put in charge of a room – or a football field – full of young people with instruments in their hands) onboard a plane about to take off for a band convention in Chicago. It was Ben’s very first flight and he was excited. He was also a fan of the move Airplane! (1980)…
Everyone on the flight was talking as passengers always do, waiting for the flight crew to make their final adjustments. Ben and I were talking and his level of excitement at his first flight was reaching biblical proportions. Now when he started saying this next sentence, the whole plane was talking: “Okay, everybody…” but one microsecond before he finished the sentence, all was utterly silent so that everyone could hear:
“Assume crash positions!”
Ben was the only person on the plane smiling and that didn’t last long. The stares were as bad as if he’d said “I hate America” or “Screw all of your and your entire ancestries.” I guess Ben picked the wrong week to give up movie quotes in public places.
The first movie I actually remember imitating with any potential for danger or injury was Billy Jack (1971). I didn’t know anything about martial arts (most of my friends didn’t, either) so when we saw this dude in a blue-jean jacket and goofy black hat whacking the crud out of people, we took notice.
There was one scene that my friends and I quoted over and over. Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) is being intimidated by corrupt Sheriff Stuart Posner (Bert Freed). Posner confronts Billy Jack while the two men are surrounded by Posner’s men. Here’s the exchange:
Mr. Posner: You really think those Green Beret Karate tricks are gonna help you against all these boys?
Billy Jack: Well, it doesn’t look to me like I really have any choice now, does it?
Mr. Posner: [laughing] That’s right, you don’t.
Billy Jack: You know what I think I’m gonna do then? Just for the hell of it?
Mr. Posner: Tell me.
Billy Jack: I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face…[points to Posner’s right cheek]
Billy Jack: …and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.
Mr. Posner: Really?
Billy Jack: Really.
And then Billy Jack does just what he’d said, swinging his foot to smash into Posner’s right cheek, sending Posner to the ground.
When we got tired of just quoting the line, my friend Bill and I just had to try the kick. We took turns, but neither one of us could raise our legs high enough to hit the other’s upper body, much less their face. We whacked each other in the legs and hips until we figured out we couldn’t imitate the movie and looked like a couple of idiots, so we gave up.
Another movie that came out that same year was Evel Knievel about the famous motorcycle daredevil. My buddies and I all felt that this was motion picture artistry at the absolute highest level, and while we knew enough to know that we could never aspire to jumping a motorcycle over a whole line of cars at the Astrodome or at Caesar’s Palace, we could probably jump a bicycle over a mud puddle or a pile of cinder blocks.
We didn’t get very far. My friend Mark and I had bikes, but he lived in an apartment complex and they didn’t have a garage or access to large pieces of wood or anything else that could be used as a ramp. We weren’t sure what we could use, but scoured the complex for something, anything.
An older (and larger) kid – with whom we had not discussed our plans of bicycle daredevil greatness – suddenly emerged from a distant part of the complex, zooming forward on his bike proclaiming, “I’m Evel Knievel!” He didn’t have any kind of ramp, but barreled straight ahead, tried to pop a wheelie, and tossed himself straight into a large bush. Mark and I looked at each other and decided bicycle daredevil greatness was probably not in our futures, so we went inside his apartment and watched TV.
So, what movies did you imitate as a kid? I’d love to hear your stories.
Photos: Hung Up on Retro, Snarky Movie Reviews, New York Daily News