Tell me a movie!

I was having lunch in Manhattan last week with my friend Kevin Maher, a writer-director-producer, comedian, and B-movie horror fan, who never misses a Blobfest and was in the envious position this year to be paid to go to Jawsfest. One of a thousand topics shoehorned into a fifty-minute man-date (same length as a therapy session and equally healing!) was the lost art of movie-telling… of one person patiently and thoughtfully relating the entire plot of a movie to another. If you’re over the age of 40, if you have had real life experience with rotary phones and VHS, there’s a good chance you remember a time in your life — maybe on a long car trip or riding bikes in the summer or while doing menial work on the job with a coworker– when somebody told you a movie. All the way through. From fade in to fade out.

My sister Lisa is seven years older than I am, so she was a full-on teenager when I was only ten. She knew how to drive, got married right out of high school, smoked like a chimney, and saw life at its most raw and unforgiving. Naturally, she got to see Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) in its first run and told me the whole story late one night over a secret, post-lights out game of gin rummy after the dissolution of that first, brief marriage. This classic modern American horror movie is readymade for the oral tradition – it’s the logical extension of “The Hook,” that great urban myth about the kids at lover’s lane whose coitus is interruptused by a hook-handed maniac. I just wish I had had the foresight to tape record this evening’s conversation, because taping people without their knowledge or permission was very much something I enjoyed doing as a kid. But I didn’t. So you’ll just have to accept my narrative that it was awesome, because it really was. I finally got to see THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE when it was re-released in 1980 and I could appreciate how good a job Lisa did of summarizing it that night many years before.

I’m trying to remember who told me the whole plot of John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON FROM PRECINCT 13 (1976). It might have been my classmate Michael Beldowski but I definitely remember where he told me… in a stairwell of Killingly High School, circa 1977 or 1978. It was the perfect setting to tell me the story of this film, set as it is in a decaying municipal structure; KHS wasn’t a decaying municipal structure but it was all cinderblock and steel, which helped communicate the tone, the texture of this 70s era adventure classic. The movie sounded soooo awesome, I remember wanting to bite myself in disappointment that I had missed it in its brief theatrical run. Mike probably had to go to Providence to see it, or at least Norwich, because ASSAULT sure as shooting didn’t play in Danielson, Connecticut, a dinky little mill town off the Quinnebaug River, chockablock with French Canadians and a scattering of Polacks like me. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, it’ll be hard to communicate the echoey, vacuumous feeling of having missed a good movie because you had no guarantee you’d ever see the thing. Late night TV broadcasts were a crap shoot and VHS was still many years off into the future. When you found out you’d missed something special like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, you just had to suck it up, or lace it up, like John Wayne and his busted ankle in THE LONGEST DAY (1962), and live with your pain. I can’t remember when I finally did see the movie… but it was easily, easily 15 if not 20  years later. Happily, it lived up to Mike Beldowski’s impassioned synopsis. In fact, I can’t remember a movie that disappointed after having first been ballparked to me and I think that has everything to do with the long-form synopsis style of the oral tradition. We’re all too busy and focused elsewhere to tell movies in this Spoiler Alert world of ours, so we give one another stingy superlatives, which never fail to distort and direct the hopeful viewer to disappointment.

The first movie that was ever told to me was CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965), directed by Andrew Marton and starring Dana Andrews as a scientist whose over-reaching has led to a potential global rift and lava surplus. The setting: the garage of my family’s ranch-style house, circa 1972-1974. The teller: my next door neighbor and best childhood friend Danny Schies. He articulated the inciting event, the second act complication, and the third act Götterdämmerung so fleetly, so conversationally, and with such economy (and in so doing, eliminating the romantic subplot entirely) that I could have sworn he had been there, not in the cinema, but where the crack was coursing its way through the earth. I was so enraptured, so enthralled, and so abjectly jealous of Danny’s possession of this narrative, this knowledge, this privilege, that I then told a whopper of a lie by way of thanks. I bragged that I had seen a movie even better than CRACK IN THE WORLD, more disastrous, more cool, and with more deaths and the name of that movie was… (imagine the cogs of my 11 year-old brain turning in the muggy August heat) THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD! I proceeded to tell Danny a movie that existed only in my envious brain, of a scientific experiment that caused the four corners (yeah, I know, the world is round, bla bla bla) of the planet to break off from the core and float out into space. I put a lot of conviction into my narrative, bogus as it was, and now forty years down the pike I have no idea if Danny believed me. He probably did. Childhood isn’t about calling bullshit on your friends (those crosshairs are leveled at adults) but about the nurturing of the vivid at the expense of the actual. I made my description compelling and over the top. And who wouldn’t want to see a movie called THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH?

Telling movies is an idea whose time has come… and gone. In order for the pastime to be attractive, two people need just that — time, and nothing better to do. Born out of boredom, movie-telling was the social equivalent of stone soup, making something out of nothing, filling an empty space with thoughts and words. Nobody has unstructured, unclaimed time anymore and as a culture we have never been less attentive, less in the moment, less willing to just let something happen. The insinuation into our daily lives of computer technology, the advent of cell phones and tablets that allow us to be in touch with one another no matter where we are or where they are, and the escalation of social networking sites from mere bulletin boards to templates that change the shape of our collective downtime have all done their part to kill the potential for spontaneity between people. We are all either welded to our computers at home and on the job or gathered in groups for social functions during which break away to text someone else, somewhere else, always fishing for something better. And that’s too bad. As Kevin opined during our lunch last week, people are more apt now to post a link to a trailer on their Facebook page, offer a few clipped comments, and that’s it. More efficient, perhaps; time-saving, to be sure… but where’s the alchemical kick of weaving a tapestry of words over the head of another, whose attention is fixed for a given block of time on images conjured out of thin air?

I swiped the image above, of Nick and Nora texting, from the website The Scarlet Olive. I don’t know if this coy bit of Photoshop chicanery is original to this particular website but I am nonetheless grateful to the proprietress for leading me to it. LYLAS!

0 Response Tell me a movie!
Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2012 1:03 pm

Laura actually prefers me to tell her the story of a movie over seeing it herself much of the time. Especially with a modern film she knows she won’t bother with (for those who don’t know, my wife watches older Hollywood and foreign films almost exclusively). She’s “seen” quite a few movies made in the last ten years, courtesy of me.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2012 1:03 pm

Laura actually prefers me to tell her the story of a movie over seeing it herself much of the time. Especially with a modern film she knows she won’t bother with (for those who don’t know, my wife watches older Hollywood and foreign films almost exclusively). She’s “seen” quite a few movies made in the last ten years, courtesy of me.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 17, 2012 1:04 pm

Ah… the so-called Ferrara Treatment.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 17, 2012 1:04 pm

Ah… the so-called Ferrara Treatment.

Posted By Wednesday’s Child : August 17, 2012 1:13 pm

There was a girl in my elementary school who was the only person I knew who was allowed to see R movies. I can vividly remember her telling me the plot of Porky’s; Pee Wee, in her version, was desperate to get “laid out.”

Posted By Wednesday’s Child : August 17, 2012 1:13 pm

There was a girl in my elementary school who was the only person I knew who was allowed to see R movies. I can vividly remember her telling me the plot of Porky’s; Pee Wee, in her version, was desperate to get “laid out.”

Posted By Susan Doll : August 17, 2012 2:35 pm

I have done this many times with friends in the past. There are still a couple I can do it with, including tv shows as well as movies, but you are right that this is becoming a lost pastime. Also, people seem overly concerned with “spoilers” now, as though there is nothing to the movie experiences except plot details, that many don’t want you to tell them anything.

Posted By Susan Doll : August 17, 2012 2:35 pm

I have done this many times with friends in the past. There are still a couple I can do it with, including tv shows as well as movies, but you are right that this is becoming a lost pastime. Also, people seem overly concerned with “spoilers” now, as though there is nothing to the movie experiences except plot details, that many don’t want you to tell them anything.

Posted By Danny : August 17, 2012 5:48 pm

I actually did this the other day with The Watch for my friends. Because no one would believe what actually happens in that complete load, and no one else would go see it (as well they shouldn’t).

Posted By Danny : August 17, 2012 5:48 pm

I actually did this the other day with The Watch for my friends. Because no one would believe what actually happens in that complete load, and no one else would go see it (as well they shouldn’t).

Posted By Pearce : August 17, 2012 5:50 pm

I have a friend who frequently tells entire movies, but without consciously realising it forgets large portions and fills them in with his imagination. I’ve been disappointed to find that a number of movies have turned out to be far less sinister, crazy and entertaining than Chris’s telling of them.

Posted By Pearce : August 17, 2012 5:50 pm

I have a friend who frequently tells entire movies, but without consciously realising it forgets large portions and fills them in with his imagination. I’ve been disappointed to find that a number of movies have turned out to be far less sinister, crazy and entertaining than Chris’s telling of them.

Posted By Laurie : August 17, 2012 8:37 pm

When I was a kid during the first half of the 1990′s, we did this with TV shows. I remember sitting with a group of friends at recess recounting the latest episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nine times out of ten the story was scarier in my head than the actual show.

Posted By Laurie : August 17, 2012 8:37 pm

When I was a kid during the first half of the 1990′s, we did this with TV shows. I remember sitting with a group of friends at recess recounting the latest episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nine times out of ten the story was scarier in my head than the actual show.

Posted By Emgee : August 18, 2012 5:56 am

Think of all the time you can save….”The Expendables. Yeah, seen it. Well, somebody told me it’s a bunch of old action heroes battling it out. That’ll do for me.”
I’d save the summarizing for redundant movies; the good ones i would tell as little about as possible, mainly “Go see for yourself”.

Posted By Emgee : August 18, 2012 5:56 am

Think of all the time you can save….”The Expendables. Yeah, seen it. Well, somebody told me it’s a bunch of old action heroes battling it out. That’ll do for me.”
I’d save the summarizing for redundant movies; the good ones i would tell as little about as possible, mainly “Go see for yourself”.

Posted By robbushblog : August 18, 2012 12:54 pm

The one time I can remember being told the story of a movie was when I was 8 years old in the summer of ’83. We had gone to visit my grandmother in Forest City, NC before moving to Jacksonville, Florida. Because we were dealing with a pending move, my parents had not yet taken us to see Return of the Jedi. A friend of mine had already seen it, but didn’t give much plot detail as he was an 8 year old boy and just wanted to play like we were having a lightsabre duel. I was Luke, natch.

So Return of the Jedi had been out for a week or so before we went to Memaw’s house, and the first Saturday we were there some of our cousins came over to visit. They were like 4th cousins, twice removed or something like that. Well, that’s important because we were not that closely related and I had a huge crush on my cousin Stephanie. She was a tall, thin brunette who was a drum majorette or something like that, on her way to being a freshman in college. She was beautiful. She told me she had seen the movie and I asked her to tell me about it. So she did. I sat enthralled as the beautiful, brunet Stephanie expressively, and with great detail and humor, went through the whole movie, leaving nothing out, including the estimation with her arms and puckered mouth of the size of Jabba the Hut and the screechy, high-pitched laugh of his hanger-on, Salacious Crumb. It was a great time that I will never forget.

Posted By robbushblog : August 18, 2012 12:54 pm

The one time I can remember being told the story of a movie was when I was 8 years old in the summer of ’83. We had gone to visit my grandmother in Forest City, NC before moving to Jacksonville, Florida. Because we were dealing with a pending move, my parents had not yet taken us to see Return of the Jedi. A friend of mine had already seen it, but didn’t give much plot detail as he was an 8 year old boy and just wanted to play like we were having a lightsabre duel. I was Luke, natch.

So Return of the Jedi had been out for a week or so before we went to Memaw’s house, and the first Saturday we were there some of our cousins came over to visit. They were like 4th cousins, twice removed or something like that. Well, that’s important because we were not that closely related and I had a huge crush on my cousin Stephanie. She was a tall, thin brunette who was a drum majorette or something like that, on her way to being a freshman in college. She was beautiful. She told me she had seen the movie and I asked her to tell me about it. So she did. I sat enthralled as the beautiful, brunet Stephanie expressively, and with great detail and humor, went through the whole movie, leaving nothing out, including the estimation with her arms and puckered mouth of the size of Jabba the Hut and the screechy, high-pitched laugh of his hanger-on, Salacious Crumb. It was a great time that I will never forget.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : August 18, 2012 1:45 pm

By coincidence, I’m now working on an sf short story about a kid in the 50s who regales his friends with the stories of movies that haven’t been filmed yet.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : August 18, 2012 1:45 pm

By coincidence, I’m now working on an sf short story about a kid in the 50s who regales his friends with the stories of movies that haven’t been filmed yet.

Posted By robbushblog : August 18, 2012 2:02 pm

JMR- I wanna read it.

Posted By robbushblog : August 18, 2012 2:02 pm

JMR- I wanna read it.

Posted By missrhea : August 18, 2012 6:25 pm

This article reminded me of something that happened earlier this year. We had an evangelist (Scott) at our church for part of a week and my husband (the pastor) and I took the Scott and his family out for several meals. During lunch at the Mexican restaurant the Scott’s eight year old son was determined to tell us the story of “War Horse”, the dvd they had watched the night before. Scott had all he could do to get him to stop so that we could watch it for ourselves (we still haven’t). He couldn’t prevent him from saying it was “real sad at the end”.

On the other hand, I get to do this quite often with my best friend since she almost never goes to movies and she will actually ask if we’ve seen certain films.

Posted By missrhea : August 18, 2012 6:25 pm

This article reminded me of something that happened earlier this year. We had an evangelist (Scott) at our church for part of a week and my husband (the pastor) and I took the Scott and his family out for several meals. During lunch at the Mexican restaurant the Scott’s eight year old son was determined to tell us the story of “War Horse”, the dvd they had watched the night before. Scott had all he could do to get him to stop so that we could watch it for ourselves (we still haven’t). He couldn’t prevent him from saying it was “real sad at the end”.

On the other hand, I get to do this quite often with my best friend since she almost never goes to movies and she will actually ask if we’ve seen certain films.

Posted By Jenni : August 19, 2012 7:09 pm

My late father-in-law was an avid movie buff. He would relay to me partial plots of classic films if I hadn’t seen them yet, but he never gave away the whole plot, just raising my curiousity level to see the films for myself. He was also very vocal in his opinions about the films particular actors and/or actresses, and liked to regale me with a pivotal line or action from said actors and/or actresses. Due to his stints in community theatre, he often quoted lines to his wife and kids. One he was always using was,”You watch your phraseology!”, from Mayor Shin in The Music Man. We miss him a ton, but have many great memories of his love for stage plays and movies.

Posted By Jenni : August 19, 2012 7:09 pm

My late father-in-law was an avid movie buff. He would relay to me partial plots of classic films if I hadn’t seen them yet, but he never gave away the whole plot, just raising my curiousity level to see the films for myself. He was also very vocal in his opinions about the films particular actors and/or actresses, and liked to regale me with a pivotal line or action from said actors and/or actresses. Due to his stints in community theatre, he often quoted lines to his wife and kids. One he was always using was,”You watch your phraseology!”, from Mayor Shin in The Music Man. We miss him a ton, but have many great memories of his love for stage plays and movies.

Posted By Heidi : August 20, 2012 12:21 pm

Greg, I wish you would talk to my husband. I get dragged into movies sometimes that I don’t care to see, just to go with him. I would prefer it be told to me So I don’t have to suffer through it at the theater. On the other hand, I remember doing this at school. Sitting on the merry go round if it was a buch of us, or on the swingset if it was just a couple of us. Regailing the others with Very Descriptive movie details. Oh the fun of it all. I was lucky, my dad collected a bunch of Beta movies (yes, we had beta, not vhs, and an Intellevision not an Atari) that no one had seen before like the Prisoner of Zenda or some such. I remember regailing my friends with that one, and then watching it again years and years later, thinking that this must be a different movie! Any way, good times.

Posted By Heidi : August 20, 2012 12:21 pm

Greg, I wish you would talk to my husband. I get dragged into movies sometimes that I don’t care to see, just to go with him. I would prefer it be told to me So I don’t have to suffer through it at the theater. On the other hand, I remember doing this at school. Sitting on the merry go round if it was a buch of us, or on the swingset if it was just a couple of us. Regailing the others with Very Descriptive movie details. Oh the fun of it all. I was lucky, my dad collected a bunch of Beta movies (yes, we had beta, not vhs, and an Intellevision not an Atari) that no one had seen before like the Prisoner of Zenda or some such. I remember regailing my friends with that one, and then watching it again years and years later, thinking that this must be a different movie! Any way, good times.

Posted By missrhea : August 21, 2012 9:03 am

Heidi, before I was married I used to drag my mom with me to see various movies she was sure she wouldn’t like. Then, she would turn around and tell her friends how great they were and even get her gentleman friend to take her to see them a second time. I couldn’t win. I tend to do it with videos(dvds) with my best friend, too. She teases me about getting her to watch terrible films she later loves (e.g. “Babette’s Feast”) or classics like “The Enchanted Cottage”, “Now, Voyager” or “You Can’t Take It With You”.

Posted By missrhea : August 21, 2012 9:03 am

Heidi, before I was married I used to drag my mom with me to see various movies she was sure she wouldn’t like. Then, she would turn around and tell her friends how great they were and even get her gentleman friend to take her to see them a second time. I couldn’t win. I tend to do it with videos(dvds) with my best friend, too. She teases me about getting her to watch terrible films she later loves (e.g. “Babette’s Feast”) or classics like “The Enchanted Cottage”, “Now, Voyager” or “You Can’t Take It With You”.

Posted By missrhea : August 21, 2012 9:05 am

Oops… I wasn’t saying “Babette’s Feast” was terrible…just that my friend thought it would be because it looked so bleak.

Posted By missrhea : August 21, 2012 9:05 am

Oops… I wasn’t saying “Babette’s Feast” was terrible…just that my friend thought it would be because it looked so bleak.

Posted By Bill Scurry : August 21, 2012 1:38 pm

Richard, this is a stunningly simple idea whose significance I’ve never picked up on before this. It’s one of my favorite oral traditions among friends, and this is a wonderful write-up about it.

Posted By Bill Scurry : August 21, 2012 1:38 pm

Richard, this is a stunningly simple idea whose significance I’ve never picked up on before this. It’s one of my favorite oral traditions among friends, and this is a wonderful write-up about it.

Posted By swac44 : August 21, 2012 3:05 pm

Mostly I remember doing this with friends, describing “so-bad-it’s-good” titles like The Legend of Hillbilly John, Avenging Disco Godfather or The Thrill Killers. I still have a fond memory of a friend describing The First Nudie Musical, especially Bruce Kimmel’s speech about how he was heavily influenced by Eisenstein “who continues to make great money-making motion pictures.”

Funnily enough, I’m reading this with a busted ankle, and I still haven’t seen Crack in the World, even though years ago I knew someone who had the original poster on his wall, scrounged at a local flea market or some such place.

Posted By swac44 : August 21, 2012 3:05 pm

Mostly I remember doing this with friends, describing “so-bad-it’s-good” titles like The Legend of Hillbilly John, Avenging Disco Godfather or The Thrill Killers. I still have a fond memory of a friend describing The First Nudie Musical, especially Bruce Kimmel’s speech about how he was heavily influenced by Eisenstein “who continues to make great money-making motion pictures.”

Funnily enough, I’m reading this with a busted ankle, and I still haven’t seen Crack in the World, even though years ago I knew someone who had the original poster on his wall, scrounged at a local flea market or some such place.

Posted By robbushblog : August 21, 2012 11:33 pm

Avenging Disco Godfather? “Put your weight on it!” “Where is Bucky…and what has he had?!”

Posted By robbushblog : August 21, 2012 11:33 pm

Avenging Disco Godfather? “Put your weight on it!” “Where is Bucky…and what has he had?!”

Posted By swac44 : August 22, 2012 8:21 am

Yeah, there’s just something about a Rudy Ray Moore film. “There’s only three things you can do to get to that man, and one of them is to mess with his family…” We never do find out what the other two are.

Keep an eye out for the Halifax-shot comedy feature Roller Town by the comedy troupe Picnicface. There’s a loving homage to Avenging Disco Godfather in the character of a DJ called “The Disco Dawgfather” who dishes up tunes and weiners (also an in-joke tribute to a local hot dog vendor known as “The Dawgfather”).

Posted By swac44 : August 22, 2012 8:21 am

Yeah, there’s just something about a Rudy Ray Moore film. “There’s only three things you can do to get to that man, and one of them is to mess with his family…” We never do find out what the other two are.

Keep an eye out for the Halifax-shot comedy feature Roller Town by the comedy troupe Picnicface. There’s a loving homage to Avenging Disco Godfather in the character of a DJ called “The Disco Dawgfather” who dishes up tunes and weiners (also an in-joke tribute to a local hot dog vendor known as “The Dawgfather”).

Posted By Brent : August 27, 2012 2:38 pm

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE! When my friend got to the shootout in the record pressing plant, he actually jumped up, pointed his finger and went “bang! bang!”.

Posted By Brent : August 27, 2012 2:38 pm

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE! When my friend got to the shootout in the record pressing plant, he actually jumped up, pointed his finger and went “bang! bang!”.

Posted By sleazy : September 10, 2012 4:36 am

I wonder if we will think that a “Crack in the world” is only a motion picture after December 2012, hehehhehehehehehehe :):)

Posted By sleazy : September 10, 2012 4:36 am

I wonder if we will think that a “Crack in the world” is only a motion picture after December 2012, hehehhehehehehehehe :):)

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