Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The right age...

I just finished reading the excellent Making of Star Wars gigantic coffee table book thing (that has a font that's way too small for something so large--I must be getting old if I'm complaining about print size), and I think Peter Jackson makes some kind of comments in one of the sidebars about being the "perfect age" for Star Wars because he was a teenager when it came out in New Zealand. (The Making of... book is so great by the way, because it's just chock full of historical documents showing the very early stages of the idea of the movie all the way through completion. It's like being along for the ride, every step of the way, seeing all of the uncertainty and doubt that circled the film.) Anyway, it made me think about how much I was also EXACTLY the right age for Star Wars, yet I was only 5 years old when it premiered. Yet how much of my life is based on the fact that I saw Star Wars at age 5? A lot. There's no doubt that it deeply informed my interests as a human being. Did it shape my personality? Who knows. Probably. But it definitely affected me, and continues to affect me, deeply. Because I saw it when I was 5.

So what else in my life came out at exactly the perfect time.

I think I was exactly the right age for Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, too. I was 14 when it came out, and even though I appreciate Watchmen more now, Dark Knight Returns impacted me more powerfully as a teenager, just getting seriously into comics. More than the story itself, I was astonished by the strong style of Miller's artwork, and it shocked me into an awareness that the creator matters more than the characters. Since then, I've never been able to read comics the same way, and I'm grateful for that.

Had I been a few years older or a few years younger, I wonder if I would have been affected by Miller's work as strongly? I doubt it. If I saw it as a 12 year old, I probably would have found it hideously ugly, and if I came across it later in life, I might have already codified my attitude toward comics. Seeing it at 14 changed the way I look at the possibilities of super-hero comics, and I DEFINITELY haven't been the same since.

I was also the perfect age for Nirvana, who released Nevermind when I was 19. I bought it right away, on the recommendation of a friend who somehow knew about this band even before their second, pivotal, album was released. So, since he kept checking the record store to see if the "new Nirvana" album had come out, I joined him. And I bought it the same time he did. If you weren't the perfect age for Nirvana, as I think I was, you might not realize how important that album was. Consider the musical landscape at the time--dominated by the likes of Vanilla Ice and C+C Music Factory and the death throes of hair metal. It was unbearable. I stuck to my Clash and Sex Pistols, mostly. But Nirvana was something current that sounded like the stuff I liked. And, thankfully, it knocked those crappy dance bands off the musical radar. I still think Nevermind is one of the greatest albums in history, but I'm sure that wouldn't be true if I weren't the perfect age when it came out.

I remember reading my brother's copy of Film Comment in the months between Pulp Fiction's debut at Cannes and its release in the U. S. and thinking about how it sounded like it was going to be my favorite film ever. I had just graduated from college the year it was released, and I was the perfect age to appreciate its fresh approach to cinema. Now, I show the movie in the cinema class I teach, and the kids love it, of course, but very few of them are shocked by it in any way. When I saw it back in 1994 (or was it not released until the winter of 1995 in our town???), it was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen. The images, the dialogue, the structural tomfoolery, were all thrilling to me. And it was so shocking and disturbing to audiences in the relatively uncrowded theater back then, that people actually got up and walked out. I've read about stuff like that happening, but I witnessed it first hand with the screening of Pulp Fiction. Because I saw it when I was 22, I think I forgive it it's excesses more than I might have otherwise. Nevertheless, it shaped my adult cinematic tastes, and I can't imagine another film affecting me on such an intellectual and emotional level the way Pulp Fiction did.

Add up these four central experiences, and you get a big chunk of who I am. Maybe it explains a lot, maybe it explains nothing, but I was the perfect age for all of these things.

I'm sure many people of my generation have very similar memories of these four cultural artifacts. Especially all of us in the land of Geekville. But if your answers differ, I want to hear them. What were you "exactly the right age" for?


Scott Cederlund said...

Can't go into details right now but I think these are my right age books, movies & TV.

1) Mage: The Hero Discovered-- the early days of the direct market where anything could happen. Wagner's work is a response to teenage angst and guilt.

2) Babylon 5-- For some reason when TNT started re-airing this series, it was totally the right time. I spent a year immersed in JMS's world, discovering and figuring out the mysteries.

3) REM Out of Time-- Possibly one of my favorite albums of all time and a great mix of whimsy, longing and self-loathing. This album defines my college years.

4) Grant Morrison's Invisibles-- This book is the 90s and encapsulates a cool uncertainty about how we were living. It may already be aged but this is where I existed in my mind thanks to Morrison.

alexf said...

Neat question. I'm ever so slightly younger than you, and I'm intrigued that I also think I was the right age for Star Wars (and I was 5 when Jedi came out), but I guess Star Wars is a special case. I was definitely too young for Nevermind, which whilst still awesome just sounded like normal music to me, as opposed to revolutionry music.

I definitely was just the right age to appreciate Blur's Parkilfe album, perhaps the cornerstone of Britpop which as a mid-teen just getting into music was perfect. It felt like I was part of a movement of some kind, even if I later found out it was all based on old music, sort of.

As far as superhero comics go, I think I'm of the Bendis generation. His way with dialogue kicked in at exactly the time (2001, wasn't it?) when I felt comics were getting really stale, yet I'd been a reader for long enough to get what he was doing that felt so refreshing in both its reverence of old comics and its mocking of them.

At age 12, I was in exactly the right place at the right time to enjoy Judge Dredd: Necropolis as it came out week by week in 2000 AD. One of the most exciting comics periods of my life for sure. I'd never have been swept along so well if I was older, and it'd ahve scared me too much if I was younger.

Streeborama said...

Um....I think we're the same age. You've pretty much got me covered.

I would throw Clerks in there somewhere for helping shape my attitude that movie making is within everyone's reach.

Anonymous said...

As more or less the same age, I'd agree with you at least three on the list.

4 or 5 seems ideal for Star Wars, not just for the film itself, but for the action figures and the comics, the tie-ins culture that envelops everything in Western Culture nowadays. It feels a little special being on the cusp of the first wave, despite the oceans of crass crap that followed. I can sympathise with older generations as well. The best of American cinema in the seventies (Scorcese, Coppolla, Cimino, etc) must have felt like the dawn of a grand new age, and it's no surprise a lot of people see Star Wars in a dim light in that context, not necessarily for its content, but for the blockbuster "B-Movie as A-Movie" High Concept era it helped to usher in.

I read the Dark Knight Returns trade on Christmas Eve when I was 13 or 14. It was the first Christmas after my parents got divorced, a weird experience that I more or less snoozed through as I'd spent the previous night reading Miller's masterpiece cover to cover. I totally agree with you on its impact, such a visceral shock that both tapped into the primitive pleasures of the Batman character and oozed with the exciting possibilities of the medium. I tried the same stunt with Watchmen a year later, and as well as falling asleep on Chapter 10 (I gave it a good shot), I felt a little let down that it didn't move me in the same way, a disappointment that has been long lost, replaced by the fascination of countless re-readings.

Nevermind was a complete kick up the pants for the nineties. I picked it up because I read an NME review that compared it to the Pixies. It blew me away but what thrilled me more was the impact it had on the music scene. My friends and I had contented ourselves with the underground nature of most decent music at that time - the eighties was a terrible time for Chart Music generally, all the interesting things - House, Rap, Techno, Indie - was mostly absent from Top Of the Pops or MTV. The idea that a bunch of scruffy miserable noiseniks like Nirvana could take over the world really signalled the dawn of a new age for me. We can all laugh at those Whitesnake videos now, but there was a time when poodle wigs and spandex defined ROCK. As scary a tale to tell your grandchildren as you'd want.

Pulp Fiction was great, but the one that really knocked my socks off was Resevoir Dogs. I was in my first year in Glasgow School of Art, bored as sin and I had developed a habit of disappearing just down the road to local art house flick den the Glasgow Film Theatre (or the Cosmo as was). I watched just about every new release going that year, regardless of country of origin or subject matter, and I can't remember a film that pinned my eyeballs back like Reservoir Dogs, a stunning composite of every late night action movie I'd ever seen and a load more I hadn't, brilliant dialogue and the most hard boiled ensemble playing I had ever seen. Everyone makes films like this now, but this was a time when the laconic whimsy of Hal Hartly was the most cutting edge American Cinema had to offer. Didn't all men that year strut around with "Little Green Bag" playing in their heads?

Anonymous said...

There's been several discoveries that came at the right time, but the two I can think of the most is James Robinson and Tony Harris' Starman book from the 90s. It came out when I was 15, and I was slowly growing beyond the spandex tights crowd and looking for something more. I can still appreciate a good old fashioned slugfest, but I like something more, and Starman started me on that road.

Roughly a year later, I discovered the world of indie cinema through Pulp Fiction, and I haven't watched movies the same since...

Anonymous said...

Pulp Fiction opened at the Berkshire Mall in October of 1994.

Timothy Callahan said...

I figured you'd remember. Did you ever get a chance to see that movie, by the way?

Anonymous said...

Pulp Fiction? Yes, I have seen it a couple of times.