Posters from the early years
For many years the only movies I saw in theaters were Disney re-releases. They tend to blur together; sometimes it's difficult to determine which films I saw on a big screen and which I caught in the early years of home video. I do know I saw Peter Pan in theaters because I remember afterward my mother pointed up at the sky and tried to convince me that a pirate ship was floating overhead. Even at five, I was a little too old for that trick.
The first new movie I caught on the big screen was The Land Before Time. I was in my final year of preschool, obsessed with dinosaurs, so the cartoon's release couldn't have been more serendipitous. I saw it twice, initiating a habit of seeing films I liked over and over again. Another habit was born at the Land Before Time screening - when I went with my dad, we saw a preview for Twins, the uber-80s Arnold Schwarzenegger-Danny De Vito buddy comedy. I laughed at all the pratfalls and asked my dad to take me. For some reason he did (only years later, renting the movie in college, did I discover all the sexual innuendo I'd missed in preschool; by the way, did anyone else know that's Heather Graham playing the infants' mother?). From then on, the previews became one of my favorite parts of the movie experience, a gateway into the next movie I would see.
Likewise the posters. Our primary movie theater, which closed its doors just last year, had a hallway devoted to the coming attractions. Walking down it, one would see the first teaser one-sheets for movies which might be months - in some cases, even a year - away. Which brings up the purpose of this post, beyond my own recollections. I've tracked down the posters for most of the movies I saw during those formative years (from 5 to 15) and lined them up in chronological order; it was remarkably easy to find them, and embarrassingly easy for me to remember which films I'd seen on the big screen.
Surprisingly, there were many rites of passage I missed, at least until they hit video. No Roger Rabbit or Batman in the late 80s, no Problem Child in the early 90s, no Ace Ventura or The Mask in the mid 90s. I remember many of the films I did see as milestones, not so much because they were good (many of the titles below are anything but, though I liked them at the time) but because of what they signified.
Land Before Time and Twins were the one-two punch symbolizing my passage into contemporary cinema; Twins was probably the first live-action film I saw, and certainly the first whose target audience was above my age bracket. Home Alone, Kindergarten Cop, and Edward Scissorhands were the holy triumvirate of late 1990: though completely unrelated, one led to the other via previews and they've always been tied together in my mind. They arrived on the scene at the exact moment I was beginning my own home video collection, starting to read about film history, and harboring my own first ambitions of making movies myself.
Jurassic Park was Jurassic Park; the signature movie event of my childhood and the kick-off to the most rabid phase of my moviegoing, which would last for about five years, emphasis on the summer and its blockbusters.
North was the first movie I saw and didn't like. I still recall my little sister and I standing in the lobby afterward, confused and inarticulate. Mutually, while trying to assure one another that we really liked it, we knew that it was a dud and were uncertain what to make of this fresh experience. At Corrina, Corrina I timidly wore my glasses for the first time; tired of squinting at the screen, I sacrificed my fear of being a "four-eyes" to my love of movies - even randomly-seen Whoopi Goldberg vehicles. A year later, Apollo 13 was the first film I saw without parents accompanying and within a year, my father firmly in tow, Ransom served as my initiation into the world of R-rated new releases (preceeded, in the video classic realm, by Alien a few years earlier).
Indeed, I remember ratings as an important part of youthful moviegoing, with R signifying the forbidden and PG-13, in those early years, the uncertainty of admittance - would or wouldn't our parents let us see "this one"? My father made me cover my eyes during the opening murder in Kindergarten Cop, while my mother implored me to look away as Kevin Costner was tortured in Prince of Thieves. An obedient little boy, I followed suit - which may also explain all the childish, mediocre family films I dutifully attended with parents and sibling even after crossing the threshold into jr. high, when I should have begun finding excuses to beg off - or perhaps I found the siren call of the movies so irresistible that I never passed up an opportunity.
I've excluded some of those movies from the poster lineup, and indeed my "memory" here is somewhat selective - though I've actually included the majority of movies seen from '88 to '98. Some of the posters just wouldn't gel in the appropriate spots; if, in addition, the sight of them still caused me to wince - or if something seemed out of place or redundant - I dropped 'em. On the other hand, I did not include some of my best moviegoing experiences of these years, those I hinted at in the beginning with the Disney re-releases: classic films returning triumphantly to the big screen. Some of these dovetailed with the newer films - the Disney re-issues in particular occurred in mainstream theaters and were advertised before newer films.
Others, those that would have been clustered nearer the end of the list, like Nights of Cabiria or Citizen Kane in '98, occurred in art-houses and were a part of my exploration of classic cinema. Anyway, what posters would I have used? These were not films which needed to be advertised in a newspaper or on the front door of a multiplex to draw viewers. One such experience - one of the best of its kind - was the back-to-back screening of all three Star Wars films at the Wang Center in Boston, which I attended with my father in 1993, several years before the trilogy rushed back into the wider public consciousness. Meanwhile, I did include the Special Editions, which - with their wider marketing and cringeworthy revisions - I remember less fondly; they are a part of the phenomenon I am describing here, while the Wang Center experience was not.
I stopped the progression in the winter of 1998-99, my freshman year of high school, because it seemed the right thing to do. This was the point just before my disenchantment with contemporary cinema began - my enthusiasm for blockbusters was already waning, and with a driver's license and teenage social life, the movies perhaps became less of an adventure and more of a ritual. The novelty of R-rated films was certainly wearing off, and "the movies" as a general term lost some of its appeal once my taste became more selective.
At any rate, it had been ten years since my first steps into moviegoing, smelling the popcorn, marching down the hallway of coming attractions, standing outside on a warm evening waiting for movie tickets, waiting in that dark theater for the lights to go out (without the distractions of noisy advertisements, save for the occasional quiet local print ad projected dimly onto the screen). And finally sitting patiently through all the credits, a habit I inherited from my dad and never gave up. Talking about the movies afterwards, re-enacting them on the beaches as we ran into the waves (which were re-imagined as laser blasts from a starship), turning them into games on the school playground (an honor usually accorded movies I hadn't actually seen, films which loomed large in my imagination, like The Fugitive).
A decade in that land is long enough for anyone and these years were mine. They may not have been the best, and no doubt older and younger generations will think their own eras superior - and maybe they're even correct (at least in the former case). Those who were parents during these years may look on with bemusement, recalling their own family trips to the cinema, driving instead of sitting in the back. Or they may wonder how those years of the multiplexes and saturation advertising, of remakes and sequels and TV adaptations (though still more original than our present epoch) could be remembered nostalgically by anyone. I'll admit my own enthusiasm for this project waned around the time I hit 1994, or about the time I was ten when the hazy aura of very early childhood no longer cast its pall over my nostalgia.
But while they may not have been the best years, the most original, the freshest, the purest, or (God knows) the least commercial, they were my years, and I remember them fondly.
Here then, is a walk through that hallway of once-upon-a-time coming attractions...
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