My first memory of cinema and pop culture was when I was three years old. I had the sensation of being held and suspended in midair. There was a huge gray wall in front of my eyes. A shape: giant, imposing, male, threatening.
Only now, 49 years later, it hits me: The shape which looked like an animal had a name: Batman. This was my first experience actively watching something.
From then on I was fascinated by Pop Art and by extension, the cinema. I became compelled by anything colorful or filled with motion that flickered with energy. For me, the most impactful art was the movies. As a young boy, I did not think of myself as being in a chair. I wanted whatever was most physical and filled with sensation. I crawled on the floor and wrestled. I romanticized boxing. I went to see “Rocky” and was thrilled by the music, the imagery and the physicality of the hero.
I also loved the concept of “King Kong.” Concepts of the underdog or the realm of unusual were what held me. I did not think very deeply but I gradually sought out imagery and rhythmic momentum that would take me out of my body. The cinema (even though the movie palaces were long gone by the time I arrived) was to me a place of spirit. It was quiet and dark there and the air was cool. The curtains were silver and changed colors as if moved by secret forces: feminine, space age and fantastic.
While watching the mainstream movies of “Rocky” and Evel Knievel, an odd event happened to me. My childhood friend discovered fundamentalist Christianity and I moved away from him. The intensity scared me. I started reading and began to see myself, subtly, as Other. I watched “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “2001” and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” even though I couldn’t make sense of the volatile neon imagery. Was not I, sitting in my little silver chair, also a kind of space traveler?
Sometime later as young man of 19, my dad met a painter friend who was a Surrealist. One night, he showed me a few minutes of a porn film and I experienced both an awareness and a fear of my own physical body. At the same time, because of romantic crush from Canada, I discovered the work of David Cronenberg. I absorbed his perspective of the body as something alien and fearful. Soon afterwards, I went every other day with my Dad to what was once The Key West Picture Show, a small art cinema on Duval Street. Though it was intimate and small in scale, to me it was a spaceship and an oasis of sorts, a fantastic planet that transmitted disparate, propulsive and exciting images, even those that I could not fully handle or grasp. I became friends with Jay, who ran the theater. He talked with me about movies in thoughtful and comical ways, of what worked for him and what didn’t. I saw David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and film suddenly became a second friend to me, intimate and strange.
As a student at the University of Miami, a deserted Miami Beach seemed a de Chirico landscape, colorful yet empty. I discovered the film noir of “Double Indemnity” and “White Heat”, along with the propulsive and jarring “The Wild Bunch.” Desolation hit the environs of my apartment complex on campus.
My building was situated next to a NO OUTLET sign and I was struck by unrequited love with two of my friends: one who appeared to me as a buoyant dancer with tease-colored bracelets and the other, pale and dark who looked at me with a sleepy curiosity, always seeming to arise around the corner from a column of raven-dark hair. The musicals of “West Side Story” and “Singin’ in the Rain” buffered the want.
Now back in Key West in 2018, I still see the Tropic Cinema as a pastel-striped Art Deco satellite, a last outpost, transmitting film’s exotic fauna. And although I am no longer a young boy swinging my left arm watching the Pop Art of “Batman” part of me is still that small alien, in his silver blue chair, absorbing and taking everything in, be it harmonious or volatile. Aloft and suspended, I am driven to write about film, my friend who looks at me with a hundred-fold flickering eyes: dark, inviting and democratic, without judgment.
Write Ian at email@example.com