Growing Up with Movies: The Things We (Foolishly) Imitated
Through the years we’ve probably read and heard of some awful, tragic events that happened because someone was inspired to reenact something they saw in a movie. We’re all mimics at heart, 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. In some cases...
Case in point: My friend Ben and I were well 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 way beyond excited. He was also a big fan of the movie Airplane! (1980), so this could go in many different directions....
People on the flight were talking as passengers usually 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 continued the sentence, the entire plane went utterly silent so that everyone could hear:
“Assume crash positions!”
Ben was the only person on the plane smiling, but that didn’t last long. The stares were as bad as if he’d said “America sucks,” or “Screw all of you and your entire ancestries,” or something even more offensive. 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 (and 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:
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?
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?
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] ...and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.
Billy Jack: Really.
And then Billy Jack proceeds to do just what he’d said, swinging his foot to smash into Posner’s right cheek, sending Posner to the ground. (We all cheered.)
When we got tired of just quoting the line (we particularly loved saying "damn"), 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 doofuses, so we gave up before one or both of us ended up in the hospital.
Another movie that came out that same year was Evel Knievel, about the life of the famous motorcycle daredevil. My buddies and I all felt that this was motion picture artistry at its finest, cinema 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 large 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.
While we were in search of materials to use to build a ramp (and possibly lead to major bodily injury), 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 he'd built up some serious speed. The kid 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. (As far as I know, we sustained no injuries flipping through the channels.)
I can't remember any scenes that I wanted to imitate from television shows or movies on TV. They were all from movies I saw in theaters. I think we saw these images on big screens, making the actors and their stunts larger than life. We wanted to be larger than life also, which was no doubt part of the allure. Life itself is even bigger than the movie screen, and if we could do something amazing (and live to tell about it), how cool would that be? But at some point you realize you have to have an audience, which is probably a good thing. Someone has to be there to tell you, "Dude, that's a dumbass idea." Thankfully, that someone was usually there.
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