Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Matinee

If my calculations are correct, it was on this day 31 years ago when the summer vacation between my 8th and 9th grade school years began. The summer of 1978 was an especially wondrous time for me when my imagination came into full blossom, and I cherished every mundane aspect of life as if it were priceless. I remember that first day especially well because my friend Vince and I went to a matinee double feature at the Northpoint Plaza Theatre (now a dreary Wall-Mart).

In the time before home video, double features were a great way of coaxing people to see a not-so-great new release by pairing it with a slightly better film that had been released a couple years earlier. Movie-goers who liked the older film and wanted to see it again, or those who hadn't had a chance to see it when it was originally released, might be lured in to see the new film. In this case, the double bill was Warlords of Atlantis and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

It was a Saturday and, as with every Saturday from May to October, I had to mow my neighbor's lawn. The woman I knew as Miss Peggy was a widow with a house on the corner, so her lawn was much larger than the rest of the houses on the block, encompassing not only the front and back of her house, but also a large section on the side by the intersection and the long strips of grass between the sidewalk and the street. For the handsome sum of $7 per week, I would mow and trim that huge lawn with her Toro gas-powered mower and my father's cheesy Black & Decker weed whacker. To make matters worse, Miss Peggy had her lawn chemically treated, so it grew just as fast as I could cut it and those chemicals wreaked havoc with my sinuses. Still, in a day when comic books cost 30 cents and a matinee was only $2, making $7 a week in addition to my newspaper delivery boy salary was good money.

I finished mowing the lawn around noon, took a quick shower, and then called Vince to make sure he was ready to go. My dad drove us to the theatre as he so often did. Looking back, I would've thought it a pain in the ass to drive us all over town, but he liked to drive. My mom said he should've been a bus driver.

Anyway, the first film to be shown was Warlords of Atlantis, the new release. This was the fourth Amicus release to feature Doug McClure as a turn-of-the-century explorer who stumbles into some forgotten world of monsters and lost tribes. The first three films were based on Edgar Rice Burroughs books, but this one was original. I guess the film-makers thought they could save some money by writing their own story but swiping the formula. In this movie, McClure takes a bathysphere down to the ocean's depths and is swept into a strange underwater world. I had never seen a bathysphere before, so I was completely captivated by the concept. Here's the segment of the film that fascinated me the most:

Aw, up your bathysphere with an ancient golden statue!

Did you catch Cliffie as one of the crew members? Someone has uploaded the entire film on YouTube if you care to watch it. Once they reach the underwater world, I think the story kinda bogs down. To a 13 year old, though, it was pretty exciting.

Next up was the much better Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, featuring the incredible special effects of Ray Harryhausen. It star's John's son Patrick Wayne as Sinbad and Tyrone Power's daughter Taryn. A very young Jane Seymour and Doctor Who #2 Patrick Troughton are also in the movie. There was only one scene that stayed with me all these decades, and someone just so happened to put it on YouTube. You'll discover fairly quickly why it burned itself so vividly into my adolescent brain:

More than the stories themselves, I became completely lost in these depictions of fantasy worlds from a bygone era. Having already had my fill of space opera like Star Trek, Space:1999, and Star Wars, I was ready for some new fantasy legends. In between the countless comic books I read that summer, I poured over books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the stories of Sinbad, and even tales from The Arabian Nights. All that lawn and newspaper money went straight to the comic book/used book store in my neighborhood. So lost was I in these fantasy tales that I doubt my parents were even aware of my existence until I showed up for dinner.

To this day, I remember that summer as a dream-like blend of fantasy and reality. While mowing the lawn, I was a giant slaughtering hordes of soldiers with my swirling blades of death. Wandering the sun-baked sidewalks of my neighborhood delivering newspapers, my mind was underground in the hidden world of Pellucidar helping David Innes defeat the evil Mahars. It was the last summer when I had no worries and could afford to completely block out the harsh realities that were looming on the horizon. During those sultry, hot days in 1978, I was purely a kid for the last time.

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