Updated: Jun 29, 2020
There are three distinct parts of my life that define my cinema education. The first and most obvious one is actually going to the movies which will always be for me the best way to see a movie. Movies are made for the cinema and they should be experienced that way. Some of my favorite memories growing up revolve going to the movies. Summers spent walking miles with my best friend and brother catching Ghotsbusters for the 6th time, waiting in line for Return of the Jedi or the latest Star Trek.
The second is another obvious choice for one my age and that is the VHS player and the video store. Keith was the first person I knew to have a VHS player. I remember when he had taped “Raiders of the lost Ark” off of television and we watched it over and over. It was glorious. The trips to the video store and scowering over what seemed like thousands of titles was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. The third part of my education was the one that opened my eyes to movies I would normally have never seen on regular television. Most movies shown on regular television were edited for content, took out the swearing and the naughty bits, but not this station. I'm talking about the granddaddy of premium television, Home Box Office a.k.a HBO.
HBO was a different channel back in those days. It wasn't 24 hours, it usually started around 6am I believe. It didn't have multiple variants like HBO 2 or HBO comedy, but what it did have that set it apart from the other premium services was theater, stand up comedy and live sporting events like Wimbledon. It was different and in some ways my preferred version of HBO. It was my preferred version of HBO because it started my education of movies.
Lets begin with the monthly bill. No one likes getting bills but my brother and I always looked forward to getting the cable bill because that meant the newest HBO guide was in there. AH! The HBO guide. We never knew what was going to be on the cover and what movies we were getting that month. Flipping through the pages we would come across so many different movies. There would be a little synopsis about the movie and what days it would be playing. I remember those days like it was yesterday. I remember coming across the time when “Halloween” was playing. Looking at that frightening image of Michael Myers standing with the bed sheet over his body freaked me out. But I knew I needed to see this film. And I did. That rush you got when you were at that age when you knew watching a film like that would have sent your parents into a rage! Miss those days.
Now, there were at least 3 or 4 movies, Halloween being one of them, that I vividly remember about those times. They were the films I desperately wanted to see because I wasn't allowed to see them and one that I was allowed to see but probably shouldn't have seen at a young age. But, since it was an animated film about rabbits that should be okay right?
That film was Watership Down. I still can't believe our parents allowed us to watch it. Probably because it was animated and it was PG and HBO has this policy, still to this day, that on their flagship channel they do not show anything R rated before 8PM. Truth is my parents never watched it anyway. My brother and I are still traumatized from it. Probably my favorite animated film.
Next up, Saturday Night Fever. It was so popular when it was released in 1977 that they released a PG version as well. And, that was the only one we were allowed to watch. Now, bear in mind watching the PG version of this movie it still retains some aspects of the original R rating. When I was older and the local cinematheque got a hold of a print of the R version I went to see it. The R rated version was a revelation. It was shocking to me in the 90's. Goes to show you how bold they were in the 70's.
Halloween. Still to this day its my favorite horror film. From that frightening image in the HBO guide to seeing it when my parents weren't monitoring our every move still evokes fear like no other horror film from any decade. I didn't get a chance to watch it a ton of times to study what John Carpenter had crafted till I was a little bit older and the trustworthy VHS came into my life but my cinema education was in full swing thanks to that premium channel.
Another film, this one is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, that I first caught on HBO and has also frightened the hell out of my since is Kubrick's The Shining. As much as it is a horror film you cannot help but laugh a bit at Nicholson. Not because he isn't taking the role seriously, but his facial ticks, and mannerisms, and the way he brings his usual flair to the film, its hard not to laugh a bit the entire time while he is simultaneously scaring the shit out of you. My father called him 'the devil' in this.
There is a pattern here. All of these films I probably should have waited a number of years to see. None of them are appropriate for someone who isn't even a teenager yet. However, I'm sure I'm not the only one who can repeat these words with such glee, “I saw that on HBO when I was a kid!” It was a different time and I am thankful I grew up in this era. Even though we were watching these movies on small tv sets, in pan and scan, mono sound, you were still getting what you saw in the theaters for the most part and some of them you were watching with a devilish look in your eye. I still saw hundreds of other films on HBO, some I wouldn't see till years later but I remembered that HBO had shown it, but these are the ones that stick in my memory. Thank you HBO. Hope I got an A in your class. -- Angelo Alexopoulos