Friday, May 25, 2007

Thirty Years Ago Today...

At 11:45 on a sunny springtime morning in 1977, I was standing on the front steps of the Disney Animation building, dreaming my slacker dreams. A lot of animation artists were streaming past me, bee-lining to the parking lot. I came out of my trance long enough to ask one of them where everybody was going.

"There's a new movie opening over in Hollywood," the artist said. "And we're all going over to see it. Wanna come?"

Always eager to ditch a half-day of work, I said "Sure," and fell in step with the crowd...

A short while later, I found myself standing in the forecourt of Mann's (aka Grauman's) Chinese Theater. But I wasn't looking at the movie stars' hand and footprints. It was the pictures up in the theater's big display case that held my attention. There were color photos showing space ships. There were photos showing small creatures in monks' robes around a huge vehicle with treads. There were pictures of star fields.

"Ah," I thought. "This thing is some kind of, uhm, science fiction movie."

I got in the line that extended around the block. Twenty minutes later, I was inside the big theatre, watching two good-sized space ships flying through dark, star-flecked space.

"Neato," I murmured to myself.

And then a bigger space-ship, a MONSTER-SIZED ship, cruised into the frame, going on and on and on, bigger than thirty football fields. It was shooting colored rays at the smaller ships.

The sold-out audience began to rumble, and the rumble built to a roar. There was clapping, and yelling, and the stamping of feet.

The rest of the movie unspooled in wide-screen splendor, and the audience was with it through every frame. Cheering. Whistling. Bouncing up and down. I haven't attended many historic events in my life, but seeing Star Wars on the day it was released was one of them.

And the best part is, I get to rub that fact in the face of my sixteen-year-old whenever he puts one of his Star Wars movies in the drive of our dvd player.

For like thirty seconds, it makes the old man marginally cool.


Jeff Massie said...

Steve, the job from which I played hooky that day was a lot less glamorous than yours. You were working for Disney, I was working in a cookbook library. (It's a very long story ...)

Manhattan didn't have the concentration of film nerds that existed, then as now, in Los Angeles. The theater was two-thirds empty, and most of the audience was high-school kids.

I'll never forget when Darth Vader appeared, light-saber in hand, to challenge Obi-Wan, and a kid behind me yelled "He's got a light-thing too!!"

Most people who saw Star Wars that first day dragged their friends along the second time they saw it. I dragged my Dad, a former effects animator, who marveled at how things had changed since he airbrushed mushrooms for Fantasia and blew up battleships for WWII Signal Corps training films.

I have subsequently seen every single Star Wars feature the day it opened, but nothing matched the sense of awe I experienced that Wednesday afternoon on the Upper East Side.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Chinese theater that first week back in 1977. What do I remember? The fact that everybody came out of the theater with a big smile on their face. Not some of the audience -- I mean all of the audience.

What an impact George Lucas had on movies back in 1977. Shame it didn't continue.

Anonymous said...

And we must never forget this, the Star Wars Holiday Special! with Art Carney!

Anonymous said...

Floyd, that smile you describe is the reason I waited until the original cut was available before buying the DVD. They're Lucas's films and he can do whatever he wants with them, but "my" Star Wars will always be the one I saw as a teenager in the summer of '77.

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