Of a Childhood Affair with Videotape

My time back in Colombia got me thinking about the beginnings of my life as a film enthusiast. I’ve already written about the Batman moment that single-handedly changed my life; this has more to do with my subsequent discovery of the magic of VCRs and video rentals.

When I was maybe nine or ten years old, I got my very first video rental membership. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me; renting a new movie was a thrill like buying a new album would become later in life. But I couldn’t sit at home and watch the films I rented with my family; mine was a private experience. I used to wait til both my parents were out of the house so I could lock myself in their bedroom with the VCR and the films I’d rent out from that magical place. Even though they had a ridiculously small and relatively bland selection, it provided me with several of the most influential movies of my young life– mostly Steven Spielberg and animated features, as well as rare gems like “The Jerk”, which would prove to be hugely influential on my developing sense of humor.

Navin Johnson as a template for my adult life.

But there were two movies in particular that captured my imagination in a big bad way. One was “Aladdin”, the animated Disney film, the other was Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs”, a gruesome horror movie that was horribly inappropriate for a 9 year old to be watching, let alone rewatching feverishly for days on end. I’d watch both movies so much that I grew to learn every word. And yet I’d still feel the rush and get the same thrill with every rewatch. In fact, it became such an addiction that I’d lie to my dad about having taken them back to the video rental– my dad was faced with such a huge late fee and my constant nagging that he decided to just buy the damn things, and the tapes became officially my own.

Oddly, two of the biggest influences on a 10-year-old South American boy's life.

I remember him walking into the room and wondering out loud what it was about these two particular films that made me so hopelessly obsessed. They were so anachronistic and drastically different from each other. He’d marvel at how, when he pressed the mute button on the television during either film, I’d be able to recite the entire movie, line by line, in time. Minding the suspenseful pauses and dramatic intonations. To this day, whenever I catch “Silence of the Lambs” on television I catch myself reciting Anthony Hopkins’ “you know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube…” speech, word for word.

They never play “Aladdin” on television anymore. They really should, though.

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