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Cinema Paradiso: Growing Up in a World of Film...


The original Dumbo animated film caught my imagination as well as films like Dot and the Kangaroo, which had been gifted to us children from an aunt in England. Who can forget the psychedlic elephant dance or the dreaded bunyip from Australian mythology? Since these were the '80s, the days before Pixar dominated the home entertainment of most family homes, Disney still ruled. There were regular TV shows like G.I. Joe, Dino-Riders and Gummi Bears, as well as He-man, Bravestarr and Ghostbusters from Filmation... shows that were influential to me growing up. I remember the fortified town's emergency mode from Bravestarr being the inspiration for many drawings. A friend of mine named Evan and I were both very into our art, allowing our imagination to spill onto the page, whether it be drawing knights (possibly an inspiration from my medieval Lego sets) or heavily fortified buildings with gun turrets. These were the days when you actually had to use ink and paper.

These shows of fantasy and high adventure, some with a science-fiction element, were revered and entertained us as impressionable kids. While the episodic nature, formula and enjoyability kept them popular, the VHS tape with Dumbo and Dot and the Kangaroo got plenty of replay value too. It was a big step up from watching local kids TV shows like Pumpkin Patch and Wielie Walie, which had their place but were no contest for the dream actualisation and storytelling ability of the Filmation series.

growing up in a world of film

I can remember hearing the theme tune to shows like Twin Peaks and Dallas echoing through the passage as my parents switched to more adult-themed TV series at roundabout 8:30 on weeknights. The big thing at that age was trying to watch shows that you weren't allowed to, constantly being intrigued by the VHS covers at the local video store, displaying the titles and images of films that were not for young eyes. The Fright Night VHS cover was particularly nightmarish, enough to give you the chills even just looking at it. I remember the cover for It, where Pennywise has elongated monster fingers peering from up on high in an equally frightening scenario. Powerful images like the one from Platoon where Sergeant Elias is gunned down also left a mark.

I remember watching films at a friend's house where the odd sleepover often resulted in catching an M-NET movie in the 2-16 age restriction category. The most infamous of these viewings was Child's Play, about a possessed doll named Chucky who "just wants to play". Being a toy, there must have been some curiosity but I must say that the scene involving the actual possession did linger, reinforcing that striking Ster-Kinekor and FPB advert where images from a horror movie are flashed across the boys face as he sleeps.

The biggest mistake was probably watching Stephen King's It when the M-NET movie guide was giving it the 2-10 age restriction, which subsequently went up to 2-12, 2-14 and 2-16 with subsequent TV guides. I remember watching It in my parent's bedroom, alone probably because no one else really wanted to watch it. The anticipation must have been incremental since I had been counting the days until I turned 10. Nevermind the dreams of being shunted down a dark passage of doorways until a scythe from one of the empty doorways before pulling me in. Once again, 2-10 still seems quite low for that TV miniseries, which probably haunts some viewers today even if they were older than the required viewing age.

All this is to say that film has had a considerable influence, which started in my childhood and has remained, allowing me to cultivate my fascination and love for the medium into my adulthood. The power of dreams, the ability for filmmakers to take you to other worlds and the knack for capturing your emotional state and engaging with you on an intellectual level, it's one of those rare things that entertain and compels viewers. Isn't it funny how many of these shows and films have been remade for modern audiences... probably by people who were also influenced growing up?

The human mind is complex and film is multifaceted, from integrating various art forms to relaying hundreds of messages about culture, style, politics, gender, sexuality... the list goes on. Most, time capsules for the age, it's very revealing in the way the medium is controlled by those with the power at the time. This gives it a certain level of undercover honesty, which you'll experience when watching old Bond films that have a lot to say about the ideals of masculinity at the time.

We really don't realise the influence that film has over us, empathising for villains or operating on a much more subconscious level. It's no wonder that film has often been the first choice for propaganda, controlling the viewpoint and in so doing trying to realise an agenda. This is probably why horror films don't scare me as much as the ulterior motives of those making the film.

Having always found inspiration in the creative pursuits of English and art, it seemed like a natural progression for me to try and combine my passion for both fields into a pursuit that requires an understanding of both, film criticism. I hope that I can continue to watch films, from the perspective of enjoyment and analysis well into my old age. While they can be dangerous, intoxicating and subversive, they are equally dreamy, inspiring and powerful in bringing about positive change.