1997: The Cutting Room Floor

So Where Were Things In 1997?

There was too much personal stuff to really go over much else, so pardon me if this gets heavy and without a lot of political, pop culture, or technological history. But, I promise, there’s an upswing.

So many things changed this year. It was a truly amazing, yet utterly gut-wrenchingly introspective kind of year. It felt like it almost destroyed me. I was facing new challenges weekly if not daily. The year front loaded me with the worst.

One of the people most important to me passed away in January. My grandmother and I were close. When I was born, she butted my grandparents from mom’s side out of the way, proclaiming: this one is mine. This is not hyperbole. She actually did this. By her reckoning, my mom’s parents received the lion’s share of my sister’s allotted grandparent time, and she was due hers. We’d visit frequently, and vice versa. When mom and dad went away on trips, she would be the one who watched me. When she came to pick me up from elementary school one afternoon, she found me cornered by a bully. Seeing the aggressor had his arm in a cast, she screeched her yellow Pontial right along side of us and screamed: Get away from my grandson or I’ll break your other goddamned arm!

Nana was a pistol.

It was hard watching her in the last four months of her life. She almost burned her mobile home to the ground one afternoon. When people got there she was confused and disoriented. They thought maybe it was from the smoke. And, in a way, it was. It just wasn’t the smoke from kitchen fire. It was Emphysema. It was sixty years of cigarettes. It was her brain starving of oxygen until she couldn’t remember who the people visiting her were. I don’t remember any signs of her going soft before the fire, though dad remembers having to keep her away from losing money to scams. To me, she was Nana one day, then the next day she mistook me for my father and had no idea what year it was. It happened so fast, yet the four months she spent in a godawful nursing home (where the attending orderlies robbed her blind) seemed to drag on like Napoleon’s march through Russia. She begged us to get her out of there. Begged me. And there was nothing to be done for it. She couldn’t live on her own, and we couldn’t keep an eye on her twenty-four hours a day. When the place got shut down for negligence and fraud a few years later, I was not surprised.

It was 1:00 AM when dad came down into the basement – my room while I was home – and told me that nana passed away in her sleep. Part of me completely came undone as I went upstairs and just sat in the family room of our house and watched snow come down over our quiet street. The next couple of days were a blur. So was the funeral. I could not collect myself. I cried through the whole thing. My family was there for each other, including my other grandparents. And, in my pain, in my inexperienced youth… I distanced myself from my surviving grandparents with a determined and conscious effort for the next ten years. I didn’t ever want to hurt like that ever again. Ever. And I wasted that long span of years, thinking that if I could just stay away from my other grandparents… it might not hurt as bad when they died.

Anyone with a brain and any kind of actual life experience can tell you that’s bullshit. But tell a nineteen year old that. They already know everything. I was no exception.

God, I was stupid. It took me a long time to figure out just how stupid.

I got dealt another blow a few weeks later. As foretold in last week’s post, I had my first serious relationship go catastrophically sideways. When a girlfriend stands you up on Valentine’s Day to go hang out with a bunch of other guys, it pretty much signals the end of the relationship. It was over within a week after that. Between the break up and my grandmother’s death, I was sullen and broken for the better part of that year.

Then came the moment where the city of Philadelphia itself came after me. It’s a theory between my friends from college and I that a trial of sorts happens whenever someone comes to live in Philadelphia from elsewhere. After six months in the city, it will make an attempt on your life. This could be physical, like a mugging (this happened to more than one of my friends). It could be social, in the form of isolation or alienation from a new and often unforgiving city. Or, as it was in my case, it could be emotional.

The guy didn’t look like he’d eaten for a long time. His clothes were threadbare, his feet barely wrapped in several pairs of hole-ridden socks. He had no blanket, no coat. His skin was ashy and lifeless, his lips chapped and cracked, bleeding and scabbed in places. He laid on a stinking grate just a block away from the Franklin Institute. And, for the life of me, I could not tell if he was alive. I had possibly just seen my first corpse. It made me pause and wonder about exactly the kind of place I was living in; not just the city, but our whole damn planet.

I don’t know what was more telling: That we, as people, could let things like this happen, or that I simply looked away and walked on.

God and I had already been on the outs. I haven’t spoken to it again save for once in the winter of 2014. Maybe I feel guilty that I did nothing to help that guy. It could be that I felt that if god wasn’t going to look after either me or maybe-dead-guy on Arch Street, that keeping up prayers to it was just shoveling so much shit against the tide. It’s possible I was just angry; at myself, at god, at everything. Perhaps, I just had too much emotional shit on my plate and my heart hardened against the world. I don’t know. I broke down in the car while dad drove me home that weekend. I thought about just… quitting. Told him that I didn’t know if I could hack the city. That, maybe, I should just go back home. Conceding defeat to a superior enemy seemed like a real option. Dad didn’t say anything. I don’t know if there was anything to be said.

If I am anything though, I am a stubborn bastard. Once I got through to the other side of February, things did get better after six months of shit sandwiches. Improvements were not instant. I had to double down to get what I needed. I got a job at the Institute’s Print Bureau to aid in my studies and quit Blockbuster Video. I spent weekends in the city to continue my studies. I spent time with my growing group of friends who are now like family. John, Joe, April, Corrine, Kate, Greg, Melissa, West, Marc, Mike. I started to work out who I was. I started learning things not because some state imposed education system demanded me to – I learned things because I wanted to. And, it was about this time that I realized something inside of me. I wouldn’t really get serious about it for years later, but this was the year I learned I had stories in me.

I sat down and wrote several stories on my black and white Macintosh Plus or in the computer labs. I ran my own adventures for Shadowrun when I’d come home for the weekend. Sometimes, I finished them. Sometimes, I did not. I didn’t share my work all of the time. But, out the emotionally disturbed soil of my life in 1997, something grew.

Life got better once I pushed through.

In the months of 1997, I had a lot of time in Philly to watch some films in my studio apartment while I got my shit together and started turning into an adult. Let’s take some time to put all of my personal baggage behind me for now and make with what you came here for. Here’s what didn’t make the A-List.

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent.

1997 first strike

Jackie Chan’s First Strike (Good) – Jackie Chan saves China. Or something? It was fun if for nothing else than the fight scene with the ladder (3:20 mark).

Private Parts (Good) – I was a fan of Stern back then. This covers his life and career up until 1997. After 1997… eh. His star waned for me.

Liar Liar (Good) – Carrey does good as a sleazy Lawyer who finds himself unable to lie after making a promise to his son to only tell the truth for just one day. Short, shriveled, and always to the left. That’s how it’s hanging.

The Devil’s Own (Good) – Brad Pitt is an IRA agent taken in by a family… I think? I remember it being fairly good, though it was watched rather late with my family if I remember. I’m hazy on the details, but I remember liking it.

The Saint (Indifferent) – Val Kilmer plays a kind of super spy with a guilty conscience? It was largely forgettable, despite the presence of Elizabeth Shue.

Anaconda (Bad) – A big snake picks off unmemorable cast members one by one. Like Alien, but not nearly as entertaining. Also, the only time a snake that size moves that fast is when it falls out of a fucking tree.

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (Indifferent) – Mira Sorvino and Phoebe from friends are stuck in the eighties while everyone else from their high school years have moved on. Like, oh my god. It’s… a movie you can watch. Not my speed, exactly. But not terrible.

Volcano (Bad) – Los Angeles has a volcano under it. Things catch fire and people burn up. You can skip this unless you really have a mad on to watch parts of L.A. go up in lava.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Indifferent) – Jeff Goldblum and his daughter must survive dinosaurs. Again. Or at least Ian does. His daughter never saw dinosaurs until this movie. Effects were good sure, but… it wasn’t particularly a great film. 

Batman and Robin (Bad) – Booo! Now George Clooney is Batman, fighting Poison Ivy, Bane, and Doctor Freeze. Stop, Joel Schumacher. Just… stop.

Hercules (Indifferent) – Another Disney tale ripped from the pages of the public domain! It was well animated as is Disney’s way, but I can take this one or leave it. It does have Danny DeVito and James Woods though.

Spawn (Bad) – A bad man comes back from the dead because the Devil wants him leading his army. He doesn’t do it, because even though he’s a bad man, he’s not that bad. Ugh. Don’t give Todd McFarlane money if you can help it.

Conspiracy Theory (Indifferent) – Mel Gibson thinks he’s being tracked by the government and he’s actually right. Patrick Stewart is okay in this. You can do much worse.

Masterminds (Indifferent) – Kids in a private school are taken hostage and must outsmart their captors. Criminal misuse of Patrick Stewart commences. Ho hum.

Mimic (Indifferent) – There are giant roaches that can mimic people living in the sewers. Mira Sorvino and Josh Brolin try to kill them all before they can sufficiently breed. I think. Guillermo Del Toro directs, but fails to make an impression as impactful as his later works.

In & Out (Indifferent) – Kevin Kline is gay and ends up telling everyone in town, including his finacee. He also kisses Tom Selleck. Hilarity ensues. Or that’s what it said on the box. Probably.

The Man Who Knew Too Little (Indifferent) – Bill Murray is a witless bystander in this comedy about a guy who thinks he’s going to a mystery dinner party and is mistaken instead for a hitman by a group of unsavory spy types. He thinks it’s all fun and games, but the other ‘guests’ are playing for keeps. It’s not his best work.

Alien: Resurrection (Bad) – Weyland-Yutani still hasn’t figured out that Xenomorphs will never be adequately controlled for profit. So they mix Ripley’s DNA with aliens a bunch of times  because… why? It’s not like Ripley was the most controllable asset they ever had, so it seems… foolhardy. The movie is just dumb. Ron Perlman fails to make it better.

Flubber (Indifferent) – Robin Williams is a wacky scientist who performs a wacky experiment to make a wacky state of matter. Meh. I don’t even remember what he meant Flubber to actually be used for or what the film’s antagonist(s) wanted to do with it.

Scream 2 (Good) – The franchise continues, only now they’re talking about how they’re all in a horror movie sequel where the rules change slightly. It was good, but it doesn’t quite re-capture the greatness of the original film.

Titanic (Indifferent) – Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio win every award at the oscars when they portray star crossed lovers on an even more star crossed ship. Points granted for when that one guy bongs off the propeller and impressive visual effects. For all that I love great computer animation, the film bored me. It’s too long, Billy Zane is annoying in everything, and the romance wasn’t really interesting to me. If you want a better long movie about a boat and relationships, I recommend Pirate Radio (2009) instead. Plus, you don’t know if this boat sinks or not going in.

MouseHunt (Bad) – Nathan Lane hates mice and hires Christopher Walken to get rid of a mouse troubling he and his brother. Failed to really crack any smiles – not a good sign for a comedy. Turns out, this was also William Hickey’s last film. Godspeed you, Uncle Louis.

Tomorrow Never Dies (Indifferent) – More formulaic James Bond stuff. Still haven’t found a great Bond movie yet, though I’m told Daniel Craig’s films are more than adequate.

Cinematic Sins

1997 boogie nights

Of course there’s some oversights from 1997 – pretty glaringly obvious ones too. Here’s the next installment of my ever growing to-do list:

Absolute Power – When the president murders someone, Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman apparently butt heads. I love Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood is fair enough as an (albeit crotchety) actor. I’ll put this on the watch list.

Donnie Brasco – I definitely feel I missed something here. I remember people loving this film, but at the time, crime films didn’t generally appeal for me. I have a growing affection for them now, so it makes sense to finally put this one to bed.

8 Heads In a Duffelbag – This was a popular one at the video store, at least among the staff who would rent it out all the time. Come to think of it, it’s probably why I never actually got a chance to watch it.

Murder At 1600 – More murder in proximity to the White House! Plus Wesley Snipes. So why not?

Con Air – I think by this time I had wised up to Michael Bay. But, so many people tell me that this is a must-see film. Plus the cast lineup is like cinematic catnip for me. John Cusack, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich, and Colm Meaney all star.

Air Force One – It’s Harrison Ford telling people to get off his plane. I can probably dig it.

One Eight Seven – This is a serious hole in my Samuel L. Jackson repertoire. Again, this was a film that was big at the video store, so it was hard to get it on an employee rental. Perhaps it is streaming somewhere.

L.A. Confidential – Noir seemed to have a big comeback in the mid nineties, and I like noir generally speaking. Also stars Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger Russel Crowe, and (goddamn!) Danny DeVito.

Kiss the Girls – Looks like a psychological thriller. They had me at Morgan Freeman really.

Seven Years In Tibet – I don’t think I cared very much about most of the larger world (apart from Japan) at this point (once you see Scotland, you’re tempted to stop at perfection). So movies set outside the US weren’t personally focused on when this came out. Now that I’m older and not stupid, I think it’s time to watch this period piece about Germans stuck in India and Tibet during the second World War.

Boogie Nights – Yes, yes! I know! Bad writer, no biscuit! I guess I’ll have to watch this movie about making porn and shattering lives, starring Heather Graham. Oh, what shall I do?

A Life Less Ordinary – Well, it’s a Danny Boyle movie so I’m inclined to give this one a try. It has Ewan McGregor, plus I get bonus appearances by Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, and Tony Shalhoub! I don’t really even care what it’s about at this point!

The Jackal – I remember having a couple friends who were really into this movie. Bruce Willis is a sniper I believe, and if I remember right he does some very, very bad things. Looking over the basics for it, it also has Sidney Poitier which is an extra added bonus.

Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil – This was another standard sounding crime flick I think, which is why I probably avoided it at the time. If it wasn’t Tarantino, I wasn’t really paying attention to crime. But, it has Kevin Spacey and John Cusack, so I’m struggling to see how it could be bad.

Jackie Brown – Another cinematic failure on my part. It’s one of the few early Tarantino gaps I have in my viewing history. It’s based on an Elmore Leonard book and is stocked with a decent cast. Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, and Bridget Fonda all star.