Books are different from movies. I have been a book lover my entire life. Since I first remember being excused from reading class in 1st grade to read in a wood framed nook with pillows on the ground alone because I was so far beyond the class. I read a lot of Roald Dahl as a heady 6-year-old.
Books took me into wonderlands that my brain devoured and regurgitated in my brain in the dull moments where I was waiting to become an adult and could go on real adventures. I wasn’t reading words. I was watching them being projected in images inside my brain.
In my official student file an elementary school teacher noted that my inability to stop reading, even during math class, while attempting to hide a book under my desk could potentially prevent me from being a well-rounded student. She was right. I still don’t particularly like math.
I read all the classic teen novels from Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys and The Boxcar Children I could get my hands on. When I ran out of those I started on books more commonly targeting girls, Nancy Drew, Babysitter’s club. It didn’t matter to me. It was something to read & in retrospect probably taught me a lot about the opposite sex. Then I moved onto the classics-Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities & Tom Sawyer to name a few.
Movies challenged me from the beginning. My first film recollections involved stepping into the living room during the flying monkey’s scene of the Wizard of Oz at my Aunt Patsy’s. I stepped out again terrified. I may have cried, and I still have not given the Wizard of Oz a second chance more than 30 years later. I then remember being terrified by one of the Pee Wee Herman movies. I don’t remember which.
My first real access to the adult world was through movies. Even the books I read with adult-themes were filtered through the brain of a boy sheltered from television and by the small community experience I was raised in. Movies took me out of central Wisconsin and into New York, Detroit, Los Angeles. It taught me the way to sneer when I cursed, what women looked like naked and the difference between being a clown and telling a joke.
Before I could drive I got my own membership card at Blockbuster. I watched everything new, then everything old and I was there every Tuesday to see what was being released that week. My best friend and I watched Pulp Fiction when we 13. We didn’t understand it all, but we started saying “Mutha-Fucker” with a lot more emphasis after that.
Movies were a seminal part of my growing up, but I never stopped reading either. I did learn more about writing in high school and then college. I learned more about reading for meaning that wasn’t explicit. It was harder to do with a book than a film because films often show you the outcome, the expression or let you hear the tone. A book is just words on the page that you need to decipher on your own. I worked hard at it, revisiting books that I didn’t quite get or even like, but for some reason stuck in my craw. I’d venture despite my hatred of it on the first go, I’ve read “Slaughterhouse 5” about 15-20 times and compulsively buy used copies every time I stumble across one.
Books & movies transport me into new worlds. They take me to new planets, new universes even, but despite that great similarity, books are different from movies for me. I’ve never cried at the end of a book. At the end of a book I love I usually reflect on something I’ve learned. Some new way of looking at the world or a character I particularly liked. I’m an active participant and in some ways I’m exhausted. The book was a relief from my real world.
But I have left cinema’s red-eyed & snot-nosed, thankful we no longer notice strangers for fear of missing something on our phones. I’ve left jumping up and down pretending to be Eminem or exasperated at the travesty of the last Brosnan Bond movie. I’ve watched a movie at home and been glad that my Wife fell asleep an hour ago and does not have to see me pretending to scratch my nose but subtly (or not so) wiping away unexpected dampness on my cheek. I’ve jumped up motivated to ride a bike or been left sitting in awe until after the credits rolled, the screen turned blue before turning to a friend to say, “Did you see that?”
A movie will suck me in to such a point that the emotions on-screen become my emotions, and as a passive participant I’m given the opportunity to feel emotion. Watching a movie is a relief from my own brain, from my own active thoughts. For a few hours I’m not responsible to feel my own emotions merely empathize with those on-screen to any degree I merit.
All of this is a long-winded way to tell you to watch “Life Itself” the documentary film based on the memoir by Roger Ebert. I wouldn’t presume to write a review of it but it’s a lovely, honest retelling of a life that loved both the written word and visual experience of film. Watch it. I don’t doubt that you’ll end up like me, teary-eyed and thankful I still have the opportunity to watch and read and feel.