Three movies that greatly influenced the personality traits and behaviors I believed I needed to be powerful and successful were Superman (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980) and Clash of the Titans (1981). Superman and Somewhere in Time both starred Christopher Reeve, who in my childhood eyes might as well have been Superman in both movies. In all those movies, male protagonists go to extreme measures to save and/or reunite with their female love interests. Superman turns the Earth around to go back in time so that Lois Lane does not get killed in an earthquake. Richard Collier first goes back in time to finds his true love and then kills himself to reunite with her. Perseus kills and beheads Medusa’s head to save his princess bride who is sentenced to be killed by the Cracken.
For the most part, in so far as in the first installment of the movie series goes, Superman not only is adored for his superhuman ability to help his fellow man and battle forces of evil, but he also has a practically perfectly moral center, much like that of Jesus or any other savior that believes that good and evil are very separate. While practically unlimited power often seems to corrupt the most righteous and well intentioned mortals, Superman for the most part always seems to use his power for good, and define his status by serving mankind. For all its imperfections Superman seemed to believe in mankind’s ability to do good and be good, making them worth saving.
I also related to the way Superman disguised his superhuman abilities. His alter ego, Clark Kent, was a nerd. Clark Kent was the same overly gracious, unassuming, submissive, happy-go-lucky nice guy I would end up acting like for most of my life. I understood why it worked. It’s easy to act submissive and nice when deep down you believe you can potentially destroy others with your greater powers. Plus, it was a great way to keep “haters” from hating on your talents. It was a great way to appear less threatening so that people would be less likely to be jealous, and make me a target to be ganged up on. Believing that I was destined for great things as a kid, aware of my talents and abilities, Superman’s abilities to disguise himself
In Somewhere In Time, Christopher Reeve plays a mildly successful Chicago 70’s playwright, Richard Collier, who falls in love with a portrait of a 20’s actress in a hotel. Obsessed with the portrait and haunted by a watch that an old woman gave him earlier, he figures out a way to go back in time to reunite with the woman in the picture through self hypnosis. After finding her, meeting her, and seducing her, they overcome many obstacles and finally consummate their love. Shortly after they finally consummate their love, he takes out and looks at a 1980 penny from his vintage suit, and is whisked back to the present, leaving the watch the old lady gave him in the beginning of the movie behind. Unable to go find the will to go back in time, Reeve’s character, ends up not eating or sleeping, pretty much just zoning out his window in shock that he cannot reunite with his true love from the past. He ends up dying from starvation and exhaustion, but is reunited with his love when he ascends to heaven.
My mother was concerned with my obsession with this movie. When Somewhere in Time came on HBO a year after it was in the theaters, as movies did even back in 1981, I was glued to the television set. In hindsight, it may have been partly responsible with my fascination with death, and the romantic finality of it. To get attention as a romantic, in 2nd grade when I transferred to the Bede School, I would threaten to kill myself, realizing the shock, fear, and sympathy I would get from other 2nd graders, especially if I was not getting my way during a game or activity or get together. Eventually the teacher, Gail, who I had a crush on, asked me about my troubling “suicide” attempts. I was forced to confess that I did think about death but that I wasn’t that serious. Soon after stopping my fake suicide attempts, I most likely became afraid that I would die from the tiniest risky activity.
Aside from death, the tragic plot of Somewhere In Time made me very skeptical of the ability for blissful moments to last whether in a relationship or otherwise. I mean just when things seemed to finally work themselves out for Reeve’s character, after overcoming obstacles with career goals, social competition and status, and even the space time continuum, to end up whisked away by the bad luck of stumbling upon wormhole like magic was the ultimate trauma in my five year old eyes. Perhaps, that familiar theme throughout my life of waiting for the other shoe to drop started with the abrupt interruption and ending of happiness after it is attained in the movie only to be rediscovered in death. After watching a movie like that, making your dreams come true is a scary thing especially when it seems that it can all be taken away at any moment. What would be the use of trying, other than the hope that you eventually can rediscover your worldly possessions, love, and dreams in the afterlife after the ultimate human sacrifice?
It was also hard to accept that Christopher Reeve, the same guy who played Superman, was now really a vulnerable mortal romantic playwright named Richard Collier. Still I found myself drawn to internalizing Christopher Reeve’s sweetness and kindness from those movies that made him and both of these characters so endearing. And once again, the innocence and romantic qualities also seemed pretty valuable to be persuasive to get the girl, while the morality seemed to justify the pursuit of any goal.
While I did own batman and robin shirts and an incredible hulk bike with training wheels, I traded my passion for superheroes for mythology when Clash of the Titans came out in 1981. I would wrap myself up in towels, one around my waist and one around one shoulder covering my torso so that part of my chest would stick out like so many pictures of Greek heroes I saw. My parents even got me a Roman looking sword and a helmet that was probably more for a Viking, but it was Greek enough for me. I often would run around the house pretending to be Perseus from Clash of the Titans (1981). The thought of actually being a son of a God, like Perseus, fit right into my self-image of being special and yet not fitting in with my mortal peers. I also liked the idea that whatever struggles I was to go through, God or Zeus would give me just enough of what I needed to accomplish them.
One particular line from this movie has inspired me throughout my life. It happens when Zeus (played by Sir Lawrence Olivier) speaks to Perseus (played by Harry Hamlin) through the shield he puts in the amphitheater for him to find. Without revealing that he is his father, Zeus, appearing as a (ancient Greek) hologram in the back of Perseus’ new shield, mysteriously shares some last advice before Perseus starts on his life defining adventure to slay Medusa. “Find and fulfill your destiny.” Just as Perseus’ destiny was to behead the evil gorgon demon, Medusa, who turned people to stone just by looking at them, I believed that my destiny was to be something special too. While I was never sure what exactly what that destiny was, I hoped I was destined for something as big thing as Perseus’ beheading of Medusa. At different times in my life, these destinies I imagined ranged from becoming a legendary karate practitioner and teacher, a famous Broadway musical star, President, famous jazz musician, and famous scientist and inventor.
Perseus’ relationship with the princess Andromeda was particularly interesting. Their relationship seemed to be more about status and physical attraction than having any true emotional connection on love. All he had to do to win her was to answer a riddle, to which he knew the answer with the aid of Zeus’ gifted weapons. Instantly won status as an unknown prince from a flooded kingdom. I also found it interesting how the attraction and pairing seemed to be more based on physical beauty than any emotional connection. When she was engaged to Calibus, the prince that killed most of the winged horses, she only stopped liking him when Zeus turned him into an ugly beast. That seemed to signify that Andromeda was willing to look past personality if a guy was handsome enough. That Perseus was the only one that could save her, perhaps planted a seed within me to think that I would have to save girls I was interested in the future. And of course he had to save her so that they could live happily every after so she could give birth to “many sons”.
When I had questions about my sexuality, sometimes I wondered if I just wanted girls because Perseus and every other superhero wanted them. Did I have to be a superhero to want girls? Did I like girls just so I could be a superhero? It took those feeling and sensual experiences mentioned in the last chapter to reconcile any hierarchy of status I felt from society with truth behind my own desires and fears. Still I could not help but be happy with myself as I grew into a young man, that I started to have a similar muscle tone in my pectoral muscles like Hamlin did in that movie. Maybe I was destined for something great after all. Haha.
Aside from those three movies, I had an affinity towards comeback movies, often feeling like the underdog socially growing up. I loved all of the famous comeback movies – the Rocky series. I also liked movies where the bad kid who did not do well with authority would eventually win over a mentor or teacher who originally doubted him by showing his great potential in a talent. An example of this would be the bad kid Kelly in the Bad News Bears who ends up being a great pitcher for the team. Even Luke Skywalker in Star Wars had to win over Yoda who had doubts about his age and ability.
The affects of these underdog movies were that while I often played by the book, being a goody two shoes, when it came to regular academic classes in school, I often felt like being a rebel against authority when it came to art, music, and athletics. I was tired of being the Michael J. Fox nerd from Family Ties while in history, science classes, always the first to raise my hand to answer a question or submissively do the work assigned by these teachers. They were the ones that would be most important to win over if I were to go to a good college and get a degree and be successful. Art and music were outlets for me to show my more wild side. It came out the first time I studied with Sensei Lou taking karate when I misbehaved, by counting in French after he would count the drills in Japanese.
Similarly throughout high school, I rarely got along with my music teachers, and not always on purpose. At some point I think I expected them to not like me, or somehow do something that would fall out of favor with them. It always put me in a position where I wanted to show them how valuable I was, how talented I was, in spite of their lack of confidence. With the exception of a few teachers I got along with, the one thing I was unable to do with the ones I butted heads with was to feel like I could win them over and them taking me under their wing once they saw my potential. Perhaps this self fulfilling prophecy in sabotaging my relationships with authority (other than my parents) with the hope that I could win them back, was responsible for the emotional distances I felt between most of my music teachers throughout high school and college. I just thought that a little self-banishment was healthy to fuel an inspiring real time training montage to prove my self worth and authorities wrong for ever doubting me.