While I’m not sure I ever got to know him as well as I could have, having more of a father/daughter dynamic to our relationship than anything resembling peers for so long, my Uncle Allan was a formative fixture in my life. I grew up two blocks away from him and my Aunt Mickey’s house and spent innumerable days playing X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my cousin Eric. He was someone who I saw as a man of few words, as a result occasionally intimidating to a shy little girl, who would speak up when he felt he had something of value to add. He wasn’t interested in talking to hear himself speak. Regardless, as I got older, I saw him for the warm man he was, and hearing stories, decided he had an adventurer’s spirit like I did. He always seemed to be looking to learn and along those lines, he never made a purchase without thorough research and took his choice of movies very seriously – or at least more seriously than the average film goer.
That last bit – the film part – is why I bring up my Uncle. Growing up I loved movies the same way any kid did. Going to the movies was a treat, a mini adventure. Films like Aladdin and The Lion King made children everywhere laugh and sing all the way home. However, while I grew up on Disney’s new classics and watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins ad nauseum in the comfort of my own home, I also begged my parents to take me to see the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie. Kids will inevitably watch anything. With that in mind, a future cinefile rarely grows up with any discernible taste in movies. It takes, I think, an inciting incident to inspire a passion for movies.
For the longest time I never even considered what that inciting incident was for me until I started planning my old Hollywood themed wedding. As my now husband and I narrowed down classic films for our centerpieces and thought of film related details I kept wondering – how did I get here? How did I become a person who loved movies so much she couldn’t get married without including them? And then, inevitably, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I can still see myself sitting on my Aunt and Uncle’s couch in Point Pleasant Beach, back to the open window, hearing the train and cars go by. I was somewhere between 12 and 15 and I sat there on that familiar, comforting couch with my cousin and my Uncle Allan in the arm chair to our right and watched Taxi Driver for the first time.
If I told you that I remembered my reaction to Scorsese’s masterpiece like a crystal clear photograph in time I’d be lying. I don’t, however, remember being horrified. There were no nightmares or ill effects like the terrible dreams that haunted me after seeing The Wizard of Oz when I was very young. I was probably warmed up to the experience from several annual viewings of John Carpenter’s Halloween –the one violent movie my parents would let me watch because, along with It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, it was my mother’s favorite Halloween tradition. But still, there are several things I clearly remember from watching Taxi Driver that very first time. One, I knew that if my parents knew I was watching this movie they would be furious. They never would have let me watch it at that age. Two, I was old enough to know who Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro were, and that people thought very highly of the film. These first two facts added a distinct feeling of mystique to the whole experience. And finally, three, though I strangely enough have not seen the film since that day, the overhead tracking shot through the carnage Travis Bickle has created trying to rescue Iris (Jodie Foster) from her pimp, is still perfectly etched in my brain.
Looking back at my memory of the film, it wasn’t the gore or blood that made the shot stand out in my head – maybe it helped a little – but it was the first time that I can clearly remember taking note that the camera was doing something, acting as an observer, a character in the film itself. This was the first time, for me, that a movie had transcended the realm of entertainment and into art. Ever since then I have descended further and further into the world of film, trying to experience everything it has to offer, on a constant, possibly endless, quest to eradicate my blind spots. I can say without a doubt that movies are the one true passion I have in my life and perhaps if my Uncle hadn’t chose to show me Taxi Driver all those years ago another inciting incident would have arisen. But, he did, and as a result the simple fact remains that my Uncle Allan, a wonderfully dry humored man and not at all easy to impress, a man I can clearly see laughing hysterically sitting in his sister-in-law MaryBeth’s living room at a family gathering of some kind having run over from his house two blocks away with a copy of Best of Show because we all just had to see it (my equally formative introduction to Christopher Guest), is responsible for igniting my lifelong love of film.
My Uncle was too sick to make it to my wedding in February and passed away while I was away on honeymoon. I feel like all our best conversations were ahead of us. The last time I saw him before we left for Mexico I hugged him and said, “We’ll see you when we get back.” I never really said good-bye and so, maybe all our best conversations are not lost and still wating to be had. Thank you Uncle Allan. Rest in peace.