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The crowd at the Woodstock festival in 1969, as seen from the stage, from the film 'Woodstock.'

AMPLIFICATIONS: ‘Woodstock’ on my mind

By Thursday, Jul 11, 2019 Viewpoints

Pauline Kael once famously said she “Lost it at the movies.” I, on the other hand, found myself at the movies.

My love affair with celluloid began as a child, but my clearest early movie memory was of watching the unbearably awful “Trog” with my mother and laughing hysterically throughout the entire film. According to the Internet Movie Database, this Joan Crawford potboiler features “a sympathetic anthropologist who uses drugs and surgery to try to communicate with a primitive troglodyte who is found living in a local cave.”

It was every bit as terrible as it sounds, but my mother and I still talk about that movie, not because it was an artistic accomplishment, but because it brought us joy due to being so wonderfully atrocious.

And then there was “Creature Double-Feature.” It was first aired out of Boston’s WKBG (Channel 56) when I was 12, and I was hooked! Those tacky monsters were often just stuntmen in bad rubber costumes, but it began a celluloid drip into my subconscious as addictive as any other substance on Earth. I would watch those movies every Saturday afternoon that I could get away with it, and sometimes they would actually scare me. I can clearly remember crouching behind the sofa and peering at the TV screen. As I got older and went off to babysit, I would inevitably watch other scary movies at night, but always checking closets and behind the shower curtain first. Not that I actually thought a giant ant or a prehistoric creature would suddenly appear, but I always figured it was better to know nothing was lurking before I began to scare myself.

A still from ‘Trog.’ Image courtesy Warner Archive

That love affair with film never ended. For the most part, the quality of the movies I watched improved, but I could still be found at Ed Wood retrospectives and just adoring the exploitation movies of Charles Band. Does anyone else fondly remember “Dollman,” the tagline of which was “Twelve inches of Man, Bad, and Dangerous to Know?”

I began reviewing films in college and, after graduation, called the Salem Evening News and audaciously told them I was a film critic. I would drive there from my apartment outside of Boston and type in my reviews at night when the staff was home. They paid me $25 per review and I loved it. I ended up writing about film for years for many publications and books, but one of my best gigs was for Tower Records, which published my “Beyond the B List” for many years in its Pulse! magazine.

I finally turned away from movies toward another love, literature and books in general, when I began to review audiobooks. Though there had been many, many years of movies that rattled me (“The Accused”), mesmerized me (“Wings of Desire”) or made me laugh every single time I watched them (“Cold Comfort Farm”), I could not deny the fact that I was tired of sitting in the dark.

And yet first loves stay with us. Summer movies still thrill, as do holiday blockbusters. Not being a religious family, our tradition for decades has been to go to a movie on Christmas and then eat Asian food. Often other folks join us. It is a nice respite from all the parties and preparations of the season. It is also a cool way to dodge the heat and humidity of the summer and sometimes it is just easier than a vacation. I have sat through many a pretty but mindless flick just to rest my brain, and recently the (anything but mindless) “Yesterday” had me happily singing for two days.

Exuberant crowd at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.

Returning to that first crush, I will be giving a lecture this Saturday night at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington prior to a screening of the director’s cut of the 1970 documentary, “Woodstock.” This being the 50th anniversary, there will be lots to discuss. There was much fun had this past weekend when I watched it with anther film-geek buddy, taking notes, writing up trivia questions. It was like going home again.

The theater will open at 6 p.m. and the film will start an hour later, following my discussion and a trivia quiz. Wear your tie-dye and bring your memories, because this is one of those rare times when the audience members could have been in the film.

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