Saturday, May 16, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 20)


Like The Matrix, out the same year, I have a very distinct memory of seeing Fight Club for the first time. I was working at the Odeon, recruited to help with the rush for Star Wars: Episode I, and out of the many, many new recruits on a temporary contract I was one of the handful kept on. It wasn't an easy job - we had aggressive teens who broke into the cinema on many occasion and I have a distinct memory of having to grab a particularly violent teen who punched my assistant manager.

Anyway, while the job had its downside, and it paid minimum wage (which was about £3.80 back then), there were many, many elements of the job I loved. Working with movies, wandering the cinema freely, the cool trousers with a special pocket for the torch down the outside of one leg... The cinema itself was an old theatre, broken up into six screens. Above it was a spooky abandoned flat that just was filled with movie posters and cardboard standees, despite it looking like something at the end of The Blair Witch Project. And waaaaay down a long corridor at the side of screen 6 was where we stored the ice cream and popcorn, in storerooms near the old theatre dressing rooms. It was old, creepy, and cool. Doing the last checks at the end of the night to ensure the screens and building was empty, at 3am after The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre had cleared out, was a slightly thrilling spookfest.

One of the great things about working in the cinema was getting to see the movies. I saw EVERYTHING that came out for about eight months. EVERYTHING. I think I saw Disney's Tarzan about eight times, and despite the disappointment of The Phantom Menace, I saw it nine or ten times and grew to love it - my favourite of the prequels. It's where I fell in love with Notting Hill, possibly my favourite romcom.

But there was a film I really wasn't interested in. Fight Club. I knew nothing about it, hadn't seen any trailers except for the cryptic PSAs that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt did, and the poster made it look like people just punching each other. I didn't get it - where was the appeal?

Fight Club opened, and first screening I was ushering. I had my little torch (usually in that cool side pocket), walkie-talkie, and I took the tickets off people and ripped off the stub as they went into the screen. Those latecomers who needed help finding a seat, I used my torch and guided them in. It was typical policy when you were working a screen you hung around for the first fifteen minutes to make sure everyone was sat, latecomers were seated, everyone was happy, and so on.

It was really quiet, as you'd expect on a weekday opening, first showing at about 11:30am. About ten customers in a screen that could hold 300 or more. The certificate thing came up, I was stood at the door, and the Dust Brothers soundtrack crackled into life...

I stood staring at the graphics... no other customers came in, pretty quiet. The titles finish and it zooms back down Edward Norton's face and down the barrel of a gun.

"People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden..."

There's the cool zip around the buildings showing the massive amount of explosives set up in the basements, and then we start on the clever narrative flashbacks - to "Remaining Men Together" and earlier...

I was completely mesmerised. Those opening sequences, I was sold. Twenty minutes in, and I knew I had to get back to work, so I pulled myself out of the screen and went back to it, but my mind was filled with the amazing direction, the cool images, and that narration. I needed to see this movie as soon as possible.

I finally did - I don't know if it was that night, or the next couple of days. The wonders of having two free tickets every week through working there. And I was amazed. It was just brilliant. Thanks to working at the cinema, I think I saw it eight or nine times before it was removed in favour of the next big release.

I went out the day after seeing it to buy the book, and then absorbed the others by Chuck Palahniuk. Those first five or six books had such an impact on my writing style, when I tried to write fiction it just sounded like I was channeling my inner Chuck Palahniuk.

Long after we moved away and back across the country, I bought the DVD with its mass of extras, and later the bluray with its subversive trick making you think you were about to start watching the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed, before the Project Mayhem logo flashes on screen.

I won't go into the meaning of Fight Club, or what it's about - if you haven't seen it, please do. It is a brilliant piece of film making and storytelling that has influenced movies and TV shows for years afterwards.

As for me, when we bought our house - our first ever home - and we adopted a cat from the rescue, we adopted this gorgeous black cat (originally called Gothic by the RSPCA rescue centre). She had a tooth missing at the front, one of the canines, and she looked like she'd been in a fight (she was rescued after being hit by a car). It was only a day or two of her coming home with us that she rolled off the bed and fell onto the floor, just like Helena Bonham Carter's character from Fight Club did. Pair this with the line from the movie describing her as a "predator posing as a house cat", and we knew what to rename our cat... Marla. (Full name, Marla Singer Chapman).

It's been just over four months since we lost her.

God I miss my cat.

Okay, until tomorrow's - stay safe.

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