The Perverse Lucidity of Nostalgia

“In her final years she would still recall the trip that, with the perverse lucidity of nostalgia, became more and more recent in her memory.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

When I was a little kid I, because I was an army brat, saw a lot of movies. A lot of movies. You could see them on base for a quarter. A quarter was worth more then than it is now, but it was still pretty cheap. I thought everybody went to movies all the time for a quarter. It was a shock when I started college and realized that not all movies started with a playing of the Star Spangled Banner (like all films on military bases did – no matter where you moved, the movies would start the same way, with the same film behind the music).

In my isolation, what I didn’t realize is that these films were at least a year old. They were the equivalent of a lower-tier dollar theater today. The other thing is that I didn’t realize how bad some of these films were.

And as a movie-loving child, I didn’t realize how bad these films were, even after I saw them.

And, like a curse, I still remember so many of these films. I forget my ATM PIN number with regularity but hundreds of movies still well up from the stratified thick mists of memory up to a half-century fossilized now – still clear and sharp. But I remember them not as I am now, but as I was then. I recollect them as a wide-eyed child, sitting in the dark, in amazement and wonder at the flickering images on the screen.

Given the time, not surprisingly, a lot of them are of the cheap, second-rate, third-tier, science fiction, monster-riddled, space opera genre. In those days I thought The Green Slime was the greatest piece of art the world had ever seen. I remember enthusiastically hauling all my friends back the next day for an encore showing.

However, even within this fallow soil of vast film awfulness, a few jewels would fall. For example, I remember First Spaceship on Venus – an amazingly odd East German – Polish film adapted from a Stanislav Lem novel. How this came to be featured on American Military bases during the height of the cold war is a mystery. I was excited a few years ago when I was able to get a copy from Netlix. Now, the thing is readily available on the internet and, although dated, is still an effective piece of entertainment. I always liked the look of the rocket.

Movie Poster for First Spaceship on Venus (Silent Star) - I remember the excitement of seeing this poster, even though I was probably six years old at the time.

Movie Poster for First Spaceship on Venus (Silent Star) – I remember the excitement of seeing this poster, even though I was probably six years old at the time.

Then, a few years ago, something came along to through those old memories back into my face. Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you don’t already know, the idea behind MST3K is that an ordinary everyman is trapped by evil scientists on a space station and forced to watch horrible old movies. He builds a few robot sidekicks to help pass the time and this motley crew are shown sitting there in silhouette, throwing up witty insults while the execrable cinema offerings are running across the screen.

My kids always said I should be on that show because of my bad habit of insulting the television to its face.

What the problem was, is that a lot of those films from my childhood showed up on MST3K – and, instead of the glorious examples of moving picture shows they were revealed for the celluloid crap they really were. I suffered from a terrible rejection of the beloved icons of my childhood.

Even First Spaceship on Venus showed up there. What a sacrilege.

I was reminded about this humiliation last night when Paste Magazine published a list of The Ten Most Unwatchable Films Featured on MST3K. I didn’t realize it has been 25 years since the show started… time flies. One good thing is that a lot of these are now available on Youtube – if you have a lot of time to waste.

Of the ten Paste Magazine reviled films – these are so bad they are in a world of their own and I only remember one of them from my childhood.

I won’t tell you which.

I will own up to one film, though. There was one movie I was that, although I didn’t remember the title, I did recall many scenes… the beautiful french temptress turning into a horrible monster with glowing green eyes, the dragon, and most of all, the spinning yellow spiral that burned the brave knights to death. I had always wondered what movie that was – and then, one day, I saw a bit of MST3K and there it was… The Magic Sword.

And now it’s out there on the internet and I can watch it whenever I want to.

You know, it isn’t as good as I remembered it… but it isn’t really all that bad.

MST3K Version

Unmessed-with Version

First Spaceship on Venus (more accurately known as Silent Star)

Advertisements