|A Velociraptor from Jurassic Park|
“Earliest Movie Memories”
Raphael was squatting behind a pile of rubbish in a junkyard, alongside him was his human friend and pizza delivery boy, Keno.
I think before I go any further, I must clarify that I am talking about Raphael the teenage mutant ninja turtle, not the renaissance painter.
Both Raphael and Keno were looking upon a shoddy shack made out of various scraps of metal. They had found the new hideout for the villainous Foot clan, a clan of thieving ninjas they had thought to be completely disbanded. Then, out of the depths of the shack, they laid eyes upon a man Raphael knew to be dead.
There covered from head-to-toe in spiky armor and chain mail, with his trademark mask that was a cross between the grill of a car and a mechanical shark fin, stood Shredder, the ninja turtle's archnemesis.
The year was 1991, the place was the Malco movie theater in Tupelo, Mississippi. I was not even a year old yet, but this image of Raphael, Keno, and Shredder, was my very first movie memory. As a matter of fact, this might be the first memory I can actually recall in vivid detail.
As we so often did back in those days, we had gone to spend some time at my Grandmother's house in Tupelo (the birthplace of Elvis Presley), with our favorite pastime being going to the movies, or the show, as my Aunt Jane still calls it. My Mom and my Aunt Jane had taken me and my older brothers and sister to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. I say they took me to see it, it was more like they took my older siblings and I just went along for the ride, because who expects a ten or eleven month old to sit and watch a movie? All I can say is that I must have been well behaved for my age. I cannot say if that was the definitive moment where I fell in love with movies for life, or if it just so happens to be a random memory that makes little to no sense, whatever it's true significance is, it's a moment I have never forgotten.
From the earliest age possible, movies have been a part of me, speaking to me in ways I could never describe in words. It truly is a mystery why I fell so hard for movies. Being a fan of Spider-Man, I've always thought that I should have had one of those classic great power moments where I had a realization or something that changed my life, but there was never anything like that. As far as I know, I was simply born already fascinated by the moving picture.
I was born May 11, 1990, in Birmingham, Alabama. In so many ways, Birmingham, Alabama, is about as far from Hollywood as you could get, and yet I might as well have been living in a movie projector itself. Through my parents, Rick and Sheila Sutton, I learned to appreciate movies, and discovered so many movies that fellow kids my age had never even heard of. This is a large part of the reason why I say I had the best parents in the world, and still do, because they are as much to credit for my movie love as anything else. Through them showing me as many movies as I could consume, and through my Dad's job working in television at the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), stationed just outside of Birmingham, visual storytelling was simply a way of life for me.
In the years that followed my first movie memory, more and more were created. I can recall seeing Disney's animated classic, Aladdin, at the historical Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham, when I was maybe two or three.
The Alabama is one of the last of the great movie palaces from the Golden Age of Cinema. Built by Paramount Pictures back in 1927, and known worldwide for its one-of-a-kind Wurlitzer organ that rises out of the stage, there are few movie theaters left in the world that are quite like it. It is large, featuring a mezzanine and a balcony with more seats than you can find in any modern movie theater, and it easily rivals the class and sophistication of any of Broadway's most storied theaters.
On this particular occasion, my family and I were sitting in the mezzanine, the most contained area of seating in the whole of the theater, and perhaps the most envious to get a choice seat in. Looking back on it, I think the main reason my parents so often chose to sit there is because it was the place where it was easiest to take one of us kids out if we were being too disruptive, aside from the fact that it was also easier to keep an eye on all four of us due to the confined parameters. No matter why we were sitting there, it is easily one of the more magical areas of the whole theater to be in for viewing movies.
The lip of the balcony extends at least a good thirty feet beyond the cut off of the mezzanine, creating this feeling when you're sitting there of being in your own world, looking at the movie screen through a funnel. There was no one else in the audience for all I knew. The laughing and cheering might as well have been a sitcom laugh track, because I never saw anyone other than who was in the mezzanine with me. It was in that setting, that I can recall seeing Aladdin and Jasmine singing, “A Whole New World,” for the first of many in my childhood. As Aladdin and Jasmine flew from Agrabah and beyond on Aladdin's magic carpet, the animators of the film might as well have been inside my brain, etching those images into my visual cortex for all of eternity.
Another important memory occurred maybe only a year later in that exact same setting. Now, before anyone thinks poorly of my Mom, the first thing I must point out is that I had already been to see Jurassic Park once against her wishes. While I do not remember the first time I went to see Jurassic Park with my Dad and my siblings, I have been told a great many times over the years how upset my Mom was by my Dad taking a three year old to go see such a violent and adult movie. Was I scarred for life? Not in the slightest, I absolutely loved it. Maybe it was because my older brothers were obsessed with the movie and I loved whatever they did, or maybe I just had a high threshold for violent subject matter at a young age. Who knows why I loved such a movie, but I did. Naturally, when our family went to see the movie at the Alabama Theatre for a second time, I was allowed to come along and enjoy the experience once more.
Sitting in the same exact spot in the mezzanine as we did for Aladdin, I experienced Jurassic Park in all of its Spielbergian majesty. The same as with Ninja Turtles and Aladdin, I know I enjoyed the whole movie, but all I can remember from that day is one moment, one image, the image of the velociraptor in the jungle right before he eats gamekeeper Robert Muldoon. I just remember seeing the image of this incredibly real-looking giant lizard with sharp teeth, surrounded by all sorts of flora and fauna, ready to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. At that moment, I can recall believing that dinosaurs still existed, and of course I think even at that age I new dinosaurs were extinct, but for a moment I was fooled. Subconsciously, I believe that was the first moment where I truly realized the magic of moviemaking and why dreams were so important.
Through all of these early movie memories, little did I know then, but I was already being groomed to be a moviemaker. When I was at home playing, I could recall the shots from the movies I had seen as if I was still in the theater watching them. I could see everything from the faces of the actors to the colors that were onscreen. I even had times where I dreamed at night, reliving or creating new scenes to movies I had seen in theaters the night before.
I cannot tell you how many times I woke up in a cold sweat dreaming I was the kid drowning in the whale tank from Free Willy, or when I had a dream after seeing Batman Forever where I dreamt that Chris O'Donnell's Dick Grayson/Robin found Bruce Wayne's slide from his office to the Batcave. This scene was nowhere to be found in the actual movie, but I could have sworn it was in the movie after dreaming it. I had directed my first scene, albeit completely through my subconscious.