Each week, Film Forum sends out a newsletter full of information on upcoming screenings and events at its New York headquarters. Also included in this letter is a regular column called “My First Time,” where various writers, directors, and journalists describe some of their earliest movie memories. Assuming the spotlight in this week’s newsletter is Joel Coen, who along with his brother Ethan, has written and directed such modern classics as No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo.
Coen’s earliest recollections date back to the late 1950s, when he was, by his estimation, “four or five” years old. He seems to have vivid memories of the first few times he ever stepped into a theater, though they aren’t necessarily fond ones.
The first movie I remember seeing and the first movie I remember liking are different things. My early experiences at the cinema were curated by my mother who worked in a museum and was an art historian but was not exactly a movie fan. I remember at the age of four or five sitting next to her in an almost empty theatre watching what must have been a re-release of George Cukor’s David Copperfield. A few minutes into the movie Mr. Murdstone bends David over a table and, in what remains the most horrific scene I’ve ever seen in a film, beats him senseless with a birch switch.
Shortly after – this must have been 1959 – I was dragged to, of all things, a movie called El Lazarillo des Tormes. It was playing in a small auditorium in the museum where my mother worked. As the steward of my early cultural education she must have thought that a foreign film, like travel, would expand my horizons. In a sense she was right. Despite the fact that the movie was in Spanish, I learned that small children were liable at any moment to be sold by their parents into indentured servitude.
It wasn’t until 1961, in fact, that the young Coen finally stumbled upon a movie he enjoyed — Norman Taurog’s All Hands on Deck. You can read the rest of Coen’s column here; for more “First Times” click here.