September 7, 2004

"THX 1138."

George Lucas's first film, "THX 1138," is about to come out as a "director's cut" DVD. You can pre-order it on Amazon and get "at no additional cost--a collectible aluminum replica of the THX 1138 ear tag featured on the DVD packaging art (while supplies last)." Good thing it's collectible, because I wouldn't want an aluminum replica of an ear tag that somehow stood in the way of my collecting it. And what does it even mean to collect a single item? If there's only one, isn't it just ... keepable? A keepsake? And what is the charm of an ear tag anyway? I'd like to run across someone actually wearing a THX 1138 ear tag, just to test the image I have in my head of the kind of guy who would wear a THX 1138 ear tag. I'll just leave it at that.

I won't be buying this DVD, even with the added incentive of the ear tag, because I've seen this movie. I saw it when it came out in 1971, and I consider that a bit of a distinction, because it was a pretty obscure movie. The name George Lucas meant nothing then. Francis Ford Coppola produced this movie, but it was still a year before "The Godfather." Back in those days we had a bit of a thing for "You're a Big Boy Now," the 1966 Francis Ford Coppola movie, but I doubt if that was the draw. As nearly as I can remember, we just liked science fiction movies. "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Green Slime"--whatever. And "THX 1138" was "supposed to be good," which was enough. I saw this movie at a drive-in that summer (the same summer when I saw Alice Cooper in concert--or thereabouts). I was stranded in southern New Jersey. You know how you feel when you've gone away to college and then you come back in the summer and live with your parents? But it was worse because my parents moved right after I graduated from high school. So instead of going back to Wayne, New Jersey, where I knew people and could easily get to New York City, I had to go to Blackwood, New Jersey, a desolate place--literally "The Pine Barrens" (that is not just the name of an episode of "The Sopranos").

It was really dull and depressing, somewhere along the White Horse Pike, midway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City (pre-gambling Atlantic City). The closest thing to anything to do there was to play pinball in a bowling alley. I've only been punched in the face once in my life, and it was in the parking lot of that bowling alley. I made fun of the words to "Born to Run" yesterday, but "a death trap ... a suicide rap" is about how it felt. People think of those early Bruce Springsteen songs as being about New Jersey, but they are about southern New Jersey, and it really was an awful place to be in the early 1970s. People in New York who laugh at New Jersey are talking about northern New Jersey. Southern New Jersey is a big step down.

But we did have a drive-in, and they were playing "THX 1138." I remember that the set was blank white, but not in the happy "Isaac Mizrahi Show" way, in the extreme sensory deprivation way. And--if I remember correctly--everyone was dressed in white, had shaved heads, and spoke in a flat, lifeless way. I was already living in southern New Jersey and that was already more sensory deprivation than I could take. Normally, I loved bleak cinema: we saw every Ingmar Bergman double feature that played at Cinema Guild during the school year back in Ann Arbor, and, believe me, Cinema Guild showed a lot of Bergman double features. But that summer, in that place, in a drive-in, "THX 1138" was profoundly, profoundly boring.

So I will not be competing with all you ear tag collectors and George Lucas fans. In my alphabetized DVD bookcase, "Three Kings" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" will for now remain side-by-side.

UPDATE: Chris points out that "THX 1138" is getting a theatrical release too.

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