May I suggest you go to AFI Silver today or tomorrow and see “The Right Stuff,” the 1983 film about the launch of NASA’s Project Mercury? “The Right Stuff” is, first of all, a great film. It’s about the first Americans in space, so it’s exciting, but it’s also sweet and, at times, hilarious. There’s an extended pee joke that’s worthy of Mel Brooks.
For me, it’s the movie that eventually led me to this job. I was taking the second of two film classes available at my college and I had a choice: Write a paper or give a 15-minute talk about some scene in “The Right Stuff. I thought, how much time could preparing a little speech take?
“Whoops” is an understatement. The talk required hours in the school’s film library — four TVs with laser-disc players, all used by students silently cursing because they thought a film class would be easy. I watched “my scene” — of a backyard barbecue with the hotshot pilots on one side of a sliding glass door and their stoically terrified wives on the other — probably close to 100 times. Eventually, I started finding connections. Framing and edits and scenery started suggesting multiple layers of meanings, symbols that I felt I was the first one to find. (I wasn’t, but it felt that way.)
At first, I just didn’t want to screw up the lecture, but around viewing 37, I realized this kind of close study was fun. And that I was good at it. Possibly better than anything else I was good at in college.
I don’t do that kind of obsessive viewing anymore, but that talk on “The Right Stuff” and my subsequent work (I’ve seen “Clueless” more than 60 times; ask me why!) honed my ability to watch a film closely, only now I don’t get a second or third or 50th chance to watch a film I’m writing about.
So thanks, spacemen, for showing me how to follow my own stars.