From the heart of Logan Polk … Moving Pictures a column about Brothers, Grief, Memory, Family and Film.
In September of 2020, in a year already fraught with panic, anxiety, and despair for most of the world, I lost my twin brother, Ryan.
The last thing he said to me was “it’s okay,” and the last thing I said to him was “I’ll call you back.” Turns out we were both lying. But maybe sentiment is a lot like gift-giving and it’s the thought that counts?
For both our sakes I certainly hope so.
In the 41 years we spent together on this planet we bonded over a number of things; food, comics, football, video games, music…but there was nothing we liked to talk about more than TV and film. Possibly because we grew up in front of the warm, otherworldly glow of a tube television. Or maybe it was the fact that our Dad basically regarded movie theaters as sacred and holy places that allowed you to leave your troubles at their doors, if only for a few hours.
My earliest memories are of movie outings with my father and brother. Seeing Return of the Jedi at the now-abandoned twin cinema in Phenix City, Al. It’s the same place I first saw E.T. and where I would scare the bejeezus out of my sister decades later during a screening of Jurassic Park.
I have a very distinct memory of my dad coming home with a newly purchased copy of Harry and the Hendersons on VHS and trying to explain to us why it didn’t work on our BetaMax machine. The same BetMax machine that my brother and I inherited years later, after my parents had divorced, and would use for recording whatever late-night shows we were forbidden to stay up and watch. Both Quantum Leap and The Arsenio Hall Show immediately come to mind.
Every Christmas for almost our entire lives my dad would take my brother and I to see a movie, just the three of us. We saw our fair share of cinematic classics (The Star Wars Saga, Lord of the Rings, any number of Disney films), but oddly enough it’s the terrible films that stand out the most now. Movies like Toys, Street Fighter, Dungeons & Dragons…somehow them being godawful strengthened their grasp on my memories. Then, when my baby brother Avi came along 26 years later, he was a welcome addition, especially because it meant we no longer had to decide on the movie. It would have to be whatever kid-friendly fare didn’t immediately turn our stomachs.
No matter the film, a discussion followed in the car ride home. Sometimes those discussions would end after only a few minutes, and sometimes they would carry over into the next week or even month. And there were the few rare cases of the films we were still talking about before Ryan passed. The Star Wars franchise being at the top of that list, but we were definitely still debating the merits of Street Fighter.
Over the last few years those discussions we used to have, both in-person and over the phone, turned into podcasts sent out into the ether for all the world to hear. Star Wars, Marvel films, and television shows like Mr. Robot, Preacher, American Gods, Legion; anything that entered our personal zeitgeist, we talked about it.
Pop culture was in our blood, it was damn near what we lived and breathed, and in the months since he passed it’s been the hardest thing for me to come back to.
Of all the things, the easiest has been anything new; WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, The Bad Batch…though they’re certainly tainted viewings, I’ve found it easier to approach something new than to continue watching something we both loved. Or, since we were gluttons, loved to hate. All of those new experiences are filled with the regret of being unable to call him and talk about what it all means or how awesome it was to see this character or that writ large on the television.
But the old familiars, shows like The Flash, Black Lightning, Supergirl, The Mandalorian…the current crop of Marvel films…they’ve been much harder to re-embrace. The conversations we had about those shows and movies were ongoing. Discussions that were dropped and picked up days or weeks later. Months late in the case of season finales.
The first time back in a theatre since his passing was on Christmas Day 2020, with nearly my entire family. We rented out a theatre and watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, and we laughed and mourned as only we could.
Of the handful of other films I watched outside of the theatre since that day, there are only two that I remember. One was a horror film called The Boy, which his daughter insisted we watch, and the other was New Mutants, the last of Fox’s X-Men franchise, a movie he and I had been looking forward to for literally years. The numerous postponements of its release and his declining health meant he never got to see it. And it’s a damn shame, he would have loved every second of it.
I actually had a lot of anxiety about setting foot into a theatre again for that first big geek outing, which turned out to be A Quiet Place II. Mainly because of the pandemic, but partially because I knew my thoughts would inevitably drift to him and the discussion that would no longer be had. Could no longer be had.
But we’re not here for the new releases. No, we’re here for the collection.
For a good chunk of our lives, there was nothing we loved more than going to the local video rental house and picking out a stack of movies, old favorites and unseen treasures, to spend the weekend watching. As adults, we’d visit those same places and snap up previously viewed movies at discounted prices. Then we’d talk.
Over the last few months, I found myself going through a lot of Ryan’s old VHS tapes wondering what in the hell to do with them. The short answer is upcycle, and I’ll tell you like my niece told me; just go look on Pinterest for ideas. As I thought up (or co-opted, rather) different projects for what most would consider trash, I began to think about those conversations we used to have, and as I’d come across one or two films I knew nothing about, I would wonder what it was he liked about them.
So, I’m going to watch them, and I’m going to talk about them. Not only the ones I haven’t seen, but the big blockbusters, and definitely a bunch of films we disagreed about wholeheartedly. It won’t be just his old VHS flicks, but I’ll be diving into his large DVD/Blu-Ray collection as well. Certainly, there will be movies that seem like total head-scratchers but as I said, we lived for the pop culture, so he has his fair share of crowd-pleasers as well.
It’s bound to be saccharine and emotional, probably far too personal, and maybe occasionally insightful. If not for you, then most certainly for me. I hope you’ll join me.