A few years ago I saw a movie called Hollywoodland. It was the story of the actor George Reeves, who played Superman in the 1950s television show. The story presented the mystery of his death in 1959. Was it suicide, homicide, or accidental? The question remains to this day, but the movie presented some well-envisioned theories.
I was too young to have seen Superman in the Fifties, but I enjoyed watching the reruns in the Sixties. Engulfed in nostalgia, I purchased the first season on DVD. It occurred to me that I wasn’t so much interested in seeing the show again, as I was in recapturing the wonder I felt at seeing the Man of Steel on TV for the first time. And guess what? it worked. All of a sudden I was a boy again, marveling at the exploits of one of my favorite superheroes.
In upstate New York in the mid-Sixties, while I was visiting my aunt and uncle, I played outside with some neighborhood kids. I think it was one of my female cousins who came out to say that Superman was on TV. It was like someone yelled “Stat!” to a doctor in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. I let go of the Radio Flyer I was hauling up an incline, and made a mad dash into the house. I believe someone sustained a minor injury from the runaway wagon; probably the kid in the wagon.
In the mid-Eighties, I looked forward to the miracle of owning a device that could play any movie I rented or bought: a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). Civilization had truly taken a giant leap forward. Now I could relive all the video experiences I wanted. Several movies fleshed out my initial library, including Forbidden Planet from 1956. It was unlike most science fiction films of that era, because it made one think. For that reason, among others, it is still one of my favorites. Like Superman it transported me back to my late teens in the Seventies, when I watched it from a prone position — as was my custom — from the floor of my parents’ living room. Again, I experienced the awe I felt when I saw this story for the first time.
Perhaps the most powerful time-displacement experience I’ve had was with an episode of the original Star Trek that involved a previous captain of the USS Enterprise: arguably the most famous starship of all time. His name was Christopher Pike, and he had a worthy adventure before James T. Kirk was even thought of as the Enterprise’s captain.
Pike was captured by a race of aliens known as the Talosians. Using their innate ability to create illusion, they tricked Pike and his landing party into believing they were rescuing an imaginary set of castaways. Luring Pike to the entrance of their underground complex, they knocked him out, took him below, and deposited him on a bed in a cell that was part of an underground zoo. He woke with a start and flung off a thin metallic fabric blanket. Cavelike walls surrounded him on two sides, and a large, rectangular stone wall made up the back of the cell. Turning around to the front, he looked out onto a corridor whose floor lay about eighteen inches below the level of the chamber he occupied.
Pike stood and felt a transparent barrier that prevented him from leaving the cell. With a quick flare of anger, he hurled himself against the obstruction. It resisted as if it were made of tautly stretched rubber. Only then did he observe that he was just one of many zoo specimens.
Watching this strange scene, I was again transported to the first time I’d watched it. Seeing it again brought back memories of the experiment that Pike had to endure at the hands of the Talosians. This is still so powerfully etched in my memory that for therapy I wrote it into the beginning of Ghosts of Forgotten Empires, Volume II. But I indulged in some creative license to have a little consenting-adult fun with it, too. See Vina, the lady on the right in the picture above? 😉
In summary, I hit upon a method for conjuring up prior memories and feelings. I can be nine, 19, or 13, but by utilizing selective viewing, I inhabit a younger self to relive mystery, fear, triumph, or whatever. The famous movie critic Roger Ebert once said that movies are an empathy machine. Perhaps so, but by selecting past viewing experiences, movies can also help one re-explore earlier states of their own being. Couldn’t that also be described as a personal time machine?