E. T. and Me
I was eight years old when the film E.T. the Extraterrestrial was released. I’d never heard of its director, Steven Spielberg, who’d only made a small handful of movies by then, including one about a deadly shark. You know the one. To be honest, I’m not sure I had the slightest idea that movies were made by people, let alone famous would-be-auteurs and masters of cinematic imagination. Without question, I didn’t have a clue that pieces of spliced celluloid could be put together, mounted on a reel and shown through a projector to produce the spell we fall under when the lights go down and the curtains part (I’m not getting into the whole digital thing here – it’s still cool and ephemeral, watching movies). I was blissfully unaware of the hard work that goes into just about everything. It was 1982. Drew Barrymore was an adorable tot with famous, handsome ancestors whose tumultuous, triumph-over-adversity narrative arc had yet to unfold. Henry Thomas, who plays Elliot, the protagonist of E.T. was, and would remain a virtual unknown, though I’ve since seen him more times than is probably necessary in the Brad Pitt epic, Legends of the Fall. But none of this matters. The big draw here was the inordinately cute alien with the enormous eyes yearning to make a phone call to his loved ones in outer space. And we weren’t disappointed. To this day, its images are fixed in my memory: E.T. dressed up as a doll hiding out in Elliot’s closet, not getting spotted by Mom, who fails to notice there’s an alien in her house; the trail of Reese’s Pieces (product placement? What’s that?) Elliot uses to lure E.T. into the house for the first time, and of course, E.T. powering Elliot’s bicycle as they surge up into the sky and glide in front of the moon. I saw the movie with my mother and sister and we all loved it. Did we eat popcorn? I don’t know. Were there any ads or trailers before the movie? No idea. But I do remember that when we came home, I went to my room and saw the most magnificent thing. I shouted to my mother and sister to come join me. We stood at my big window overlooking the street, staring out in wonder. There in front of us was the very first rainbow I’d seen in my life. My mother stood between my sister and I, holding each of us by the hand. For a few moments I forgot all about the movie and its kindhearted aliens and cool spacecrafts and bike rides into the sky. The rainbow – this impossibly beautiful sum of light rays hitting raindrops – was the most magical thing in the world. It still is, though I’m happy to watch many movies, and be utterly moved by the best of them, until the next rainbow comes.