FREE PERIOD – A STUDY IN CINEMATIC TRUANCY

Not to say I was a bad student, I just was not convinced that I needed advanced mathematics in my adult life. At age 40… I’m still not.

Picture it: Utah – 1997 (And yes, I’m wearing a floral patterned nightgown as Sophia Petrillo would.) – 16 year old me had a drivers license, a used 1991 Nissan Pathfinder, and Algebra 1 at 10 in the morning. I confused the fuck out of my high school guidance counselor. How does a kid that is in three AP English/Literature classes, AP History and the T.A. for the A/V club be stuck in the lowest math class offered? Easy – even at 16 I knew that I wouldn’t need algebraic equations or geometric patterns to get ahead in life. 22 years later I still haven’t used one of those goddamned number salads.

It was decided early Junior year that once I had a car, my buddies and I would coordinate our class schedules to be able to ditch the class before lunch. With our school’s “long periods” of 90 minute classes and it’s laxed attendance policy, it would be the perfect time of day to skip and go see a movie at the early bird price… ( we were poor teenagers after all). 1997 was a pretty great year to do just that.

The first official FREE PERIOD project was GROSSE POINTE BLANK – a film about a hitman played by John Cusack (which was also co-written by him) who after a botched assassination, is forced to perform a hit job in his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. After a suggestion by his shrink (Alan Arkin- always a treat), he plans to attend his 10 year high school reunion and reconnect with his ex girlfriend that he left waiting in her prom dress after he had a mental breakdown and decided join the army. I LOVED this movie and even took my dad to see it again the same week. It seemed that the daytime staff at The Carillon Square 4-plex (who were mostly burnouts fresh out of high school) didn’t seem to care about a group of truants (or our ID’s for R Rated films for that matter…), so the theater became our “study hall” if you will, two to three times per week.

Next week it was 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG, a comedy/ crime film with Joe Pesci in one of his best roles (maybe not the best film though). This “screwball” comedy about a hitman (the 90’s loved their hitmen) whose bag of heads that were collected for a mob boss is mistakenly taken by a college student on his way to meet his fiance’s parents in Mexico. While not the best film, it still holds up on a night when you can’t decide what to watch and are three martinis deep. Besides, who doesn’t want to watch Joe Pesci torture David Spade for 30 minutes? We knew we were onto something. We had cracked the code. If we submitted “The Change of Contact” form to direct attendance calls to my friend’s cell phone, who would ever know?

Awww, Austin Power’s International Man of Mystery. I’m not even sure if I can tell you how many times I saw that in the theater. I know that I saw it at the end of the school year during FREE PERIOD, and then again in NYC during summer break. One thing I can tell you is that this film kicked off one of the best summers of my life and cemented the notion that for my upcoming Junior and Senior years, FREE PERIOD was a non negotiable requirement.

So now August came and the start of Junior year was upon us. We knew the drill. We would find the least important class to ditch and get it scheduled before lunch. Most of my friends picked some easily passable elective classes… I chose my mathematics class again. Fuck it. This year I was heavily involved in the A/V club, which was weird because I was a skater punk teenager in a group of your typical A/V crowd, but we all got along and made some killer assembly videos. I would tell them about my “Free Period” adventures and the films we saw, and it wasn’t long until they started asking to come a long. I agreed to bring them one at a time, as to not raise any suspicion. I took my main camera guy the first time out. He wasn’t really like us; he was super religious and afraid of getting in trouble. He was however jealous of our lifestyle and wanted a taste…. maybe he got too much of a taste with the film we took him too…

BOOGIE NIGHTS was a big deal for us in 1997. I mean, it was a bout porn, and most of the porn we had seen was this kind of porn- 1970’s from one of our uncle’s basements. I dug Marky Mark in FEAR, and although we hadn’t seen PTA’s previous film HARD EIGHT (or SYDNEY depending on what version your saw), we had heard that this guy was the next SCORSESE. We gathered in the parking lot, avoiding the truancy guard, who was most often found sitting in a folding chair by the gym playing POKEMON GOLD. My A/V peer approached us nervously.

“I’m not so sure about this guys. Maybe I’ll go next time when you guys go see Fifth Element or something.” he said.

“Get in the fucking car Kevin.” I said, and he did.

We approached the theater (the only ones there) and paid for our early bird tickets. Alone in the theater , the lights dimmed and the trailers began. A new Danny Boyle movie? (A LIFE LESS ORDINARY) – Count me in! GATTACA? Sure, I love genetic Sci Fi! And then the low pitched organ grinder music began to play in the darkness, and one of the most impressive tracking shots in cinema history hit the screen. As we begin to meet all the players in this film within the first few minutes, I was completely entranced. I looked over at Kevin, he seemed okay- but then Burt Reynolds walks into the back kitchen of the night club and Mark Wahlberg asks “Do you want a ten or a twenty?”

Kevin was not okay. He braved it all the way through, but was completely silent the entire drive back to school as the rest of us discussed how that was the most badass film we had seen all year. Kevin never asked to come with us again.

So many great films followed that year. THE DEVILS ADVOCATE, STARSHIP TROOPERS, ALIEN RESURRECTION, GOOD WILL HUNTING, LA CONFIDENTIAL… But one film finished off the year with perfection. School was out of Christmas Break, but we decided on one last FREE PERIOD of the year; not a free period from school mind you, but a free period from our families. We were going to skip CHRISTMAS and two words can explain why…… JACKIE BROWN.

After Tarantino broke the world with PULP FICTION, every wanna be writer/director took their shot at recreating that magic, but mostly failed. After three long years, we needed the real Tarantino back, and we got him for Christmas. My family gave two shits about the Holiday, hell I even brought my dad with me. Some of the other kids needing to convince their parents, but it was just easier to lie.

“I gotta go to my friend’s church function,”

“I gotta go see my girlfriend’s grandmother in the hospital.”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

We met at 11 a.m.- the first show of the day. We had no idea what this film was about other than what was in the trailer. As the trailers ended and the opening titles ran over Pam Grier on a people mover through L.A.X, I swear to God a tear came to my eye. I was a 16 year old kid who was ready for this. Ready for Pam Grier, Sam Jackson, Robert Forster and Michael Keaton to kick my ass for two hours. It was hands down the best Christmas Day of my life, and the best way to wind up 1997. Once school was back on session, we continued our tradition…but that’s 1998, and a whole different story all together. I guess you’re gonna have to come back to hear the rest of it.

See you then.

A.

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