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Movie Review: Thanks to my favorite Uncle Joel, and my favorite Uncle Ted for shaping my movie-watching sensibilities

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Erik Witsoe
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I think all any uncle really wants is to influence his niece or nephew’s cultural taste in an overwhelming and irrevocable way. So, nothing too big.

For me, this was a huge part of shaping my movie-watching sensibilities, particularly due to two of my uncles—my favorite uncle Joel, and my favorite uncle Ted.

Joel’s influence was more specific, in that he was responsible for introducing me to what will forever be my favorite movie. It’s a little boring to say, but it’s absolutely true, that this movie is Casablanca. Joel sat me down and made me watch it when I visited his house in Minnesota when I was 15 or 16—it’s not that I had any particular aversion to older movies, it’s just that I had recently tried, and failed, to watch Gone With the Wind, and the last thing I really wanted at that moment was another of those Hollywood movies everyone agreed was great. Obviously, I was a moron, Casablanca is every single thing you could possibly want from a movie: it’s beautiful to look at, it’s very funny, it’s full of adventure, it’s swooningly romantic, it’s got Bogie, it’s got Ingrid Bergman in soft focus. Would I have eventually seen the movie if Joel hadn’t shown it to me? Of course. But this is what happened, so he gets the credit.

Another quick little Joel story—my favorite movie experience with him was seeing the John Candy comedy Delirious 30 years ago at the long-gone Twin Lakes movie theater, and hearing Joel’s enormous, booming laughter echoing through the auditorium. I watched the movie again not long ago, and while the first 30 or 40 minutes are genuinely bad—like, bad, bad, really bad—the rest is maybe not a complete disaster? It’s actually kind of clever, as Candy’s soap opera writer ends up inside his own show and discovers he can create his reality by writing it out on his typewriter. What was Joel laughing at? I have no idea whatsoever, but it’s one of my best movie memories.

My uncle Ted shaped my tastes less through force and more by providing access. I grew up with Ted’s son, my cousin Nathan, who devoured TV and movies and was far more culturally adventurous and sophisticated than any eight-to-fifteen-year-old should be. And Ted was an early adopter of home video, and, um, extra-legal media acquisition, and so he had zillions of copied movies on videotape that Nathan dug out and played during sleepovers. Cutter’s Way, Putney Swope, Barton Fink—edgy, subversive movies I sometimes didn’t understand, but that I could tell were exciting and inventive and unlike anything else that normally passed in front of my eyes. Ted is the reason I love David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Sam Raimi. He’s the reason I first saw Do the Right Thing, simply one of the great American movies ever made. He’s the reason a 12-year-old was watching Bobcat Goldthwait as an alcoholic Shakes the Clown, he’s why I think Midnight Run is probably the best buddy comedy ever. In a way, he flooded my cultural market with offbeat, strange, and provocative movies, and I’ve never recovered.

Of course there are a lot of other people who helped form my cinematic tastes—Dad, I’m looking at you—but Joel, Ted… I want you to know that a lot of what’s wrong with me is your fault.

Fletcher Powell's biggest claim to fame is that he owns a copy of every Bo Jackson baseball card ever made. He's done other things, too, like work in the stock market, but that wasn't so fun. So now he's KMUW’s Production Manager and host of All Things Considered, as well as KMUW's movie reviewer and producer/co-host of the podcast You're Saying It Wrong.