Column, Movie Diary

Summer days drifting away

By Dom Cioffi

I was 11 years old at the beginning of the summer of 1978. At that time, my world revolved around the local municipal swimming pool just around the corner, whiffle ball games in the street with my friends, and a small white radio that I listened to music on.

The radio had originally been in our kitchen, before it was replaced and moved into the garage, where it was occasionally turned on when someone was washing a car or tinkering with some tools.

My older brothers both had small stereo systems on which they listened to their own personal albums. My oldest brother preferred progressive artists like the Moody Blues and Yes, while my middle brother chose to rock out to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

I used to love sitting in their rooms while they played their records. Both were big music fans – so much so that eventually I was inspired to find my own musical outlet. That’s when I commandeered the garage radio as my own.

I had no choices other than this small white radio, which was limited to tuning into a few local AM and FM stations. There was talk radio, some country stations, and the prerequisite easy listening station.

Nevertheless, I loved that white radio because it was mine and afforded me the tiniest sense of freedom to explore a very limited world of music. And I explored a lot. In fact, my love of music blossomed on that little white radio. Eventually, I moved it into my bedroom so I could fall asleep at night listening to it.

At some point during those first few weeks of summer vacation in 1978, I found myself at the movie theater watching a new film called “Grease.” I remember being very interested in going because the lead character, Danny Zuko, seemed to be a lot like my favorite television character, Arthur Fonzarelli, aka, Fonzie.

The Fonz was the embodiment of cool for any 11 year old in 1978. He looked cool, talked cool, acted cool, and most importantly, everyone treated him like he was cool.

From the movie previews I saw on television, John Travolta, looked to be another version of Fonzie. And for that reason alone, I was intent on seeing the film.it. I’ve possibly been to a couple thousand movies in my life – and I mean, actually going to a theater, not just watching a movie. Of those couple thousand movies, there are very few that I remember actually being at. But I definitely remember being at “Grease.”

I was profoundly affected by this film. The music captivated me, Oliva Newton-John bewitched me, and the characters amused me. But the love story between Danny and Sandy would ultimately form my idea of the perfect relationship for years to come.

The memory that’s burned into my brain is sitting in my seat as the ending credits were rolling and being so absolutely enveloped by what I had just witnessed that I refused to leave. I was the last one in the theater after that show and already plotting how I could come back to see it again.

I’ve rarely gone to the theater to see a film multiple times, but over that summer, I saw “Grease” five times, with each time being more exciting than the last.

My birthday falls in August, so I turned 12 a few months after “Grease” was released. My only birthday wish was for my own record player, which I did receive. And with the birthday money I was given, I went to the record store and purchased my very first album: a double LP of the “Grease” soundtrack.

I still own that album; it’s in the attic getting dusty with a few hundred other selections that I collected over the years. Eventually I bought the cassette, then the CD, then the DVD of the film.

I’ve seen and loved a lot of musicals since “Grease,” but it’s been a while since one of them has had that same initial effect on me.  Until now.

This past weekend, I joined Disney Plus to see what the platform had to offer. They just released a cinematic version of “Hamilton,” the smash Broadway musical that has been the toast of the theater world for the past several years.

This is a beautifully filmed performance gives a cinematic glimpse into the live theater experience of Lin-Manual Miranda’s presidential masterpiece. The music, delivered in a unique rap style, is both catchy and captivating. And the performances are as powerful as the story.

If you were able to see this musical live, consider yourself lucky. If not, the Disney production is the next best thing.

A dignified “A-” for “Hamilton.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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