“I’ve got one for you - what was the real name of the black guy in Aliens?” This was the question fired at me by a work colleague and fellow film enthusiast back in my early twenties. He knew of course, and so did I, although I wasn’t letting on. Yaphet Kotto was the actor in question (a name which admittedly, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue). I first knew of him as the freaky Bond villain in Live and Let Die, and later as the third lead in Paul Schrader’s directorial debut Blue Collar - a film I admired greatly. Also, he was one of the heavies who met an early demise at the hands of Schwarzenegger on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter “Chenni” in the classic Commando. No wait…..that was Bill Duke. Kotto played opposite Arnie in The Running Man (with Duke subsequently going on to star with Arnie again in Predator, alongside another Running Man co-star, Jessie Ventura). I was well aware of Yaphet Kotto and his films, but all I did was feign forgetfulness and eventually stuttered “is it someone who name begins with Y or something?”
Back then, I considered my encyclopaedic film knowledge more of a curse than a blessing. Having recently starting seeing my first, long-term serious girlfriend, I felt I had to keep my passion largely suppressed, as I was initially afraid that she may be put off. As a result of this, I would find myself in social situations with her, grinning through clenched teeth when someone in our company made a filmic faux-pas that I knew I could easily rectify.
When a rabid football supporter names his or her children after favourite players, no one bats an eyelid. If I were to christen my new-born Martin Quentin Ethan Wes Joel Paul Thomas Lowes, I would be mocked and ridiculed till the end of my time on this earth. I’ve never heard the term ‘footy geek’ (or even ‘sports geek’ for that matter), banded around as an insult. Is it because sports are seen as a more mainstream and masculine pursuit, as opposed to the cineaste, who festers away fervently absorbing vast quantities of films, usually within the constraints of a dark room?
Two things eventually helped me to reveal what I had been concealing for so long. Although I had a couple of friends who were as well-versed in cinema as myself, it was the internet where I finally discovered that not only were there thousands of likewise geeks (some who possessed an even richer degree of filmic knowledge), but that some were actually making a fantastic career out of it, reaching a huge amount of fans via a grass-roots level and gaining levels of readership that the esteemed, old-school circle of film critics could only dream of. Secondly, there came a point as I reached my mid-twenties when the devastating realisation that I would never attain anywhere near the Fonz-level of cool I had once dreamed of, finally dawned on me. It was time to come to terms with who I was.
Nowadays I’m only too happy to wax lyrical about the latest Coen brothers feature to anyone in earshot, regardless to whether they’re interested or not. The number of hours devoted to reading film news and gossip on-line and the constant cross-referencing on IMDB is sometimes frowned upon but otherwise accepted by my other half who amazingly, still wanted to share her life with me after I revealed everything to her in the early stages of our relationship. Although being much more open about my love for cinema in general, I have found a way to keep a lid on it sometimes, in much the same way as Bruce Banner fights to attain the ability to control his inner urges and preventing himself from ‘Hulking out’.
Just don’t try and convince me that Michael Bay is an underappreciated auteur. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.