Monday, February 14, 2011

The theah-tah, the theah-tah. What's happened to the theah-tah?

  Among my mother’s favorite stories is one in which we, as a family, decided to watch The Shining.  I was probably about 12 years old when my dad brought home the VCR from his office for the weekend and among the movies rented was the Kubrick classic of what happens when you trap a borderline personality in a Colorado hotel with Shelly Duvall.  As the horror unfolded before us there began an unspoken conversation, a Shine if you will, between my sister, father and I.  Among the three of us it was decided that we had better things to do than watch this, so, toodles!!  My mom is not sure when in the movie that it happened, but she turned to say something to us and we weren’t there.  Scared out of our wits Laura, Dad and I had gone upstairs to watch a "Facts of Life" rerun, I am sure.  It would be a couple of years after this incident that I finally saw the entire film and realized what I had missed.  By then I had a subscription to Fangoria and was immersed in the finest of splatter reels.

 Nothing going on here....

  Had we all been in a movie theater watching the film, I am sure that we would not have walked out.  Things are different when you go to the cinema.  Concern about the money spent to go to the movie in the first place notwithstanding, there is a certain cinema macho that is not strictly male.  Walking out on a movie in front of all of those other people is just plain embarrassing.  The very thought of walking out on any movie (With the exception of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey, or anything Will Farrell related that is not Elf .) has never even occurred to me.  Even the suckiest of suck-fests can usually hold my wandering attention.
  As much as I like slugging it on my couch with the fam and streaming countless, mind-melting films, I prefer going to a cinema.  The smell of over-salted popcorn and Jr. Mints getting smashed into the front of my shirt are but two of my favorite things about going to the movies.  (In case you didn’t know, Jr. Mints are the greatest movie candy ever.  You can argue with me, but you will be wrong.).

 The haven of much of my misspent youth

  Maybe it was Star Wars.  To this day, I can remember the first time I saw it in theaters.  Explosions, flashes of light, guys in bad-ass Stormtrooper outfits and Darth Vader.  Darth FREAKING Vader.  Remember being a little kid and seeing him for the first time.  Actually, hearing him was worse.  That asthmatic tyrant of the galaxy slowly walking down a corridor, casually asphyxiating from across the room those who annoyed him.  The greatest nightmares of my youth starred him.
  Or maybe it was The Wizard of Oz.  While I don’t remember this, my mother enjoys telling the story of taking my sister and me to see it in a theater when I was very young.  Apparently, we both cowered beneath the theater seats whenever the Wicked Witch made an appearance.  Who could blame us?  Perhaps the Jr. Mints I found some stuck to the bottom of the chair are the reason I so associate them with movies today.

Said haven as it appeared in the
1958 classic "Some Came Running."
 
  In actuality, I don’t think that it was any one movie experience, but the experience of being in the theater itself that made me grow to love it so much.  When watching a movie at home it is too easy to change the channel of walk to the fridge in order to get away from whatever is on the screen.  In a theater, where are you going to go?  When the witch came out my sister and I hightailed it for the floor, but that did little to help.  We could still hear the cackles and evil deeds, I am sure.  When Darth Vader wheezes into the scene I had no choice but to go fetal in my seat, scrunched between my mom and dad.  The theater makes you see what you may not want to, but will be better for in the long run.
  Of course, I am romanticizing.  Cinema etiquette today has reached an all time low.  Cell phones, ceaseless talking, young kids screaming and crying at horror films (I don't blame the kids, but the "parents" who are telling the to "Shut up!  I'm trying to watch the movie!"  And yes, that is an actual quote.) and the various other distractions generally infect me with a case of kill-everyone-in-the-theateritis.  Not that all noise in a theater is bad.  Laughing at funny parts, screaming at scary parts, even the occasional, veeeerrry occasional, verbal warning from an audience member to the Final Girl in a slasher film is welcome.  When watching a horror film (Something I do in the theaters less and less both due to what passes for horror now and the aforementioned "parents" who bring toddlers to watch torture-porn.) an uncomfortable laugh or even the loud guffaw at a particularly righteous death-scene is a great moment of sitting in a cinema.  (After all, who didn't want Jason to bag that whiny lady and slap her against a tree?)  However, most audiences today treat every film as though it were The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Speaking of RHPS, this is where
I would watch it in Louisville, KY

  My family and I have now found the best times to go to a show and have the fewest other people there so we can watch a film in relative peace.  And even now when I walk into a theater, I am that little kid I used to be.  Ready to cover my head and hide from the witch or stare, gape-mouthed at Monsieur Vader as he eclipses the screen.  Sitting next to my son and getting more pleasure out of watching him react to what is happening on the screen than out of the film itself is the new unexpected award.  It is a bittersweet feeling to have as the cinema house goes the way of the Dodo.  Knowing that my son is likely the last generation in our family who will know the feeling of going to the cinema.  If my younger brother ever has kids of his own I am almost certain that the movie theater will no longer exist, and no amount of 3D action is going to save it.  With any luck, there will still be the occasional  "nostalgia house" that will run classic films, but even those will be few and far between.  Movie making is already changing to accommodate the small screen, so the thought that an epic of the scale of Lawrence of Arabia could ever exist again is very much out of the question.  While I would like to sit here and pontificate on whether this development is good or bad, I am afraid, as is very much evidenced, that I am too strongly biased to give a balanced view.  I would much rather be slouched in a squeaky, Ju-Ju-Be stained chair between my wife and son than in front of my television.

 Yeah, I laughed the first time
I saw this.  Don't you judge me.

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