Thursday, April 2, 2015

Remember When

How time flies. In two months it’ll be Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the summer movie season. That means nothing but action flicks and big Hollywood blockbusters until around September or so. I think I saw two movies in a theater last year. I’d see more, but they’re really expensive any more, and I hate to spend all that money on something that sucks. This is why eventually I’ll be dropping cable TV.

There was a time when I went to the movies almost every week. Movies were cheaper, there were more good ones, and I had a job and could pay for it. And there were other benefits. That’s right, folks, the old lady’s gonna wax nostalgic for the Good Old Days. Just play with your iPad until I’m done.

Time was, if you wanted to see a movie fresh out of the studio, you had to go to a theater. That’s theater, singular. No multiplexes. One building, one movie, one humongous screen. When they said “widescreen” back in the ‘70s, they weren’t fooling around. We had one theater that went twin. You could see two movies in the same building! The wave of the future! I recall hearing stories about people who went to one show when Earthquake (“in glorious Sensurround”) was playing next door. Nobody could hear the end of their movie when the quake started. Okay, the system still had a few bugs in it. I’m sure they’ve cleared that up by now.

Shows ran continuously, too. If you got in five or ten minutes late, they’d let you stay over for the next show so you could see the part you missed. Or stay and watch the whole movie again. Nobody really cared. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “This is where we came in,” that’s where it came from. Now they chase you out when the movie’s over. I hope they’re cleaning between shows. Those floors got really sticky.

Another advantage to days gone by: if a movie was a hit, it stayed in the theater for as long as it made money. I remember the newspaper ad for The Terminator reading “Eighth Unstoppable Week.” In our area the original Star Wars ran for a full year and change. I kid you not.

Today the number one flick in the nation might run three weeks, tops. It has to get pulled to make room for the next blockbuster. This is because the real money isn’t in the initial theatrical run. It’s in foreign sales, DVDs, computer streaming and rentals.

Movies used to stay in the theater until the last dime was squeezed out of the ticket because once it left the theater, that was it. Then you had to wait a year or two for it to show up on TV, with all the fun stuff edited out and endless commercial interruptions. Remember when a movie debuting on network TV was treated as an event? Some movies don’t even debut on network any more. With the studios owning their own channels, a film’s liable to show up on FX or The Disney Channel before it makes it to those old dinosaurs ABC, CBS and NBC. After its run on HBO or Showtime, of course.

But before a movie went to TV, there was one last stop: the second-run theater. After a film played out at the main theaters, they went to these dumps and played for half price for an extra couple of weeks. It was your last chance to see it on the big screen before it went to TV. I worked at one of these second-run houses while I was going to school. The place had a balcony, where you could throw Atomic Fire Balls down on the audience below and dump your Coke on the ushers.

I used to dread Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when we ran the dollar matinees. If it was raining and we were showing a Disney cartoon, the place became hell on earth. Parents would hand their kids a fiver, drop ‘em off, and two hours later we the staff and our brooms would have to deal with the aftermath. And the sticky floors. I always knew when the film hit a musical number because there’d be a rush at the candy counter. Back then, five dollars got you the movie, popcorn, a soda, candy, and change. Yeah, those were the days.

Alas, the second-run house is all but extinct now. VCRs, VHS, and Blockbuster did them in. And where are they all now? DVDs and Netflix supplanted them. Now it’s Blu Ray and computer streaming’s turn. With TVs getting longer and larger, we can log onto the Net and get the full movie theater experience right at home, complete with the wide screen, and with the added advantage of the “pause” button to refill the popcorn bowl or make a dash to the bathroom. The kids can now watch Frozen on a continuous loop. Bet parents are ecstatic over that.

I only went to the theater twice last year. That doesn’t mean I only saw two movies. I get movies free from the library, and sometimes I run across a goodie while flipping through cable channels. I’ve seen flicks I was sorry I hadn’t seen in the theater, so I could enjoy them on the big screen and get audience reactions. There’s nothing like having a little kid go “Ewwwww!” right at the big love scene. Or being in the crowd when the audience goes Mystery Science Theater on a film that really blows.

Because that’s the only constant: most of the movies running in theaters, then and now, are pretty bleh. Somehow, will all the millions spent on production and advances in computer technology, bad movies still get made. And who do they blame? The writer. When the movie sucks, it’s always the writer’s fault. Some things never change.

Next week, if I think about it: television then and now. Until then, here’s my favorite bumper sticker of the week: Jesus is coming. Look busy. Enjoy the movie, folks!


Savanna Kougar said...

When I lived in the acreage outskirts of a major city, a big step down from Suburbia -- a good thing -- for years there was a small shopping strip that had a theater with dollar movies... I saw the best movies there after their initial run... and they even brought back oldies but goodies at times.

Sure, it wasn't the posh city or mall movie theaters... but in some ways it was better.

Pat C. said...

Were the floors sticky?

One thing you miss out on with home video is the audience reaction, especially if the movie's really bad. Then the audience can be more fun than the picture.

Or this interesting phenomenon. I was working the weekend we showed "Bambi." When the movie got to THAT scene (you know which one), the constant kid chatter that had been running through the whole movie like a second soundtrack suddenly died away to dead silence. Then it started up again: "Mommy, what happened?" Yeah, Mom, let's see you sugar-coat this one. This happened every time we had a theater full of little kids. It wasn't so bad at the evening shows. That was an older crowd.

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, at times, the floor was sticky... mostly spilled soda... if you went in after the first showing.

I only saw Bambi once as a kidlet at an outdoor movie theater. That was enough for me! Of course, I've never forgotten it.