Remember When It Was Fun To Go To the Movies?

This was the title of one of my earliest posts, but that post did not express what I truly felt in my heart on this subject. A more proper treatment follows. 

Remember when it was fun to go to the movies?

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

I do.

Going to the movies as a kid was one of my more cherished experiences during the Reagan Administration.  On a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, my father would ask my brother and I, “How would you boys like to see” and he would name a movie that he thought we would want to see and that he felt would be appropriate for children our age. Until I went away to college, this meant it had to be a cartoon or about a talking animal.

I distinctly remember my father handing the ticket cashier a $20 bill for an adult and two children, and getting back enough change to buy us candy. Twizzlers were my go to movie-food. I would make sure to open it before the coming-attractions so that the deafening Twizzler-wrapper noise would not disturb my fellow viewers. Then I would take each Twizzler, bite off both ends, and blow through it like a straw.

One of my earliest movie memories was when my father took my brother and I to see a popular holiday season movie called Gremlins.  The commercials that had probably influenced my father’s choice of film had showed these cute little primate-looking things.  Except at some point the movie became less about cute little primate-looking things and more about old women sent on an electric chair speeding up several flights of stairs and jettisoned through a window to certain death.  My father was more horrified than the characters in the movie.  He asked my brother and I if we wanted to leave, but we shook our heads, eyes never leaving the screen so that we wouldn’t miss any of the mayhem.

My wife and I recently went to the movies for the first time in years.  There were so many teenagers I thought the Garmin had accidentally sent us to the high school.  I said to my wife, “So this is where people go when they are not old enough to go to bars.”  She replied that my social commentary would sound a lot better while waiting on line for tickets.

While I was waiting for tickets I looked up at the prices, and realized I was going to have to hit the ATM that was conveniently located fifteen paces away in the theater lobby. While punching in my PIN I reminisced about the days when a movie ticket cost only $7.50. After we got the tickets I wanted popcorn, and had to hit the ATM again.  Thank goodness it was a week I got paid.

We sprinted to Screen # 47 and did not miss a single moment of the half-hour of coming attractions and commercials.  I looked around for the remote control and finally understood what was meant by the term “captive audience.”

Half the seats the theater were occupied by teenagers, and each teenager’s hands were occupied by a small glowing screen. I thought that perhaps the small screens were a visual aid for a generation so accustomed to viewing small screens that the big screen exceeded the viewing range.  But upon closer inspection of the Justin Bieber seated next to me, I saw that the little screens were just smart phones that were being used in the way that everyone uses them: tune in globally, tune out locally.  If there was ever really a fire in the crowded theater, at least I would be able to see where I was going.

As the movie started, I noticed that the younger members of the audience would get up and leave, and then come back, and then leave, and then come back.  These antsy adolescents were either part of a cult that drank a lot of water before a movie, or were hanging out in groups and treating public space like their den.

About a half-hour into the movie, a latercomer took a seat behind me.  He spent what seemed like ten minutes taking off his very large and crinkly coat, and made so much noise that I missed the framing of the protagonist’s major conflict.

Then someone in the back right corner decided it was time for potato chips or some other snack that comes in a deafening bag.  Two characters in the film started and ended a romance before the character in the back of the theater was done opening the bag, which the good folks at Dolby were nice enough to pipe through in surround sound.

During the final battle scene, two people a few rows back got into an argument over the federal budget.  And then someone shouted into a cell phone, loudly, “Just meet us outside! The movie’s almost over!” I started to get up and say something, but the soles of my shoes were stuck in congealed soda that a fellow film-goer had wanted to share with the floor.

When I got home I called up my father. I told him about my experience at the movies, about the cell phones, the coming in and out, the talking, the eating, the glowing screens. “Dad, it’s just not like it used to be,” I said, and thought that he would feel my pain and join in condemnation.  But he just laughed and said, “At last, my son, you are a man.”

0 Replies to “Remember When It Was Fun To Go To the Movies?”

  1. Very funny. I have to say here in England things haven’t got as bad yet. Mostly because nobody goes to the movies anymore so the screen is always half empty, or maybe I just choose films than teen crowd has no interest in. Having said that last time we went to the cinema a man in his forties sitting next to us got up in the middle of the film to take a phone call! Why bother come to the cinema is you’re not going to relax and switch off for those few hours.

  2. The key is definitely timing when it comes to avoiding the teen crowd. Avoiding opening night or going to the late, late showing helps especially since most malls close at 9 and parents have to actually pick their kids up and monitor them themselves instead of having mall security do it.

    A big question is, remember when you went to the movies and you weren’t bombarded with TV commercials? When you ONLY saw previews for up and coming movies and not Coke commercials or advertisements for new TV shows?

    • I do remember that. I actually enjoy the coming attractions. No matter what the coming movie is, the coming attraction always makes it look like the greatest movie ever made. Commercials, on the other hand, no longer make me believe that drinking Coke or watching a certain TV show is going to transform me into the greatest person ever made.

  3. Sounds like you hit the theater on a Friday night and saw a film that appeals to teens. Maybe Saturday. I had an experience like that once. Definitely frustrating, but I go to lots of movies and don’t have such a bad go as that one time. I remember theaters in the 80s too. Definitely cheaper and simpler. Back then we just wanted distraction. Now people take distractions from their distractions.

  4. For all the reasons you cited, I’ve pretty much given up going to the movie theater – except the nearby pub theater where you can watch second run movies for $3 and they serve you beers during the show. Now THAT’s how to see a movie.

    P.S. I was a big fan of the “using-the-twizzler-as-a-straw-for-my-coke” strategy.

  5. I still love the movies – mainly because there’s one really old-school multi-screen near my house; it’s cheap too and not a garish red like the rest of them in this city.

    My earliest movie memory is at the same one: It was my mum,my brother (5 -ish then) and me (10-ish then). There was a mix-up with the tickets and we ended up watching Austin Powers: The Spy who shagged Me. AWKWARD!

      • I actually don’t remember what we had intended to watch – I may have succeeded in repressing most memories from that day. It was pretty interesting for all of us. I don’t think our mother took us to a movie for several years after

  6. You really must come for a Movie in Bombay. Many years ago a Hindi movie had the National Anthem in it and movie goers and the government went into a tizzy about whether people in the movie hall should stand for it or not. Since then it is now a law that the National Anthem be played before every movie and everyone in the hall needs to stand (singing is optional). It’s not something I mind really but I noticed the other day that the video of the national flag that plays along with the Anthem comes with it’s own Censor Board Certificate!!
    Having said that tickets are still cheap in the theatre that we go to (Rs 70) though yesterday I misguidedly spent Rs 350 in another theatre to watch that borefest of a 3D movie Thor!

    • I would love to see a movie in Bombay, and then adopt the practice in the United States. I think everyone standing up and singing the Star Spangled Banner would totally put them in the mood to watch a movie. At least a different mood than they get sitting and watching a cartoon of dancing popcorn and candy.

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