Last evening Barb and I went to see the latest Bourne movie. Sometime ago we came to an agreement after extensive negotiations that we would alternate between squishy romance flics and those of a more manly character. I managed to convince her it was my turn to choose; although neither of us could really remember which type we had last attended (mild cognitive impairment can sometimes be useful). When it comes to movies I have always been a sex and violence kind of guy, and although the Bourne flic had plenty of violence, it was sorely lacking in any prurient themes.
Nowadays, one is forced to suffer through what seems like endless advertisements before the movie begins. I can accept the previews of coming attractions, but when they begin to promote Coca Cola, cars, or vacation trips I feel as if I could become as violent as Jason Bourne. It is my pet peeve, well not actually my pet one since I have many other peeves of equal value, but the idea that I must pay good money to watch advertisements leaves me so cranked up that I may miss the first few scenes of the main attraction. In this case it was 23 minutes from the time the lights went out until the actual movie began. That experience may well have biased my opinion about the movie as I muttered to myself about the injustice of it all through the first few scenes.

Far be it for me to pretend to be a movie critic, but I do have opinions which I am always ready to share with anyone who will listen. As an enthusiastic fan of cinematic violence, even I felt the level of such in this movie was overkill both literally and figuratively. I lost track of the number of deaths at eight, and that was barely half way through the thing. There was the obligatory motorcycle race through the city as our hero’s bike went flying through the air, going up and down stairs, under trucks, and over cars. Then there was also the automobile chase with a new twist in which one car struck another and then went flying through the air landing on its front end. Of course as tradition insists the chase must go down a one way street in the wrong direction, and after too many near misses ends up in a huge explosion from which our hero miraculously escapes (explosions seem to be big in today’s movies). It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, and these themes have definitely been overused, and when you know what is going to happen suspense is lacking.

This was not the case when I saw my first action movie which was actually my first movie going experience of any kind. It was “Mutiny on The Bounty” not to be confused with the 1962 remake. I was about 5 years old and saw it with my uncle. I don’t remember a lot about it but do remember the awe that I felt, and that I was instantly hooked on movies. I was also introduced to cashews, and experienced air conditioning for the first time. On top of it all I got to spend an afternoon with my uncle who was my hero.
In spite of the lingering effects of the great depression, the moving picture industry was thriving at that time. The addition of sound to the films was only a few years old, and the ability to project colored pictures on the screen was already happening on a limited basis. Some are of the opinion that the poverty experienced by a vast majority of the populace was a boon to the industry, that for a few pennies one could escape from the misery of hopelessness for a few hours, to where happy ever after themes abounded. There was also the bonus of warmth in the winter and relief from scorching heat of summer (theaters were virtually the only places in town that were air conditioned).
We now have movies which provoke every conceivable emotion. There are scary movies, and those which make us feel sad, angry, excited, aroused, shocked, happy, or repulsed with permutations of all those and more. Directors recognized even in the days of silent films that background music could intensify those emotions, and such a strategy continues to this day, but the in house piano player has been replaced by orchestras.
There were many who predicted that television would mark the end of movie theaters; however a living room couldn’t compete with the experience of sitting in a darkened theater surrounded by a group of people all of like mind and raptly attentive to that huge screen. It is almost as if we become one with the actors as evidenced by the shifting in our seats as we unconsciously mimic our favorite character’s body language. Our cares will be put on hold for a couple of hours and we can allow ourselves to be mesmerized and taken to another place or time. Our only concern will be about our supply of popcorn.

In the very small Midwestern town in which I grew up there were five movie theaters. There was the Weller (built and named for the local pottery tycoon),the Liberty, Imperial, Quimby, and Grand. It seemed that the Weller and Liberty theaters showed most of the first run movies, while the Imperial specialized in westerns, and the Quimby which was much less elegant was relegated to B movies or reruns. The Grand was misnamed for it only seated 200 and had seen better days. Whatever grandeur it had possessed in earlier days was sadly missing, and I had never been inside. All the movie houses had been designed with the capability to produce stage plays and concerts, some even predating the movie craze. In some ways that tradition continued as musicals were very popular in my day.
The crown jewel movie house in town was the Liberty. The interior was like an Italian opera house with columns, frescos and gilding everywhere. There was an enormous organ which would ascend out of the orchestra pit and often there would be a “singalong” with the words projected on the screen and instructions to “follow the bouncing ball” as a ball directed the audience to the words. Surprisingly most of the audience would join in and I imagine that it helped to enhance moods in preparation for the main feature.

The format for movies in those days was much different. The show ran continuously and one could enter in the middle if he chose, and stay as long as he wanted, Some would actually stay to see a movie two or more times to take advantage of the air conditioning. Movies were heavily censored by the Motion Picture Association of America. A kiss was the most explicit sexual content one would see, and scenes requiring couples in bed were always filmed with them in twin beds. Of course nudity and profanity were expressly forbidden. When Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind uttered the phrase, “frankly my dear I don’t give a damn”, audiences all over the country let out collective gasps.

Content of those movies of yesteryear were as they are today sometimes lacking in content, but were not attempts to sell anything other than upcoming features. They began with previews of coming attractions, followed by a so called newsreel, which was mostly human interest stories, until WWII when they functioned as propaganda always with patriotic themes. That was followed by a cartoon such as Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, Popeye or Mr. Macgoo. Then with great fanfare the main feature would begin. Some theaters would also show a short serial with invitations to return the following week to see what happened to the hero, undoubtedly taking a leaf from the radio soap operas which were very popular at the time.  There were also occasional “double features” when you could see two movies for the price of one.
Movie stars were almost deified, and young people by the thousands flocked to Hollywood in hopes of being discovered.

INFLATION SURE BUT THIS IS REDICULOUS                                                                                                                                                              Movies were affordable in those days. Matinees were ten cents for kids and twenty five for adults. I recall when in later years paying one dollar for admission, I thought this surely would be the death of the moving picture industry. The era was not always pleasant for some however. It would be years later before I noticed that the black kids I knew always sat in the balcony, and not by choice. We learned much about the terrible racism in the south, but we did not talk much about what was going on in our town. We were northerners and so felt we could never be guilty of racial prejudice.

Thus it is that although I have fond memories of those days, they were not without some downsides. The theaters have all been demolished, my favorite one (the Liberty) is now a bank parking lot. We saw the Jason Bourne movie at the movie-plex located in the mall at the edge of town. The seats are great and there are never any interruptions while the projectionist splices a broken tape. All in all it is very functional, but when it comes to character forget it. Well, at least it doesn’t have a balcony.

3 thoughts on “MOVIE MADNESS

  1. Always enjoy your trips down memory lane. Couldn’t help but think of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Sounds like the pre-movie ads are dangerous for you, Darell! I so rarely go to the theaters that I forget there is no need to be on time! And the movie will be better if one goes about 15-20 minutes late.


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