Today we are going to Muse about the changing movie experience. If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
Today I got to thinking about the experience of going to the movie and how it has changed. Downtown we have a wonderful movie complex with multiple theaters. The chairs rock and recline and are as large as an easy chair. Your seat is reserved. The sound system will mesmerize you and the quality of the movies, the special effects, has become better and better. It is different from when I grew up.
I must have been five when I first remember going to a movie. I don’t know what we saw but I do remember one scene in which a train came down the track at high-speed. The camera was centered in the bed of the track and the effect was that the train was speeding right at you and over you. I screamed and ran out of the theater . . . to everyone’s amusement.
Later we moved to Kingman, Arizona, I was in the first grade and I used to walk downtown and go to the Saturday Matinée. It cost 14 cents. That was fine because my dad gave me 15 cents allowance which allowed me a penny for a jaw breaker. One day on the way to the theater I found some loose change, something like 40 cents, a fortune!
I used some of it to buy wax candies filled with a sweet syrup. Haven’t seen those in years.
Movies became a major influence in my development; they largely shaped my world view. It was some time before we had television, and even then the movies were king.
And the Saturday Matinée . . . well, the Saturday Matinée was an entire afternoon of entertainment.
As I remember it, first to be shown were previews of upcoming films.
These were followed by a newsreel that brought us up to date on world events.
Then there was one or more cartoons.
Often there was a “short”, like The Further Adventures of “Ma N Pa Kettle”, followed by the cliffhanger serial,
like The NEW Adventures of Tarzan.
The cliffhangers were great because they always ended with the hero in some certain-to-result-in-death circumstance to be resolved the next week. Of course, we had to go the next week to see what happened and, of course, the hero somehow always escaped only to end up in some certain-to-result-in-death circumstance to be resolved the next week.
It was only after all of this that the movie was shown. And it was never one movie.
It was always a double feature. The experience was an entire afternoon of entertainment.
By the time I was in the fourth grade we had moved to Carmel, California and the cost of the movie was 20 cents. It escalated to 50 cents when I turned thirteen.
I wasn’t concerned however. I had my first paying job. The janitor of the theater arranged for me and three of my friends to get into the movie free. In exchange we cleaned the theater after the matinée. It was a great old theater. Here is a picture of the seating.
We cleaned the theater after the Saturday Matinée for a couple of years until management fired the janitor because the theater was dirty.
Movies were so important to me that when my older brother left home for college my gift to him was to take him to the movie.
We saw the Kentuckian with Burt Lancaster. It wasn’t a particularly good movie but I still remember paying for my brother to see it. He was my hero.
The movie experience changed when we went overseas. In Guam the theaters were open air similar to this one.
We would sit on benches in our ponchos to watch the movie. It would often rain during some part of the night. And, often the sound would be drowned out by planes overhead. We still loved it.
At the time there was great concern about nuclear weapons and the possible consequences of their testing. One concern was the fear of mutation. Popular at that time were science fiction horror movies like The Tarantula or Them (with giant ants) which exploited this fear.
About the time I was going off to college I discovered drive in movies.
These were great with a date. Each car was its own little world.
We would put the speaker in the side window with the glass rolled up if it was a cool evening. The first time I went I forgot the speaker was in the window. As we drove out, I snapped the speaker off the cord. Embarrassed I went to the projection box and apologized, handing over the speaker and offering to pay for it. The guy said,
“Don’t worry about it. Most people don’t bring them back.”
Movies continue to be a joy. I do wish however that we could bring back the magic of the overall experience.
More to come.
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