As long as I can consciously remember, movies have held me together, lifted my spirits, fed my dreams, and given me a respite from the travails of everyday life and responsibility. I clearly remember as my bone marrow transplant was being scheduled trying to ascertain what movies would open while I was hospitalized and if they would be around long enough for me to still see in the theatre. I don't believe in the DVD route. No, I have to buy the ticket, get my Pepsi and popcorn, and go into the dark theatre and have my experience. It has to be that way.
My Air Force family saw movies all over the world. When we were little, my father would count down exactly to zero as the curtain would open and the screen would light up right on his cue, like a magic trick. When I got older, I shocked my parents by begging to go alone, especially on a big occasion such as the very day that West Side Story opened. I had already discovered that movies would never be a casual date for me, or a social experience. The movie theatre was my church and it was a solitary experience.
When we were stationed in Ankara, Turkey where we existed somehow with no phones or television, my father drove me and my sister to the American movie theatre one evening. What was supposed to be a family film actually turned out to be In the French Style, a very non-family movie, and once my father drove away, there was no way to reach him. My sister insisted that we stay, despite my pleas to wait upstairs in the library for my father's return, even seemed to relish the sexual theme, but she was three years older. You might say I got the birds and the bees speech that night from the movie screen, which was a lot less uncomfortable than the one we got later that night after I tattled on my sister for making us stay. My mom figured that now that the cat was out of the bag, she would make my dad explain everything to us before dinner. I got the advanced version after attending Bonnie and Clyde with my parents.
I fell in love with my future husband when on our first date he took me to a double feature at the drive -- in in his big red Buick with the white leather seats and three speeds on the column. We did absolutely nothing but watch both movies from start to finish, one being Joy in the Morning, starring Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux. He has been my perfect film partner for 38 years since that evening.
When our two boys arrived in our lives, my parents would watch them so we could keep up our movie going tradition, needed in a different way now that we were parents. Our children attended the Disney classic animated features with us when they were old enough to sit still and they were reading sub-titles by first grade. I was so proud at the end of an epic movie when my older son said he liked it but disagreed with the last shot, thinking a wider angle would have worked better. When he was fourteen, I took him to a movie about unwanted teen pregnancy, knowing that the heartbreaking scenes with the two high school kids trying to make things work with a new baby would be far more effective than a mother-son talk.
Now we all work together in our large family business and have an understanding that when someone needs a movie, no questions asked. Off they go and we cover for each other if necessary. It is not unusual for us to sneak out to a movie on a weekday afternoon and see one of our sons' cars already there. It is as deep a part of our family culture as any holiday tradition.
Our local movie theatre chain, now national, has a wonderful policy of hiring handicapped and mentally challenged workers. Often as I was running, sometimes nearly screaming, out of my office to take a movie break, one particular ticket taker would welcome me with so much joy and affection that it seemed somehow to put everything into perspective. We came to know each other and I once wrote a letter to the owner about her stellar performance at the ticket stand and he kindly wrote me back saying he had shown his appreciation to her with a lovely dinner out as a reward for her excellent customer service. She made me a ceramic angel in crafts class which still sits on my desk and we have stayed in touch over the years. The memory of her waiting to greet me as I entered my beloved movie theatre always reminds me of the amazing benefits of a smile and a good dose of kindness.
Somewhere along the way, movies stopped doing their part. The entire ritual is still in tact, but the magic and essence of experiencing a good movie is becoming more and more extinct. The advent of the multiplex seemed to breed volume rather than quality and gradually it became clear that moviemaking had become more big business than art form. One good, successful film always has its eye on a sequel, a "franchise", and so often it seems that the special quality of the original is never matched. There is talk of demographics and catering to the young movie goer which breeds horror films and sex comedies galore. On the Monday morning news, box office successes and failures for the weekend are reported. Just walk down the hall at your local multiplex and have a look at the heavily photoshopped posters and see if there is even one that you simply can't wait to see.
Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly difficult for small films with wonderful stories, good acting, and strong screenplays to get made. And even if they can be made for relatively small budgets, if they don't develop a following right away, the next time they are even harder to get made. And ironically, they often don't get a chance to develop a following because the distributors don't want to invest in marketing and wide circulation to create the opportunity. You have to wonder how many little five million dollar gems there are out there, such as City Island, that we will never see unless there is a producer hell bent on making it his life's work for the next five to seven years.
I still believe in the power of the dark theatre but so often when I sit down ready to be swept away into another world, it just doesn't happen. Maybe it's the digital background, knowing it was created in a computer lab. Or maybe it's knowing way too much about the actors and their recent divorces, sex tapes, drug rehab or how many millions they got paid for the film. Maybe it's reading about all the production troubles long before the film's release. Maybe it's because screenwriters seem to have missed class on the day that dramatic structure was taught. Maybe it's because I know that I am valued for my box office dollar more than anything. Maybe it's because less and less seems to be expected of me, feeling more like a voyeur rather than an involved party, especially when they run the outtakes over the credits and you see how much fun they had making the movie while you wish you had only half as much fun watching it.
I won't stop going to the movies but it is time to admit that I am grieving for something that no longer exists. As we move into the 3D era in both the theatre and our living rooms, I will continue to long for that movie going experience that enriches your life, transports you, fills you up, and thrills you in an emotional way that nothing else can. Is that too much to ask? I hope not.