I went to the movies last weekend—an early Sunday morning showing, my favorite time to go. There’s method in my madness—all the good people are in church and all the teenagers still in bed, so attendance is usually really low. Once or twice I have even been the only person there. The first time that happened it was a bit of a shock. It was a little unnerving to be sitting in the dark, alone, with all those empty seats around me. A bit spooky (everyone knows that the monsters always get you when you’re alone in the dark . . . )
I was also a bit distracted and annoyed, waiting for the latecomers to arrive. I just knew they were all going to rush in, all of a fluster, just as the movie was really getting going, and hover about in front of the screen (not having the courtesy to even pretend to be sorry) where they would (loudly) discuss where they would like to sit. But that didn’t happen. Nobody else turned up. Not a single other person. And once I realised that no-one was going to come and tell me that the movie wasn’t actually going to run and it was all a big mixup, I got totally caught up in it. I felt like a celebrity at my own private viewing. There were no distractions—no talking, no coughing, no people getting up and down, nor cellphones beeping. No overpowering popcorny smell (sorry folks, don’t like popcorn). There was just me and the big screen. Oh yes—I could get used to this.
Last Sunday I was not disappointed. There was only one other attendee (I was in a good mood and happy to share). I sat in my favourite seat, high up on the left on the aisle, and she sat in what I presume was her favourite seat, further to the front, down on the right. We didn’t know each other, but waved and smiled anyway (it would have felt a bit weird not to—it really is much easier to ignore a whole crowd than just one other person). While we waited in the hushed quiet and dim light for the movie to begin (me nursing my coffee and trying not to eat at all my Maltesers before the opening credits) I found myself reminiscing about how much the cinema experience has changed for me since I started going some 50 years ago (Yikes . . .50 years . . . if you say it really, really fast it doesn’t sound quite so bad . . .)
Going to the ‘flicks’ has always been one of my most favourite things to do for as far back as I can remember, but my memories now are less about the films I saw then and more about the actual ‘going-to-the-movies’ experience. When I was a kid Saturday was ‘movie day’, not just for me but for most of the kids in the neighbourhood (except those weird kids who were into sports of course). Parents dropped us off in the carpark, handed out money for tickets and lollies and uttered idle ‘Behave yourselves’ incantations before disappearing to do whatever the parents did with those precious child-free hours.
With tickets procured we would rush the Kiosk (lolly counter) to load ourselves up with popcorn (eeerk), jaffas, crisps, chocolate, cokes and fantas, before almost running the usher down in our headlong dash to get ‘the best’ seats. I can’t quite remember now why we were in such a rush to get to our seats because no one actually stayed where they started. We were up and down and moving around to catch up with friends, or swap lollies, or trying to find a seat where you could at least see over the person’s big fat head in front of you (there were a lot of people with big fat heads in those days I remember).
And it was loud. We laughed and shrieked and stamped our feet (no lush carpet in our cinema then—wooden floorboards were the go), and had jaffa-rolling contests down the aisles (another good reason for wooden floors). Young teenagers pashed in the back row (resulting in all kinds of raucous banter), and the adults who were there, though few and far between, chatted amongst themselves (and smoked incessantly—each seat had it’s own built in ashtray) and appeared mostly oblivious to the pandemonium around them.
No-one cared—that’s what movie day was all about. Besides, the movie we had actually come to see didn’t start for ages anyway—there were at least a couple of hours to fill in before that . . .
First there was the National Anthem (‘God Save the Queen’) and although the talking and laughing (and popcorn throwing) didn’t necessarily stop, we would all stand (and sometimes even sing along) while pictures of the Queen (always wearing the same green dress) drifted across the screen. Duty done . . . then came the fun stuff . . .
There was the ‘Coming Soon to a Cinema Near You!’ (a montage of movie trailers to delight and entice), followed by the ‘Looney Toons’ (I still really miss the ‘toons. Wylie Coyote still cracks me up), and then perhaps a newsreel or a travelogue or an episode of a weekly Serial (giving us all plenty of time to change seats again or catch up on a bit more gossip or, more importantly, to go for a pee).
And, as no self-respecting cinema would ever think of offering just one movie, there was the ‘B’ movie—usually a cheesy sci-fi or a western or a gangster movie. Even when you factor in that you could absolutely-and-without-fail count on the film projector stuffing up at least once, more likely twice, during the matinee, you still got a lot more bang for you buck back then.
After the B movie came the INTERMISSION which would immediately instigate another roar of noise and headlong rush down the aisles to restock on goodies (because by this time we were all seriously sugar-deprived having eaten all our lollies, or thrown them at someone, within ten minutes of first entering the building), or to go to the bathroom again (all that coke and fanta), or just to stretch our legs. The ‘fire exit’ door (which had opened and closed with unceasing regularity throughout the entire program) would now stand wide open flooding the cinema with blinding sunshiny light, giving us all a welcome breath of fresh air, while also providing those people who were only interested in seeing the ‘A’ movie every opportunity to wander in off the street and steal someone else’s seat before the lights went down and the doors closed again. Oh, what fun . . .
As I think back now I have almost no memory of the actual films I saw at those long-ago Saturday matinees, and I am not even sure whether all these memories are even of one time or place. Perhaps they are an amalgam of a bunch of different childhood memories and times jumbled up in my mind. It doesn’t really matter—they are my ‘movie’ memories, and fond ones at that. Although some things (even a lot of things) may have changed since those early days, my enthusiasm for the experience remains the same.
I may have a favourite seat I like to seat in now, and prefer to be able to actually see and hear the movie without distraction, but, happily, my taste in movies has changed very little. I still like a good old blockbuster—a sci-fi (even a cheesy one), or a full on thriller, an end-of-the-world, beat ’em up, blow’em up, boys-and-their-toys blockbuster, full of colour and light and noise. I am really not a chick-flick kind of girl, and I make no apologies for that. (Last week’s choice, if you are interested, was Sicario —kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole 121 minutes. It was well worth the look—even if some of it was peeping through my fingers.)
So now the weekend is coming up again and I am planning another sojourn, this time to see Spectre. I am not really a James Bond fan per se (what self-respecting woman is?) but Daniel Craig, on the other hand, can take his shirt off for me anytime. I’m thinking it would be quite nice to spend next Sunday morning alone in the dark with Daniel, but as this is the movie’s first showing here I am not liking my chances. I am preparing myself for the fact that I might have to share again.
Shame really . . .