Missing the Movies

Drive-in at Fields Point (National Archives)
One sign that you have officially become a cantankerous oldster? Whining about how, back in the day, everything was o! so superior. Statements that start with “when I was your age” and include a lot of -er words. The snow was deeper, people worked harder, food was better, kids were smarter, things were blacker and whiter. Er, er, er. Having reached that point where diplomatic folks might describe me as being “of a certain age”, I strenuously resist falling into the nostalgia trap.  

That said, there are things that I truly miss. Example: going to the movies.

These days, technology makes it possible for anyone anywhere (or practically) to access films about anything in any language 24/7. DVD rental stores (does anyone still call them “video stores”?) are quickly becoming a quaint remnant of one brief shining now be-dimmed moment. Single-screen movie houses are a rarity and I wonder how long the sterile megaplexes the size of international airport hangars will hang in there.
Despite the fact that red carpet movie premiers still draw paparazzi, for a lot of people going to the movies has ceased to be an event. We’ve morphed from movie fans to entertainment consumers. And, so—yes, I’m old—that makes me sad. Here we go. Back in the day …
My love of movies began with Big Three Theater. On weekday afternoons at three, channel three (there were only three channels) aired a feature. I remember seeing The Blob, King Kong, Rebel without a Cause and countless black and white WWII films. In my house, watching TV was verboten on school days unless the weather was really awful. Here’s the catch: our old black and white with bunny ears was relegated to the unfinished basement. Luckily the wiring was way above the water line. During torrential rainstorms, the basement flooded. I remember hopping from the overstuffed armchair to the sagging sofa, stretching out my full length to turn on the tube, then settling in, crammed between siblings and the cat, to watch a movie.
With seven siblings, a family outing to the movies was exceedingly rare. Accompanying a friend to the movie theatre at the strip mall did happen occasionally. Yes, I saw Mary Poppins. Bo-ring. My favourite: Gone with the Wind. My friend Cindy and I went together. Her mom doled out Kleenex boxes before dropping us off. “You’ll need these.” I didn’t, but I still loved the film. “Mz Scahlett, Mz Scahlett, I don’t know nuthin, ‘bout birthin babies!” I know. Not very PC.
Lincoln Theatre (New Haven)
Jump cut to my college years. I lived at the Lincoln Theatre, a dilapidated dump at the end of a short cul-de-sac in New Haven, that also flooded regularly. As an added bonus, and unlike our basement, pigeons nested in the rafters. During particularly boisterous sequences, the birds would scatter and fly around. I got to know the projectionist and often snuck in to watch films with him. Notable moments: when Peter Sellers died, the regular programming was suspended and everyone wept through Being There. A double feature with Tin Drum and La Luna left me speechless for several days. My father asked if I wanted “to see someone”. It appears that the building, built in 1924 and repeatedly threatened by developers’ plans, has been renovated and will reopen this year. Thank goodness for the National Register of Historic Places.
Providence, Rhode Island: The Cable Car was the place to see a pic. I don’t know what it looks like now but, back in the day (sorry), there were big comfy sofas to sit on with total strangers. That was part of the kick.
In New Haven, you either worked at Yale or the phone company. In Providence, Brown and state government were the big employers. Los Angeles is also a company town. Lucky for me, the “company” is the movie biz.
My favourite movie theatres in L.A. were the Vista and the Los Feliz. They were both within walking distance from home. The Vista, with its campy columns topped by spookily lit pharaoh busts, might be mistaken for the legendary Egyptian. During the hottest days of summer when you couldn’t beg, borrow or steal a fan anywhere—okay, you could maybe score one in the Pep Boys parking lot on Alvarado—I would spend hours at one or the other, sometimes both. I saw The Moderns twice in one day. Excessive? A tad. But what a great film! I think my record was four films in one day.
Other movie highlights: Liquid Sky with Bernie (York Street in New Haven), Nico Icon with Randy (at the Beverly), Warhol’s Trash with Orlando and Carlos (somewhere on the Yale Campus), the Wizard of Oz (solo in Providence, surrounded by screaming munchkins), anything produced by Alive or Island Alive, a Schwarzenegger film at the drive-in in Twenty-Nine Palms surrounded by jarheads armed with machetes to turn the steaks on the hibachis in the beds of the pick‑ups. I’ll be back and semper fi, dude! The list is long, very long.
I can’t remember, no, wait, I do remember the last time I saw a film in a theatre. It was Barney’s Version screened at the Forum in Montreal. A stone drag. The theatre was packed (surprise!) but people (mostly retirees) were grumpy and prickly. The place reeked of wet wool and cheap cologne. They filed in, they sat, they watched, they filed out. An epic non event.
So, yes, when I was (much) younger, going to the movies was magic. Even when the theatres flooded and the pigeons flew, when the sudden appearance of the killer whale in Jaws made my sister upend her soda on the poor sod in the next row, when you had to fight to get a seat together, when the littles screamed to see the green-faced witch and evil monkeys, when industry snobs whispered about failed continuity or bragged in stage whispers about knowing the best boy in the credits, when slickness was not necessarily a plus, when a movie could induce lockjaw, when a perfect date was dinner and a movie.
It’s official. I’m old.


  1. I'm reminded of a particularly memorable quote: "The best thing about humanity is how adaptable we are. The worst thing about humanity is how adaptable we are." That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? I love your nostalgia, Nancy - how are you going to feel when the last cineplex closes its massive doors? At least there's still the option to enjoy the big screen if you're so inclined. I went a few months ago, craving the butter substitute and salt that most of us call "popcorn." Nothing much has changed, beyond the price and the amount of advertising that you have to sit through. It's louder than I remember, but then so are the audiences. My tolerance for being in a public place to watch a movie, though, has changed dramatically. Thanks to the Internet, I no longer consider "passive watching" a social experience. It occurred to me recently that it probably should never have been - including families grouped around the television. So while I miss the nostalgic moments that you so elegantly recall, I am happier to watch movies in the comfort of my home. No rude interruptions, no hat-head blocking my view of the screen, no need to get somewhere on time and sit for the full time of the movie. It's official. I'm old and grumpy.

    1. I feel your pain, Lorrie. And, I agree, there is definitely a down side to movie going. I cringe at the sound now. I still love the truly social side of watching in a group. The Wizard of Oz en famille was an annual event; on the big screen in a theatre filled with kids was truly awesome. And, although aimless chatter during a film makes me insane, I actually like hearing what other people think about the movie. So, like you, I'm old and grumpy even if I still enjoy the energy of a crowd experience.

  2. Honestly? I never ever enjoyed going to the movies. I hated the uncomfortable seats, the sticky floor, the sniffs, sneezes, snorts and shuffling of the audience, the inevitable 7footer who'd sit in front of me. DVDs and internet streaming are the best thing ever!

    1. And the precocious curmudgeon award goes to ... Kerry! :) You were lucky, Kerry. Anyone over 5 foot 3 could block the view for me. I do understand how someone could hate the movies. To each her horror. For example, the thrill of rock concerts escaped me, although I did go to see Stevie Wonder 3 times. At a Who (what?) concert, some moron crowdsurfed and landed on my pinhead. I inadvertantly wound up crowd surfing at a Bowie concert. I'm happy with a CD.


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