My first cinematic memory. I remember it like it was yesterday. My aunt's '70 Ford LTD rolled up to the curb in front of the theater where my two cousins and I exited the car along with the scent of bad perfume and stale Winstons. It rained, so the three of us huddled under the marquee overhang while my aunt parked the car. You might be surprised to learn I was the tender age of six, and my cousins were four and two respectively. It was a different time. In many ways it was a better time.
My parents weren't the movie going type. The last time I entered a movie theater with them was when they took me to see Grease in 1978. My father never set foot in a movie theater again. My mother went once, when some friends begged her to go with them to see The Help in 2011. This wasn't due to any disdain for movies, its just that the theater experience simply wasn't their jam. Fortunately for me, they weren't averse to dropping me and a gaggle of friends off on Saturday afternoons, or else this blog wouldn't likely exist.
The movie was Dumbo. Disney re-released the flick in 1972, and the authoritative figures in our lives felt this would be a prime opportunity to keep us quiet for a couple of hours on a rain soaked Saturday afternoon. I had never seen a place so grand. It was dark, a setting both scary and exhilarating for a child of six. I swear I could smell the elegance of the ceiling high red velvet curtains and oak railings, overpowered only by the luscious aroma of fresh popcorn. Adults and children scurried about. Ushers, yes ushers (not Chrissy Teigen's husband) stood atop the entrance to the seating area and actually helped you find good seats with good old fashioned flashlights powered by trusty D cell batteries. I wasn't too sure what all of the fuss was about at first, but I liked popcorn, and I was out with my cousins who I generally enjoyed being with, probably because I was oldest and got put in charge when the adults didn't feel like paying attention to us. And then the giant curtains drew back and the screen roared to life in all of its technicolor glory, a flying cartoon elephant soared and they basically had me at hello.
I went to the North Park at least a hundred times growing up in Buffalo, but as strange as it may sound, I only recall three of the flicks I saw there. The aforementioned Dumbo, The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), and oddly, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1981). I was a bit older at that point and I'm pretty sure that was to reconcile with my burgeoning Kristy McNichol obsession. Now, of course I saw all of the relevant movie offerings of the era, specifically that little science fiction indie that George Lucas put together, but I can't pinpoint many of those experiences directly back to the North Park, so I won't pretend to do so.
I feel lucky to have found a solace in the movies. The theater is my happy place. Unfortunately, the direction our society is heading is making the theater going experience much more challenging. As a kid, much of what made going to the movies fun was the social aspect. It was fun to hang out with friends and family at the movies. People were far more respectful back then, or maybe as a kid you don't notice all of the distractions as much. I can tell you there weren't assholes firing up their cell phones to text their pretend friends on Facebook in the theater (a crime I think should be punishable by death, or at least by banishment from the premises for life.) Today, I look for the earliest showings at the least busy theater I can find. I don't crave the social experience as much. More people means increased odds that some numbnut is going to alter my movie watching in a negative way. And that's sad. Movies should be about community. Comedies are always funnier when a lot of people are laughing, and horror movies were meant to be enjoyed with a full theater of people gasping and screaming in unison. If you can find that experience today, you are lucky. Cherish it.
So through this blog I hope to share my movie going experiences with all of you. I hope some of my passion for cinema rubs off. Regardless of the differences between the theater experiences of the 70's and the now, movies are still movies. They still have the power to make us laugh, and cry, and move us in ways only the movies can. Comment on the posts, either here or on the Facebook page. I want to hear from you. Maybe together, this can become our own little North Park on the Internet.