The itch. The bug. I got it at the North Park. I trace my movie loving roots back to the mid 70's, cultivated on Saturday afternoons inside the majestic North Park theater in my hometown of Buffalo, New York.
I recall my first cinematic memory as if it were yesterday. My aunt's '70 Ford LTD rolled up to the curb in front of the theater where my two cousins and I exited along with a whiff of bad perfume and stale Winstons. It was raining, 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 three 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 together 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, just that the theater experience wasn't their jam. Fortunately for me, they weren't averse to dropping me and an Oldsmobile full 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 it 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 stood atop the entrance to the seating area and actually helped you find good seats with 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, as our society continues further down the road of instant social engagement, the theater going experience has become 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 didn't notice the distractions as much. I can tell you there weren't assholes firing up their cell phones to text pretend friends on Facebook in the dark 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 clown 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 the movies 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. Feel free to comment, respectfully, on any of the subjects you read here. I want to hear from you. Maybe together, this can become our own little North Park on the Internet.
Steve has been writing moderately well on the Internet for over ten years. As a middle aged fan-boy, he acknowledges that his relevance in today's culture is barely recognized, but he continues to pretend people like him. Maybe you will too. Aficionado of 80's culture and guacamole. Mildly amused by pandas.