I used to love going to the movies. It used to be so much fun.
When I was little, my parents alternated between taking me to the latest action blockbusters, animated features and live action family films at various theatres around the city. Battlestar Galactica was the first film I ever saw in the summer of 1978. I was 3. (I need to rescreen it because I don’t remember it at all.) After that, it was all Disney & Warner Bros. cartoons, Muppet movies, the first Ghostbusters, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Superman II, Back To The Future and Star Wars sequels. It was heaven.
By my early teens, when I wasn’t seeing the odd film with mom or dad I was going to the show with friends from school. To be on our own without adult accompaniment was liberating. It helped that most of us lived within walking distance of a single-seater and an eight-screen multiplex, both gone now, sadly. We didn’t go often in the summer but when we did, it was always fun. Lots of laughs and tomfoolery aplenty.
In the beginning, I was just a casual observer, a film fan who wasn’t all that critical and simply enjoyed getting out to see a much anticipated new release while having a good time with friends and family.
But in the summer of 1990, something shifted.
It was a Friday morning just before 11 o’clock. The scene: second period Grade 9 science glass. While Mr. Petlura was rambling on about something we were supposed to be paying attention to, I overheard a couple of friends engaged in private conversation. Back To The Future Part III was opening later that night and they were making plans to go see it. Having loved the first two (I must’ve seen Back To The Future a half dozen times in the 80s), I wanted to go, too. I was in as long as I had the money and was willing to stand in line for 90 minutes or so. No problem.
After school ended that afternoon, I asked my mom for the money. She gave me a 10. At 5:30, two pals came to my house and we were off.
You might be thinking why in the hell did we show up at the closed theatre one hour and 45 minutes before showtime? Simple. We figured cinema eight was going to be packed that night and we wanted to guarantee ourselves three seats. Curiously, when we arrived just a few minutes after leaving my house together, we noticed a dozen or so people were already waiting. As we wasted time chatting and being silly, more and more moviegoers arrived, waiting right behind us.
At one point, we talked about a certain employee of the theatre, a tough, blond woman who charged teens the full adult price for admission which was, if I’m remembering correctly, $7.50. We all wanted to get in for the child’s fare: $4. If she was there and she asked us our age, I think we all agreed to say we were 13. If she knew we were 14, we’d have to cough up the extra $3.50 a piece. (In my case, it didn’t really matter. I was covered either way.)
As the theatre prepared to open its doors, the nerdy, bespectacled manager suddenly got on the loudspeaker to inform those of us who were hoping to see the first showing of Back To The Future Part III that there was a little bitty problem. The film hadn’t actually arrived yet.
We were dumbfounded. You could hear the collective groaning of the already impatient crowd. As the manager told everybody else they could go in and buy their tickets for any of the other 7 films playing that night, we had to keep waiting outside like pariahs.
Every few minutes or so, he would get back on the loudspeaker to announce that yes, the film was still not there yet. He must have done this at least 3 or 4 times altogether. It got annoying after a while.
7:15 p.m. came and went and still no word on the arrival of the film. Then, the big announcement. The print was finally there. Unfortunately, there was now a new problem. They were having problems setting it up in the projector.
By this point, my friends and I had been standing outside for nearly 2 hours. Thank goodness we were young, it was a warm Spring evening, we had plenty to talk about and we were dying to see this movie. Otherwise, we probably would’ve just gone home.
Just before 7:30, the manager made his final announcement. They sorted out all the issues with the projector and they would now admit people into the theatre to see the movie. Thanks to all this needless nonsense, the screening would finally take place sometime before 8 o’clock. Thank goodness I ate supper before I left.
Upon entering the building, we all shuddered as we saw the blonde employee seated inside the ticket counter. We knew what to do. One by one, she asked us our age after we requested our tickets. And one by one, we persuaded her we did not have to pay the full $7.50. That hurdle cleared, we had our tickets ripped by a pimpled usher and we finally took our seats inside cinema eight.
Over the next 2 hours, I was riveted. Little did I know, this night would change my life.
That summer, I would go on to see 24 additional films at two different multiplexes with and without friends. (The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first film I ever saw alone.) By the fall of 1990, as I prepared to enter Grade 10, I went into my first meeting of the school newspaper knowing what I would be writing from that point forward. I was going to be “The Movie Critic”.
For the rest of my time in high school and my entire three years of college, I went to the cinema as often as I could, mostly alone because my friends did not want to see everything I wanted to see and writing a whole bunch of reviews for student publications in the process. I was bummed at first by the constant rejection (I remember crying into my pillow over one particular incident) but then, I realized it was better to see them alone. I wasn’t interrupted by farting, burping, incessant giggling, ear flicking, loud eating, annoying slurping and distracting whispers. I could better concentrate on the film I was watching. It was glorious.
Sometime in the mid-90s, however, I started to lose confidence and in subsequent years became more anxious and uncertain. To this day, I don’t know where all these doubts were coming from but by 1997, it was no longer fun (nor affordable) going to the movies full-time, so I stopped. I would occasionally go with my best friend on birthdays and other special occasions, off and on, for the next two decades (the last trip was last November), and while I always enjoying hanging with him, no matter what, because I enjoy his company it’s just not the same. The confident, happy go lucky guy I was when I was a teen disappeared a long time ago.
In 2000, there was a slight theatregoing revival for me. Despite now suffering from panic attacks and heart palpitations, I managed to see about a dozen or so first-run films before my local multiplex shut down for good in October 2001. Thankfully, over time, my severe anxiety would be greatly reduced, the palps would cease and later screenings were far less stressful.
But in the last decade or so, it’s been way more fun watching films on DVD and videotape. Honestly, how can it not be? I now have access to closed captioning (I’ve become a lazy listener), I can pause, rewind and restart as much as I want (I do this way too often because of my insecurities and doubt), I have volume control and, when I get hungry, thirsty or have to piddle, I can take breaks.
At the theatre, there is no pausing, there is no rewinding and there are no restarts. While sound effects, particularly for action pictures, can be excruciatingly ear-splitting, sometimes the dialogue is so quiet or so swiftly spoken you can barely hear it. You only get one shot to catch it, so if you miss it, tough shit. And if you have to put one in the bowl right this second, no projectionist is going to immediately stop the film so you can take care of business.
I remember going to see The Phantom Menace at my local multiplex with a bladder that never seemed to be empty. After several pre-show tinkles (including the numerous ones I had at home before I left), during the actual movie I held out an hour before running like The Flash to make yet another ginormous yellow deposit. Also not helping was Jar Jar Bings’ indecipherable patois. Thanks to a much calmer screening on widescreen VHS with subtitles a few years later, although I still didn’t care for the film at least I understood what he was saying. My bladder was thankfully more agreeable that day. Far fewer tinkles.
It’s experiences like that one that now make me more irritatingly obsessive about having a full bladder during a movie. (It’s why I try to drink as little as possible beforehand. Not recommended, by the way.) The longer the feature, the more concerned I am about being distracted about having to piss like a geyser. It sounds silly, I know, but that’s my reality. (I give letter grades to every film I see and sometimes write full reviews in this space.) At least during a DVD screening at home, I can pause and pee as much as I like. It drags out the running time of the film but at least I’m comfortable.
I feel for anyone today who loves movies like I do but chooses to go see them during their theatrical release. The high ticket prices alone (over 10 dollars now, even during matinees) are enough to make you want to wait for the DVD every single time. (Thank goodness my Costanza period gives me an excuse not to go on my own any more.) My friend, a good and generous guy, often treats me the rare occasions we go to the cinema and while it’s always appreciated (like I said, we always have fun together), I miss the days when we just had pizza and played Xbox games on his giant home theatre screen. With my 40th birthday just two weeks away, God knows I’ve been spoiled enough in my life.
On May 25, 1990, when I enjoyed seeing Back To The Future Part III for the first time at my local multiplex with him and an old schoolmate, I had no idea how life changing that experience would be. I have always loved movies but four months after that screening, I started writing reviews for my school paper which made me love the good ones even more. Despite a three-year break in the late 90s, I’m still writing them here today.
Part III hasn’t held up (I saw it on DVD last year and give it a marginal thumbs down with affection) but the first two Back To The Futures most certainly do (although I enjoyed the first one a lot more as a kid). Throughout my life, of the approximately 2000 movies I’ve seen overall, about 1600 or so have been given letter grades. (I hope to rescreen & grade the rest down the road.) Many of them were seen in a theatre while the rest were viewed on videotape and DVD.
As I prepare to enter middle age (Jesus, I’m old), from this point forward, I’ll continue to get caught up with the history of cinema from the comfort of home.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 25, 2015