I went to a matinee movie last week with a couple of my friends, and we had nearly the entire theater to ourselves.
As I sat there in the comfortable lounge-type chair with a headrest, rocking feature, and a cup holder in the arm, I couldn’t help thinking about how different the theater was from the ones I used to go to back when I was a kid.
For one thing, in those days the seats didn’t move, other than the bottom part that lifted up if you had to stand up to allow someone to squeeze by. But most of the time we tried to avoid touching underneath the seat when lifting it because it usually had about 150 wads of old chewing gum stuck to it. The stickiness on the undersides of the seats, however, was tame in comparison to the floors. More times than I could count, my sneakers stuck to the floor, to the point where I feared I would have to shout for help for someone to pry them free.
Also, there was no stadium-type seating back then, so if someone with a big Charlie-Brown-sized head sat in front of you, you pretty much couldn’t see a thing. And my luck, it seemed as if no matter where I sat, even if there were plenty of empty seats all around me, someone who was 6’6” or had a beehive hairstyle always would decide to sit directly in front of me.
The movies back then were on film reels run by projectors, and too often, especially during a critical part of a movie, the film would snap and break, causing the screen to go blank. Right before it did, however, the image on the screen would look like squares of film melting – so we pretty much knew what was coming. Then we’d have to sit and wait for the projectionist to repair the problem and get everything running again. Most of the time, the waiting involved being bombarded with candy and popcorn by the kids in the front row of the balcony who’d get bored and decide to play a game of “let’s see how many people’s heads below we can conk with Raisinets.” I can remember riding home on the bus after a movie and having people giving me strange looks, probably because I still had melted candy stuck in my hair.
But there were a lot of things about the old movie theaters I did like. First of all, they were a place where kids could spend an entire Saturday afternoon. By the time we watched the newsreel, the cartoon, the previews of coming attractions and then not one, but two movies, we were there for five hours. And the price of admission was less than a dollar. Parents loved it because it was like having a cheap babysitter on hand every weekend.
And then there were the ushers, who always provided an unintentional source of entertainment. They wore uniforms, carried flashlights and made frequent checks of the audience to make certain no one was misbehaving. If you had your feet up on the seat in front of you, for example, the ushers would tell you to put them back on the floor.
I remember one time when an usher lectured me for being too loud when I laughed. That, of course, made me laugh even louder.
But in the theater where I went last week, I never saw an employee come in during the movie. I could have had my entire body draped over the seat in front of me and no one would have cared…except, that is, for the guy who was sitting in that seat.
And I’m aware that food prices over the years have risen. No longer do theaters sell family-sized boxes of candy or large soft-drinks for only 25 cents. But I honestly can say I was shocked when I recently asked for a bottle of water at a theater and the employee said, “That will be $4.”
I’d just purchased a 32-pack of Poland Spring bottled water on sale at the supermarket for $3.98. That same 32-pack at the theater’s prices would have cost me $128. So even if I had been so thirsty my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth, I wouldn’t have paid $4 for only one bottle. I told the employee (after he’d already entered the sale into the register) I’d changed my mind.
Back when I was a kid, we could bring snacks from home to eat at the movies. Not any more. Try to bring a bag of chips into a theater and they treat you like someone who’s smuggling cocaine. I remember going to a movie theater in a mall a few years ago and there was a woman in front of me in line who was carrying a bag along with her handbag.
“What’s in the bag?” an employee asked her.
“Oh, I just did a little shopping here in the mall before coming over here,” she said.
The employee didn’t look convinced. He continued to suspiciously eye her bag.
“I’m going to have to ask you to show me what’s in the bag,” he finally said, sounding very much like a TV detective.
“No!” she said, clutching the bag to her chest.
“Hmmm,” the employee said, his eyes narrowing, “I see grease stains on the bottom of the bag! You’re trying to bring popcorn into the theater, aren’t you!”
You would think he’d just discovered she was holding a bag of poisonous snakes she intended to let loose in the theater.
He finally gave her the option to either hand over the bag and stay, or keep it and leave. Reluctantly, she allowed him to confiscate it. After he walked off with the bag, the woman turned around and muttered to me, “He’s probably going out back now to eat my popcorn!”
The balconies in movie theaters years ago often were more entertaining than the movies being shown…mainly because all of the movies in those days were G-rated. The back rows in the balconies, however, better known as the “make-out rows,” were unofficially reserved for lovers and usually were a lot steamier than what was being shown on the screen. It was a known fact that if you went on a movie date and the guy suggested you sit in the back section of the balcony, he had no intention whatsoever of watching the movie. The ushers, however, were pretty diligent about breaking up the more passionate couples by shining flashlights in their faces and snapping, “Break it up!”
Movies that would have been classified as X-rated back in the 1960s, now are rated only PG. In the movie I recently saw, for example, one of the male stars, who portrayed a hot-tempered spy, used the “F” word about a dozen times in only one sentence.
But still, I have to admit some things really have changed for the better about movie theaters over the years. I do prefer the comfortable seats, the extra legroom, the undisturbed view, and screens so big, you feel as if you’re actually a part of the movie instead of only a spectator.
But if you’re ever in a theater and you happen to see a female audience member being carried out on a stretcher, it probably will be me, suffering from dehydration…because I never will pay $4 for a bottle of water.
# # #