Oscar award season is just around the corner, and my thoughts turned to you as they often do this time of year. When were we last together? Although it seems like only yesterday, it was in 1967 at the Carroll Theatre when you were starring in Caprice. I was the mesmerized 9-year-old boy in the middle of the theatre all alone that Saturday morning. I fell in love with you several years earlier. I can’t remember…was it Do Not Disturb, The Glass Bottom Boat, or possibly Send Me No Flowers? Barely into my first decade, I didn’t know why I loved you so much. As the years passed, I came to know the reasons were many. You were my very first crush, followed shortly by one on James Garner, but that is another letter!
Now, over forty years later, I resist attending today’s movie houses, but this year there are several films I wanted to see before the little gold fellows are handed out to the lucky actors. I girded myself for what I knew was to be a challenging trip and headed out to my local movie megaplex. You see, Doris, the moviegoer’s experience has changed drastically since you and I were together last. I am sure you knew all too well how Hollywood was changing back in the “60s. With that foreknowledge, you wisely exited the system with grace, class, and your personal dignity in place. Unfortunately, today’s moviegoers have a tougher “row to hoe,” as my grandmother used to say, for time spent in a theater is not what it used to be. What passes for the patron experience in 2011 can only be compared to, well, dental work without anesthesia.
The pain began as I drove into the vast expanse of concrete and asphalt surrounding the movie palace, designed so that 32,000 cars may park simultaneously. Once parked, I approached the gaping maw of the glittery beast, stopping to gather my breath after trekking across that asphalt Sahara. Shelling out $20 to several disinterested employees for my ticket, popcorn and a drink large enough to quench the thirst of a small country (Doris, I asked for the smallest size!), I began the second safari of my afternoon searching for Screen 16. I located it at the end of a labyrinthine hallway somewhere beyond the horizon, apparently in the next county. Once there, I collapsed into my seat and took in my surroundings. Doris, today’s moviegoers no longer step into a magical world, comfortably enveloped in darkness, cool air, and the magic of flickering images. I remember when you had to stop and wait until your eyes adjusted to the dark. No longer, as THIS IS THE NEW HOLLYWOOD! You step into a half-lighted room, replete with chairs built with cup holders large enough to hold those quart size drinks. That long-ago, familiar and comforting aroma that was popcorn, Junior Mints and malted milk balls has been replaced with a pervasive aroma that is a cloying mixture of utterly ineffective disinfectant and sweat. The small silent screen seemed sad in its inactive state, like an eye that can’t close, even though it is asleep.
When you and I were together in those halcyon days, there was always something on that silver screen, whether it was a cartoon, a newsreel, or even local advertisements. The theatre was a special place, another world, where I could escape from everyone and everything, surrounded by the darkness and my larger than life friends on the screen. Today, no such magic exists. Jarringly and with the sound system blaring, the blank screen crackled to life with no, not a film, but a slide show Hollywood trivia game (designed evidently by someone who thinks movies were invented about the time that Julia Roberts and Richard Gere starred in Pretty Woman).
Mercifully, the game ended after about five minutes. The lights dimmed somewhat, and my pulse quickened with anticipation. Surely now the preview of coming attractions would begin. How wrong I was. What appeared on the screen was a ten-minute advertisement for…Doris, are you are sitting down…TELEVISION SHOWS! I am a patient man, but that was almost too much to handle. I endured this barrage of images and, eventually, the movie for which I had paid dearly to see was screened. For those two hours, it was almost like the old days (with emphasis on almost).
Stopping at the local market on my trip home, I was again faced with the horror that is today’s Hollywood world of entertainment. I hope you have someone do your marketing for you and your pets, Doris, for it is not a pretty sight out here at the checkout lanes of suburbia. Today, we are forced by law (the law of media, you see) to know everything about every celebrity, whether or not we need or even want to know. Magazine headlines scream out at me about who is not wearing panties, why this celebrity is sleeping with that celebrity, who is now a half human and half plastic reconstruction, and who needs to eat more. Now the media even merges the names together of two celebrities who are dating. They don’t even bother to marry. Thank goodness that we never had to hear about Bogie and Bacall as Bogall, or Liz and Dick as Tayton or Burlor! And the onslaught of useless information is all but inescapable, what with at least six daily entertainment update television shows as well. Do I really need to know that Sally Sexpot ate a salad yesterday wearing a red pants suit and big sunglasses on the patio at The Ivy? I mean, who cares?
At home while recovering from my trip to Hollywood Hell, I flipped on the television set to my favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies. It is my cable oasis of entertainment in an ocean of telecommunicated entertainment drivel. I suppose my luck was due to change, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that coming on shortly was The Thrill of It All, in which you starred with gorgeous James Garner. In minutes, I was entranced by Beverly Boyer, her lovely home, two children, and Happy Soap! It was great watching the film and didn’t create stress or aggravate me in any way. I avoided being both robbed at the box office and visually assaulted by gruesome lobby posters of various slasher movies and cars and buildings exploding! Nor was it necessary to walk further than the road Bing, Bob and Dorothy took to Zanzibar. Yet times change, and not always for the better. I will be content with my memories of the theatre experience as it used to be, and savor the programming at Turner Classic Movies.
Doris, I know I can never get you back on that big screen. But I can find you in Love Me or Leave Me, That Touch of Mink, or even Romance on the High Seas, needing to travel no further than my own video collection. I hope this letter finds you well. Despite the state of movies and Hollywood today, it is nice to know that I have a safe and comfortable place to see you. For in the theatre of my heart, the seat next to me is always reserved for you.
You are still my girl.
See our movie reviews by Brett Martin in Sights & Sounds