31 May, 2013

The Popcorn Connection

The summer blockbuster season is here, and although I'm not a fanatic I do enjoy a good movie. I don't go to a lot of them, but I do like movies. And the popcorn.

I especially like the popcorn and have been quoted as saying that the quality of the popcorn is sometimes more important than the quality of the movie. So I am not a purist, not a connoisseur, and I am certainly not much of a critic.

I have a vague recollection of the first time I went to see a motion picture, but I do not remember if there were popcorn. Probably not. The movie was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which was released in late December of 1954 and is easily found on television. I was six. I'm sure it was probably in the early spring of 1955, and I saw it with my father and brother in Norfolk, Virginia at the Center Theater.

The Center Theater was once called The Arena and is where I met the Cisco Kid at an even younger age. Prior to that it was home to USO shows during World War II and today is the Harrison Opera House. I don't recall my reaction to the movie or much of anything other than that it happened.

Perhaps there were other movies, but the next one I remember starred Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender released in 1956. I saw it in Hutchinson, Kansas where we had moved in the fall of 1955. I don't recall the name of the theater, but I noted that the building was still there when I visited a few years ago. I don't remember popcorn either, but I do remember they had these huge (to a child) sour dill pickles for a nickel. Jailhouse Rock followed in 1957. Elvis was big. Old Yeller too - oh, the tears.

I remember seeing Bridge on the River Kwai (released in 1957) with my mother and brother in Little Rock when we were visiting my grandparents. I'm guessing this was during the summer of 1958 as we moved ourselves back to Virginia from Kansas. I say that because the ugliness of September's 1957 integration of Central High was already history, and my grandparents lived just around the corner from that school.

Now I was a teenager and living in Virginia Beach. Movies became more central to my/our lives, but this still antedates mall-based multiplexes. I don't recall those until the late 1960s, and then there might have been only two screens. My favorite theater was the Beach Theater at the corner of 25th Street and Atlantic Avenue - across the street from the ocean and my Norwegian Lady. Further south and just off Atlantic was the Bayne Theater, but it wasn't quite as nice. Neither serves as a cinema today The best deal in town was on the navy base where tickets cost one thin dime!

The projectors ran continuously in those days with features repeating every two hours if possible, and the between time was filled with cartoons, previews, and newsreels. And popcorn. West on Virginia Beach Blvd. (31st Street) back toward my house was the Virginia Beach Drive-in (now gone). The only time I clearly remember going there was the time my father told me I couldn't. 'Nuf said. Poitier in Lilies of the Field.

Anyway I miss the old large screen movie palaces. I don't miss the popcorn, but that would be because I still buy it. I can't imagine going to the movies without it although it has gotten expensive. As for the movie itself, I have a soft spot for romantic comedy and enjoy science fiction, but it doesn't really matter. What is clear is that I don't like to be made to think a lot by movies - although I will go sometimes just to allow high quality to wash over me when it's there.

For the most part, however, I prefer to go to the cinema to escape reality rather than to engage it. A film like District 9 was incredibly well done, but it forced me to think about an issue to which I was already sympathetic, and those who most needed the message left the theater still thinking it was a film about aliens from outer space. Sigh. I'm not sure which is more depressing - how the movie made me feel or my assessment of many of my compatriots.

So - most of the time I just want to be entertained.
I'm always early, and ...
     Plain - none of that flavored stuff. Check.
     Salted with butter. Check.
     Cherry Coke. Check.
     Napkins. Check.
     Phone off. Check.

Now, sit back and enjoy the show.
Last weekend it was Star Trek.