Saturday, July 14, 2007


I went to the movies yesterday to see the latest Harry Potter installation. Wanting to avoid a crowd, I chose the early matinee show, so I could sit wherever I wanted without feeling crowded. I was in luck; there were fewer than 10 people in the theater watching the movie with me. Because I don't want to spoil it for my readers, I won't make any comments about the movie itself, except to say that I think it was better than the last one, though not the best of them all.

Going to the movies is quite a bit different now than when I was a kid. The most obvious difference is the price. I paid $5.50 for the matinee showing; going at night would have cost a few dollars more. I remember when I was a kid, going to the matinee show was fifty cents, 75 cents to a dollar to go at night.

And we didn't have mammoth theaters with a dozen or more screening rooms. Most of the theaters I went to as a kid had only one screen, though, admittedly, there was seating for a lot more people than what is typical in today's multi-screen theaters. It was a big deal to go to a theater that had two screens back then. In the town I live in now, up until ten years ago or so, our largest theater still had only five screens. Now we have two 14 screen theaters, with a host of smaller ones in the general area. And I'm guessing that the theaters are even larger in more heavily populated areas.

We also started going to the movies without our parents at an earlier age back in the sixties. From about age ten or so, the typical pattern was for our parents to drop us off at the theater for a Saturday afternoon matinee, and then be there to pick us up when the movie was over. They got a break from us and we got to see a movie.

Our old theater had a balcony, as many theaters did then, and my friends and I always preferred to sit up there. I'd carry a bag of rubber bands in with me, then buy a large box of Raisinets at the concession. The Raisinets weren't for eating; I bought these to hurl at the audience below. Likewise, I shot the rubber bands at unsuspecting movie goers down below. I never got caught, but I saw more than one kid get thrown out of the theater for doing similar stuff.

Drive-in movies were more common back then, and my family went every so often. Some theaters had a little playground for the kids to play and it wasn't uncommon to see younger kids on the swings in their pajamas. Once the movie started, the kids would have pillows and blankets in the back seat of their parents' cars waiting for them.

I remember going to see "The Graduate" with my parents and great-aunt at the drive-in when I was ten years old. There were scenes in this movie that were considered very risque for the time -- that my parents wouldn't have wanted me to see if they'd been aware of ahead of time. Fortunately for me, however, all three adults had fallen asleep by the time those scenes were shown. But I was wide awake, and I watched the scenes with rapt attention.

When VCRs, with VHS and Beta formats, came out in the 70s, many people thought that movie theaters would quickly become a thing of the past as most people would prefer to view movies in the comfort of their own homes. Obviously, this didn't happen, partly because there was a delay on the release of new movies to VCR tapes, which was typically a year or more back then. But this isn't the whole story -- I think movie theaters survive partially because people enjoy the experience of seeing a movie in a theater and because movie-going remains popular simply for the social aspects.


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