My family loves movies. We lived in New York City, until I was six, so among my earliest memories are family trips to the movies to see Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, at Radio City Music Hall, and trips to see Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and Where Eagles Dare, with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.
There is just something magical and other worldly about movie theaters; the dark anonymity, the big cushy seats, the sticky floors and the smell of hot popcorn. And there were many snacks that, it seemed, could only be found at the movie vending counter, like Milk Duds, Goobers and Raisinets.
My parents took my brother and I to see R-rated movies from day one. By the time I was eleven years old I had seen The Godfather, Dirty Harry and The Exorcist.
A huge trend in 1970s R-rated movies were rape scenes. By adolescence, I had seen countless rape scenes in movies like Straw Dogs, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid and Billy Jack.
Did this warp me in some way? Hell yes! My parents were nuts to take us to see those movies! That said, thank God they did. We got to see the best movies of our generation. While the other neighborhood kids were going to see crap like Herbie The Love Bug, my brother and I were watching Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dog Day Afternoon, with Al Pacino. I’ll take the baggage, thanks.
The 1970s was also a golden age for film comedy, with the likes of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, in their prime. Brooks’ masterpieces like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, remain two of the funniest movies ever made. Add to that Woody Allen greats, like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Sleeper, and Broadway Danny Rose.
Monty Python And The Holy Grain became an obsession for a generation of young movie goers, as did Animal House.
During the summer before my freshman year in high school, when I was about to turn fifteen, my friend Mike came by one night, in his classic Mustang convertible, and we drove into downtown Atlanta and went to a scummy old theater, and I saw for the first time, people having sex on film. Quite an eye opener, for a virginal fourteen year old, seeing human plumbing on a giant screen, ten times normal human size.
And that’s how we did it back then. Nowadays, kids are probably seeing all types of sexual relations, by accident or on the urging of older creepy brothers and sisters, on the internet, by the time the are six. But no, back in 1979, you had to go to a truly frightening theater, in a bad neighborhood, the only other theater goers being old black guys, holding brown paper bags, and who knows what else, and watch in horrified fascination as naked giants went at it, amid mustaches, sideburns and awful music.
At about the same time, a new “multi-plex” went up near my home. It was called Tower Place Six Theaters. That’s right, six whole movie theaters, in one building. That was unheard of at the time. Most movie theaters had one screen and showed one movie, at that time. A few “Twin cinemas” had popped up. But then, in the late 1970s, the concept of the multi-plex spread like wild fire.
I would walk or ride my bike to Tower Place and for a dollar, see a matinee. Or perhaps, two or three matinees, as one could walk from one theater to the next, as they seemed to have no real system to prevent it.
In those days, matinees cost a dollar or a dollar fifty, while full retail markup was about three fifty. Today where I live in LA, movies cost fifteen bucks. For that reason I have not been to a movie in years. It’s not that I couldn’t afford the occasional movie, it’s just that some things just aren’t supposed to cost fifteen bucks. And movies are one of those things. I’m like those old people who insist that in their day a loaf of bread was a nickel and they’ll be damned if they pay three bucks for one.
Talking to young people about movies can be incredibly frustrating. I feel like saying, “Hey Trevor, I’ve got news for you, Swingers is not a ‘Great’ effing movie!… and don’t even mention Goonies, for the love of God!”
Look, there are a handful of truly great movies, like Citizen Kane and City Lights by Charlie Chaplin. So do some Google searches and find out about the classics and the works of directors like Fellini, Kurosawa and Hitchcock and don’t be embarrassing yourself by talking about Ben Stiller movies.
Sure, today we watch movies on our phones and our laptop computers, but I wouldn’t trade a minute I spent in those dark, cozy theaters.
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