You Can’t Beat A Movie Theater

Susan Page
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Wednesday - April 28, 2010
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I love to go to the movies. I say “go” as opposed to “watch” because nowadays it is a very different activity. In a very short span of time, technological breakthroughs have enabled us to watch movies anywhere and everywhere: on our computers, in our cars and, of course, from our sofas - first-run movies at that.

But even though I have all that DVR, movies-on-demand and computer technology, I still love to get in the car and go to the theater. Ah, the popcorn, the Junior Mints, the gum on the floor ... so great. Going as opposed to choosing and clicking, popping in a DVD or downloading, is a much more active pursuit, an experience, if you will. It involves preparation: dressing, figuring out times and venues, trying to please the group’s various tastes and then entering a theater to share the drama or comedy with mostly strangers. And isn’t there something so powerful about seeing your favorite actors on a screen 20 times bigger than you are? That’s how yesteryear’s movie-makers created their magic: bigger than life. Back in the 1930s and ‘40s during the Great Depression and World War II when movie theaters were packed, people needed a big escape.


Some of my pivotal life moments took place in the old Texas Theater in San Angelo, a small ranch town in west Texas where I came of age in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. Take my first kiss with Ronnie H., during which the rubber band wires on our braces got hooked together, for example. It was awkward to say the least, but fortunately it was dark and we were in the balcony. (Today it would’ve made the rounds on Facebook.) Too embarrassed to face each other at school, we broke up.

The movie theater was where I discovered the genius of Disney: Fantasia, Snow White and the all new time-lapsed photography nature films. I rarely miss an animated Disney film even today. In that same theater at age 11, I learned that I wasn’t cut out for the horror film genre while watching the old black-and-white film, The Blob, in which an alien flesh-eating oozing goo eats everyone in its way. The previews warned: It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor. Scared to pieces, I clutched my legs up tightly to my chest, because even the inevitable spilled Coke just might’ve been ... THE BLOB. No way can you get that emotionally wrapped up in a movie sitting at your computer.

A media study reports that since 2002 annual movie attendance dwindled by more than 200 million tickets. Sometimes I’m only one of a few people in a theater. How do they stay alive financially? The late Stanley Durwood, who invented the multiplex theaters way back in 1963 in Kansas City, couldn’t have predicted that by 2010 people would be getting their movies by clicking their remotes, using a mail order (now streaming online) service called Netflix or from the Internet. And more unpredictable is that the number of illegally downloaded movies outnumbers legal downloads five to one, and that within a one-month period 6 million households had illegally downloaded a video.

Drive-in movie theaters also have dwindled from thousands to only around 400 all across the USA. Never a big fan, at age 15 peer pressure and no money overcame judgment, and I snuck into the theater in the trunk of Barbie’s car after which my “friends” forgot about me and left to buy popcorn. To this day I’m claustrophobic - serving me right. Our “Sunset on the Beach” movies are really fun facsimiles of drive-ins with value-added entertainment, but they still don’t provide the intimacy of a dark theater.

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