Tuesday, November 17, 2020

At the Movies

When my son, Josh, sent me a piece about Rehoboth Beach, DE perhaps becoming Biden's presidential retreat, the first thing I thought of was that the last time we were in Rehoboth in 1987, we saw the movie DIRTY DANCING. Or was it 1990 when we saw GHOST. Our usual beach vacation was in Ocean City, NJ but occasionally we met up with my brother and his wife in Rehoboth. That made me realize (but not for the first time) how important movies have been to me. Imagine remembering places based on the movie seen in theaters there. But that's how it is for me.

The Renel was my neighborhood movie theater in Philly. I walked there every Saturday, a good mile walk, and saw whatever they were showing. We never thought to check. By my teen years, I went downtown with my friend, Karen. We took the S bus and the subway wearing heels and gloves. If we were lucky, we got to stop at a bar owned by a friend's father on the way home and he would feed us. The theaters were magical. I am sure you remember those palaces too.

I am embarrassed at how often it's the movie rather than the city or country where I saw it that I remember. This dates back to our very beginning as a couple. Phil and me. Movies were important from the start. Other couples went to the drive-in for romantic evenings, I went for the movies more often. Our first drive-in movie together was Cleopatra, two years after it came out. A pretty bad movie but spectacular to look at. 

My first experience with foreign films was at the Strand Theater in Lambertville, NJ where we saw 8 1/2 and Bergman films. I had no idea that films like that existed until Phil took me to the Strand. It's a vacant building now according to writer Dennis Trafoya who lives there.

At Rutgers, where Phil got his Ph.D and I worked for New Jersey Bell, we drove into Princeton and saw The Graduate, Goodbye Columbus, and Rosemary's Baby. Each of these films astonished me at the time. 

Over the years, even before we landed in a city or country, I'd check out the movie theaters. This led to us seeing a Mike Leigh movie in Portugal in 1997, a Japanese movie called Our Little Sister in Krakow, Poland fifteen years later, Get Out in Key West, Drive at the St. Louis Bouchercon. 

I cannot begin to list the movies we saw in Paris. But a theater there was doing an Alfred Hitchcock festival on the left bank so how could we know show up every night. In London once, I fell down a flight of wet steps and sprained my ankle, but still hobbled across the street to see Away from Her's four o'clock show. My ankle, swollen badly two hours, later was worth the price of admission. 

When we were living in Manchester in the mid-nineties, Phil was invited to a conference in France. He was gone for four days and on every one of them, I took a bus and a train into Manchester to see movies. I especially remember Hoop Dreams and Barcelona. There was a certain degree of frustration not having anyone to discuss Hoop Dreams with and I remember the audience hooting at Barcelona. Those crazy Americans someone said on the way out.

In Palm Springs, not so long ago, we saw in the newspaper that The Great Beauty was playing. Is it walkable, we asked the hotel clerk? She shrugged and handed us a map, pointing the theater out. It took us about 45 minutes to walk there and another 45 minutes to return--all in the dark and all on unpaved roads, but it was worth it.

I am sure there have been trips where we just couldn't find our way to a theater, but not very many. The European habit of showing movies VO (in the original language) made it easy to see American movies everywhere. We even found a theater in Luxembourg although I can't remember what we saw. 

I love plays too and will gladly see a play on a trip too, but there is something about a movie that's special to me. I have a history with movies that I don't have with plays. I didn't see my first play until Man of La Mancha in 1967. By then I had seen hundreds of movies.

When  people talk about what they miss most during this pandemic, I know what it is for me. Sitting in the dark of a movie theater that smells of popcorn, milk duds, and the horrible cheese they put on nachos. And also taking in the less pleasant smells of upholstery that badly needs replacing, cheap soap wafting from the rest rooms, and the sweaty smell of anticipation. Often, I cannot even remember what movie it is I about to watch. It doesn't matter a lot. Just that there is the possibility that it is about to thrill me. I will never be one to prefer to watch movies at home. There is no magic on my old couch, smelling the remnants of dinner, hearing the dishwasher churning. The magic is in sharing the experience in a palace built for this very special experience. At least to me.


Margot Kinberg said...

Going to the movies really did used to be almost a sacred experience, Patti. And before the days of streaming films and TV, it used to be the way to see foreign films. Thanks for reminding me of how it was...

Jeff Meyerson said...

Thanks, Patti. That was great. We're going out early - downtown to the market for apples, and to Trader Joe's - but will answer at length when we come back. Movies used to be a big part of my (and our) life too. When we were kids we had to Avalon on Kings Highway, our go to place. We walked down Ocean Avenue from Avenue O to P to Kings Highway, then three short blocks to the Avalon on East 17th Street. I remember even as a kid going Fridays when they had a free "sneak preview" of a forthcoming movie, which was almost always a terrible Elvis movie - SPINOUT, ROUSTABOUT, etc. During Easter Break from school we were assigned to go see the French movies they showed - sadly, it was nothing good, but THE COW AND I (La Vache Et Moi) starring Fernandel. When Jackie and I started dating in early 1967, the Avalon was only an occasional stop, but I remember walking there from my house at my mother's recommendation to see TWO FOR THE ROAD, which became (and has remained) one of our favorite films of all time.

More later.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I imagine that plays took over for you two at some point. Living in NY it would although Megan is still more attached to movies.
I wonder if any of those art houses will survive this, Margot.

George said...

Patti, like you I wonder how many theaters and art houses will survive the Coronavirus. The future of plays and movies might have to be online productions.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have been watching a few of those. Be better when actors aren't in boxes. It feels like Hollywood Squares.

Jeff Meyerson said...

We're back. To continue: another seven blocks down Kings Highway at Coney Island Avenue was the Kingsway, a really big theater (that they later divided up into five theaters, which was a disaster). It opened in 1921 with 2,500 seats. We went there on our first date, January 14, 1967, to see WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, of all things.

There was the Avenue M (Avenue M and East 16th Street) and the Avenue U (U and E. 16th), each of which had a period as a "cheap" theater, with all seats at $1 each! For that price, you could sit through anything. This was later done at the Graham, in Sheepshead Bay where Jackie grew up. There were others - the Fortway, which may still exist on Coney Island Avenue, the Mayfair on Avenue U and Coney Island Avenue. Another was the Nostrand (Nostrand Avenue, obviously). So, our neighborhood had a lot of choices; even though a lot had the same shows, there was usually one which was cheap and one which showed "arty" choices. We saw things like REPULSION (twice! it was a second feature once), COMING APART (full frontal male as well as female nudity), MORE (young rich druggies on Ibiza), etc. We also went to Radio City Music Hall when they were threatening to close it (I remember seeing the weak Paul Newman movie, THE SECRET WAR OF HARRY FRIGG, there).

MY mother felt about like Patti about the movies, and any time we visited them we were likely to be dragged to the movies. Next time: Europe.

Jeff Meyerson said...

We first went to England in April of 1971 on our belated honeymoon, and besides a few shows (THE MOUSETRAP being one), we went to the movies. I remember CROMWELL (Richard Harris; Alec Guinness was Charles I) being one. The other escapes me. This was our first experience of movie-going the way it has become here: assigned seats, commercials before the previews of forthcoming movies. After that, we would usually see a movie or two in London along with the shows. We saw THE DEER HUNTER in London, but also things like NASTY HABITS and FUN WITH DICK AND JANE. One other time I remember particularly. We were with our friends in Edinburgh, and Jackie and Sue went to see THE BETSY. Bob and I didn't. We did all see STAR WARS there, and two years later it was THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

We didn't see that many things outside Britain, but I do remember seeing AMERICAN GRAFFITI for the first time in a small theater in Paris, and LENNY in Munich.

When we got married, the area we lived only had one theater in easy walking distance, the Rex. It was a few blocks from Jackie's school and had a bad reputation as a druggie hangout, so we never went there. But when our friends Bob and Sue visited, they had a revival of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which Bob wanted to see, so we did. The theater was pretty skeevy, A couple of years later it closed, was renovated, and reopened as the artier Cobble Hill Cinemas. There was also a Brooklyn Heights Theater (one of the first with two small screens) we went to a few times.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow, Jeff. Quite a memory. I bet you can do it with plays too.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I do have yearly calendars I have been keeping since 1975, but this was all from memory. I have a list of plays we've seen by date and theater, so that is all in one place and easy to access.

Mathew Paust said...

Enjoyed you reminiscing, Patti. Until the pandemic I would occasionally catch a film at our little movie house about a block from my apartment. It's been closed nearly a year now, and, altho me visits were infrequent, I miss them--especially every time I drive by the place. I'm beginning to wonder if sit-down theaters are going the way of drive-ins, grist for memories until they fade away completely.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think they will come back but in smaller numbers. I doubt Hollywood can make a living out of what they can charge online. And the experience is very different. A lot of people want to get out of their house. Me especially.

Todd Mason said...

Jeff--about the only mild joy to be had in THE BETSY is in Kathleen Beller's gratuitous nude scene (unless one of Olivier's worst performances counts as joyous), so you missed little.

The foreign films in Philadelphia, as you probably know, Patti, have been mostly the province of the Ritz chain of theaters since the '90s, along with the rather less well-appointed Roxy. The Ritz had a large theater out in the Jersey burbs for about a decade as well, but it's changed hands a couple of times and the quality of everything about had devolved so much that we stopped going to it about five or more years ago. Along with the Bala Theater, in Bala Cynwd not too far from your childhood digs I think, had a brief scare some years ago, but reopened and was joined by the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on the Main Stem. As George worries, let's hope they can survive this mess.