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.