NOT SO MUCH, ANY MORE
Another Sign Of Impending DEATH
I used to be a movie freak. Nobody could keep up with me. In New York City, you can go to the movies 24/7/52. Or, you could, before they "cleaned up" Times Square, i.e. Disneyfied it. There were theaters on Forty-Second Street that never closed: They were known as hotels for the poor. You could go in there any time for a few bucks and have a snooze; warm in the winter, cool in the summer. And there was popcorn. And jujubees. All over the floor.
They mostly showed chop-socky, blaxploitation, and career-ending films by major has-beens like John Wayne. Easy to sleep through, those last. I saw Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song," when it first came out. Not so easy to sleep through. When the hero impaled a cop on a broken pool cue, the audience cheered. In fact, the audience cheered, laughed, and generally had a very loud, very good time all the way through. I think I was the only white guy there, and I enjoyed myself, thoroughly. Just didn't get any sleep.
We also had a kind of Golden Age of good movies, great movies, in repertoire, from the newly emerging independents, and from every country in the cinematic world. I got a complete education in the art of film at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the Bleeker Street Cinema, the Theater 80 St. Marks, the Thalia, the Symphony, The Art, the Cinema Village, The Greenwich, The Chelsea, the Eighth Street Cinema, the Museum of Modern Art, the Festival, the Anthology Film Archives, the Quad, the Elgin, The DW Griffith, the Paris, the Plaza, the Waverly, the Film Forum...
I saw most of the films of Fellini, Bergman, Hitchcock, Hawks, Huston, Sturges, Truffaut, Godard, Malle, Herzog, Kurosawa, Bunuel, Busby Berkeley, Stanley Donen, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Norman McLeod, Sam Wood, Carol Reed, Frank Capra. And the new guys on the block: Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Bob Rafelson, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Milos Forman, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Bob Fosse, Stanley Kubrik, Sidney Lumet, Ridley Scott, Hal Ashby, Paul Mazursky.
It's where I learned that films are made by writers and directors and cinematographers, et al, not just actors. It's where I came to worship the movies. Sometimes two or three or four in one day. Sometimes every day for a week. For weeks on end. Over several years. I don't think I watched two hours of TV in ten years. It was heaven. Why bother with heroin, when you could go to a better world any time, and still be home, alive, for dinner? So what if you smelled like popcorn?
Then there were the giant screens in the Theater District: Like the Ziegfeld, where I was astonished by an early showing of Kubrik's "2001: A Space Odyssey." The Loews Astor Plaza, where Imperial Star Cruisers and X-Wing Fighters seemed to blast right over my head. All in glorious 70mm, rarely seen any more.
Many of these theaters are gone. Googleplexes with tiny screens and crummy seats replaced them. They seemed to attract loud, stupid, rude, chatty assholes like flies. Megablockbusters squeezed out indies, art and foreign films. They started letting people buy tickets over the phone, and, later, online. So, you'd show up for a movie, and it would always be sold out, even though nobody was waiting on line. Annoying.
And then came the ten-dollar tickets. And the Pauly Shore and Adam Sandler movies. The average age of a Hollywood director plummeted into the mid-twenties, with even younger writers. There no real life experience on the silver screen, any more. It was more like brass. Or gilt. I kind of quit going to the movies.
A lot of people have quit going to the movies. What with wide-screen projection TVs, flat-panel HDTVs, cable TV and VCRs, DVDs by Express-mail and downloading movies off the Internet, a lot of people may never go to the movies. Which is really too bad. It was a magical experience, once. A rare opportunity for communal catharsis, in a world frozen in isolation and alienation.
You could all gather in a great hall together, beneath magnificent sculptures and architecture, sunk down in plush, roomy chairs, cooled by air conditioning, fed by a popcorn machine, and utterly entranced by giant, luminous images on the screen, and sounds you could never hear anywhere else. You could all laugh together, cry together, get angry and have your revenge together, see justice done, and feel good about the world, together. All for a couple of bucks. I miss that.
Becoming a recluse is a function of getting old. You stop going out to clubs, movies, restaurants, concerts, bars, sporting events, political rallies, wild sex orgies, church. No, not church. Just in case there's a God. You'll be finding out, soon enough. Don't get old while you're still young. Turn off the computer, go outside, and subject yourself to the madding crowds, while you're still young enough to enjoy it. Even if you are too old, already. Who knows, maybe I WILL see you in the movies...
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