Movies are magic, they have been since I was kid. When I went to the theater – one of those big classic theaters of the past, vast like the inside of a cathedral – it was like going to the Ringling Brothers Circus.
In anticipation of the excitement I thought about it all week. Whatever was showing in my hometown that weekend was the grandest thing I could imagine. Whatever the film was, a western, a drama, a comedy, it was OK It was a movie and that told it all. That and the popcorn, the coke, the candy – it was all tied together. You had to have your candy, your coke. It made the whole thing come together. And then there was choosing the right seat, not too close, not too far back, on the aisle so you could make a quick trip to the bathroom just at the right time when the action lagged or when they kissed and then be back in time for something big, a payoff.
There was the long walk to the theater on Saturday morning along the railroad tracks behind the school, then across town, thirsty for my coke, getting amped up. Finally I arrived at the box office put my quarters down and went on inside the lobby. There was the carpet smell, the rich smell of the hot buttered popcorn, seeing kids from the neighborhood, and getting my stash of just the right candy – because it had to take you all the way through till the end, through the highs and lows and maybe some hard candy leftover for the long walk home: a time for reflection.
But before that there was the unbelievable anticipation for the moment, the moment the lights went down, and the giant enormous screen filled the whole world with this mighty event and instantly being transformed into another magical world of heroes and clowns, sounds and colors – all the while glued to the screen. Being circumspect about your candy, balancing your coke, letting my child’s emotions run free to laugh and cry.
I laughed so hard during “The Russians are Coming” that the theater manager, a friend of my father, came down and told me to quiet down or I’d have to leave. I moved to the aisle stairs against the wall and kept howling. At the end of the movie, the lights coming up, a sense of immense loss and longing to stay here in the theater, in my seat, in this world. The effects of being in this magical world lasted all day.
After the movie I walked slowly heading for home, letting the whole experience wash over me, not wanting to go home, or to ever grow up but to stay here, in childhood for ever. If it was a summer day I lingered there on the railroad tracks walking on the rails, the sun splashing over me.
It was one of childhood’s great experiences.
My mother loved the opera and the theater and for some reason she took me on a Saturday to San Francisco to see Fellini’s “La Strada” when I was seven. It was a black-and-white, foreign film; moody, tragic – a curious and strange film for a seven year old. Yet instead of repulsion, or worse boredom, I was fascinated. I loved the strangeness of it, the stark landscapes, the elfin waif, the brutish Anthony Quinn. Whatever my mother saw in me, wanted to expose me to remained a mystery. Yet the film has moved me all these remaining years and continues to be significant and alluring. She was setting me up for something. I remember we didn’t speak all the way home. I sat looking at the landscape outside the car window.
That “La Strada” afternoon was one of those important memories of our relationship.