A good portion of my life has been spent staring at screens that tell me stories. They remain a part of my experience now, and they are among some of my earliest memories of life. They also tended to have an influence on what type of person, and writer, I would turn out to be.
There are plenty of times that I went and watched movies, either in the theater or in the basement that became my sanctuary during the early years of my life. Kids, there was an era before remote controls, and I was part of the end of that era. As a result, I wound up sitting on the tartan-greenish carpet of my basement, perched just in front of the television set, wearing out the numbers on the controls located on our grand television.
Usually, I was situated right in front of the TV because I kept changing channels to watch as much as possible1. The other reason, admittedly, was that I wanted to be ready in case Mom and Dad peeked down the stairs to see me watching something that I shouldn’t have been watching. In the early 1980’s we had HBO at our house, and there were several movies that had the pre-teen me a bit too interested. (It also gave me the opportunity to watch Star Wars at least 20 times on that channel alone, helping me fall in love with science fiction even more than I had with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpses of the original Battlestar Galactica series and one or two errant episodes of Robotech. Back in the pre-Internet 1980’s, much of geek or sci-fi culture was as much rumor as fact. Nevertheless, it did make me open to reading science fiction classics like Dune and others that I took much inspiration from regarding the ideas of theme and worldbuilding. Later, after HBO was done at my house, there were other movies that were kind of chancy, especially regarding sex and violence. Pretty shortly after that, however, I discovered you could find a lot of that on other channels. Then there was my obsession with professional wrestling, which my dad never quite got and I decided not to flaunt it in front of my parents2.
As I was growing up, there were three times that I went to the movies that I had distinct memories of attending. The first show I remember attending was way back somewhere between 1978 and 1980. I have the clear memory of pulling into an honest-to-goodness drive-in theater in an open field at Mulberry and Cedar in Muscatine, Iowa, close to the high school I would attend years later. That same corner is now covered with office buildings, which is probably an improvement to the local economy but not to the aesthetics of the area3. It was a double-bill of The Blues Brothers and, I believe, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. I loved the anarchic humor and the great music of the first film. I get the feeling that my parents hoped that I might sleep through the second film; they were right.
Other than the multi-screen theater at the mall, during the 1980’s we would often attend the Muscatine Riviera theater right in downtown Muscatine. I included a picture of that place here on the blog. It was an old time movie-theater, converted from a live theater, complete with an old balcony, velvet drapes and curtains on the sides and front, and all of the old detailing that made you think for a second that you were actually in an old vaudeville house rather than a movie theater until you saw the white screen up front. That was where I was actually looking forward to watching Star Trek II because I knew they were going to kill off Spock after reading a novelization of the book beforehand in my local bookstore and I wanted to see what that would look like on the big screen. I never had a problem with spoiler alerts. Then I remember standing in a line around the block to watch Tim Burton’s Batman movie while wearing a black shirt with the Batman logo on it, jumping in anticipation. I remember leaving the theater excited that someone had finally gotten superhero movies right after so many hits and misses. Of course, more than three decades later it seems that’s all that Hollywood releases in the theaters now.
Obviously, so many things have changed in the years since then. The Riviera was bulldozed about 30 years ago, and the multiplex theater in Muscatine moved out of the now nearly-vacant mall to a bigger location on the highway bypass. I went there a few times before I moved away from the town. I have to say the snack selection was better and the new stuffed high-backed chairs were so comfortable that I often risked dozing off in them. However, going out to the movies has become more of an operation, and having to deal with rude movie viewers next to me and the cost usually convinces me not to go.
Some of the older people say we lost something when the communal experience of going to a theater started to die out. I’m an older person now, too, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. I love movies just as much now on a theater screen, a big screen television, my laptop, or even my mobile phone. It’s just like how it is for me with physical book reading or e-books. I take my inspiration and entertainment from wherever I can get it.
- I think it best to discuss my television habits later. I watched plenty of shows that had no redeeming value at all and I cannot defend my decision to watch them as youthful folly (lol).
- There’s probably at least one post that I could think of that might take a look at how professional wrestling influenced me or showed me something regarding storytelling.
- It’s been a bit of a surprise to see that drive-ins have not totally died out, but are hanging on in not that smaller numbers than a few years ago.