Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

23.15 Back to the Movies

I took my three older grandsons – William 15, Jack 13, Victor 11 (Miles 8, was a bit too young) – to see Mission Impossible 7, (Part 1!) a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was the first movie I had gone to see in an actual theatre since before Covid, but William reminded me we had all gone to see James Bond, A Time To Die, two years ago at the Cineplex but they wouldn’t admit [then] 13-year-old William because he didn’t have his vaccination certificates with him. (Luckily, that Jordan family didn’t live far from the Cineplex and the very annoyed dad was able to whip home and retrieve William’s certificates in time for the opening credits.) I was sorry to be reminded of those paranoic days.

The day after viewing MI-7 I spent a long afternoon watching Oppenheimer. When we exited the theatre we encountered troops of [mostly] women, all in costume pink and cinched waists, on their way to see Barbie. It was a marvel to see all these people flocking to the theatres, even on a Monday. I’m keen to see a few other summer blockbusters before they leave the theatres. I haven’t yet found a suitable partner to attend a showing of Barbie.

But my, how things have changed. Not dramatically so perhaps, but changed nevertheless.

Marlene and I were movie buffs. ‘Buffs’ may be too strong a term – it implies a strong interest and accumulated knowledge of ‘cinema’. (Well there you go, already we make a distinction: there seems to be a difference between ‘movies’ and ‘cinema’. Movies are anything made in Hollywood, or have a Hollywood ‘feel’, and cover almost any genre, from action to horror to nonsense. Cinema is more obtuse and mysterious, mostly foreign films, understood only by film reviewers and pseudo-intellectuals. (Oh dear, there’s another synonym, films). My claim to calling myself a ‘buff’, was that I tended to read all the movie reviews in the newspapers, but now that we no longer subscribe to print newspapers, and read digital versions less and less, I hardly see movie reviews anymore. And most of the fare reviewed these days are not in a style to my liking, or are shown exclusively on Netflix or Amazon, and I don’t subscribe to those internet sources. So I guess I can hardly call myself a movie buff these days.

Marlene was never really a movie buff; she just liked to watch movies, mostly for entertainment and distraction, and mostly on tv. She’d watch reruns, and pap, over and over again, or anything else that moved on the screen. But I do think, like me, she enjoyed seeing films on the big screen. When we got our 54-inch tv screen at home, which did a good job of impersonating a cinema big screen in the family room, she found it less and less appealing to go out to the movies.

I on the other hand preferred the big screen, the theatre hall – though it had to be the right size – not so large that you felt you were a mile away from the screen, and not so small that you may as well be home in your own family room. I like the dark of the space and the notion of sitting in a room with strangers in a shared experience, though I didn’t enjoy a packed hall, rubbing shoulders with someone of unknown character. I never enjoyed being obliged to sit in the first three rows and looking up at oversized heads, and getting a stiff neck. I liked the sound systems of the last few decades – we didn’t really know what we were missing in the old days with a pair of skimpy speakers producing thin and broken sound. And I liked the improved seats that gave some comfort and security while seated for two hours, rather than the hard, fold up seats that threatened to upend at any moment. And I loved the popcorn. Theatre popcorn is different from popcorn you can buy anywhere else, except perhaps the midway at the local fair. 

I would read the movie reviews, typically on Friday nights, and from those decide which movies we ‘must see’, those that might be ‘nice to see’ and all the others rejected. I got to be more and more ‘buffy’ as I watched for features in the film mentioned in the reviews – the cinematography, the dialogue, the scene stealers, the music and sound effects. And I’d rate the movie on multiple levels, agreeing or disagreeing with the press reviews. And then after the movie, to pack in a snack at a coffee shop or a pub and discuss the movie.

Marlene’s notion of a post-movie snack was Mcdonalds drive-through. She had no interest in reviewing the movie. Her rating system was a simple binary scale: good or bad. We didn’t always agree on the assessment of a movie, and I rarely knew what it was she liked about a movie. Mostly it needed to entertain her.

Still we enjoyed the movies together. The only time she’d let me hold her hand in public was at the movie theatre; sometimes she even sought out my hand. We made a point of watching as many as we could of the year’s nominees for Best Picture, and then watch the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards, to see which won.

Our last move together was ‘La-La Land’ and were most irritated that it didn’t win the Best Picture award in 2017. 

After Marlene died I went to a few movies on my own, probably in some melancholic attempt to recapture the experience of watching a film with her. I don’t remember the films I went to see alone, though one – a thriller – I bawled all the way through, and the other – a light comedy – I fell asleep early and only woke up when the credits were rolling. I hope I didn’t disturb the other viewers with my snoring.

Later, in my six months of wild dating, I went to a number of movies with some forgotten candidate and have no memory of the movie I saw, except for one romance film that had many surprising echoes of the life I’d been living with all its disappointments. My date must have wondered at me.

In 2019 I saw no films, either in Canada or the Philippines because Carmen had only basic fluency in English then and couldn’t really follow the plot; we did however enjoy a Canadian-produced Filipino film in Tagalog with English subtitles (Hello, Love, Goodbye) about the typical Filipina balikbayan experience as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in Hong Kong and sending money home to the family.

And then pandemic lockdown happened and theatres were closed; and even when re-opened people were reluctant to go back, fearing illness, preferring still to stay home and watch Netflix.

But now it’s back to the movies and people are flocking to the theatres again. That doesn’t include die-hard germaphobes of course but everyone else seems to be desperate to get back to the old normal and enjoy a movie in an actual move theatre. 

But things have changed. [] For one thing, you have to sit through 30 minutes of commercials before you even get to the trailers. And these are not Superbowl novelty commercials, they’re the same ones you see every day on your tv. It’s as if you paid 50 – 100 bucks for the same ‘entertainment’ you get at home. If the theatre says the show starts at 3:00 pm you’ll still be on time for the feature even if you show up 20 minutes after.

For another, the theatres have all been converted to lounge style, with big black stuffed vinyl chairs (surely not leather) with arms and tilt function and leg rests. The seats are not only large and padded and tilted, they’re even heated! (at least in the premium studios). Quite comfy, though you have to be a contortionist to find and operate the controls.  Even though I don’t really miss the cramped feeling you got from an old-style seating layout, there is a sort of intimacy lost with over-sized lazy-boy style seats: they are not convenient for holding hands with a partner almost out of reach. These large chairs take up twice as much space as chairs previously; and with only half the number of seats to sell, the price per seat is twice as high as previously: Now a pair of ducats cost at least 50 bucks and by the time you wind your way through the self-serve junk food court and pay too easily with your tap bank card, you’ve spent well over $100 bucks to see, to see, well, a mediocre film. 

And in the premium seats there are large subwoofers installed in the back of your chair that vibrate, often quite vigourously, with every low note and explosion in the soundtrack, rattling your spine, to be matched by the ear-drum splitting sound volume rattling off the walls from a dozen or more surround sound speakers. MI – 7 – which we viewed in a non-premium studio, no vibrating chairs nor overwhelming sound volume, even for an otherwise loud movie – was tolerable. But Oppenheimer, which my viewing partner and I viewed in a premium studio with the vibrating chairs, was excessive. Feeling the sound was certainly a novel experience but oh my, the overall sound volume was oppressive, especially for this otherwise mostly dialogue movie. My viewing partner was stuffing her ears with Kleenex and had her hands constantly at the ready to cover them as well. Not a pleasant way to sit through a three-hour endurance test, anticipating the Los Alamos explosion to come. Maybe it was just the operator of that particular venue, already deaf from having sat through too many showings at ear-drum damaging levels. But I doubt it. I recall in the years before Covid the sound volumes becoming apparently much louder than I remember in earlier times. Or maybe in my old age my tolerance for excessive stimulation has decreased.

This essay is not intended to be reviews of the two movies in question, but at 2 hours and 43 minutes for MI-7 (Part 1!) and almost 3 hours for Oppenheimer, these put tremendous pressure on one’s bladder, especially if you consumed one of those giant soft drinks before the opening credits. Once upon a time, movies of those lengths came with an intermission. And it’s not just a 70-something-year-old bladder that’s challenged, my 11-year-old grandson also had to creep out of the theatre in search of a men’s room halfway through MI-7. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, these premium seats will come equipped with, well, never mind.

Still, I’m glad the theatres are open for business again and I intend to take in a few more films in the weeks and months ahead. Including Barbie, if I can only find a suitable partner. I don’t think my grandsons are in a hurry to see this one, nor my feminist friends, apparently, but as a movie buff, with intellectual pretensions, I don’t want to miss it.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

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