Given the attitudes my parents have toward movies, it's amazing I ever got into them at all. My dad was a renter, but I don't know of him ever setting foot in a theater in my lifetime. Certainly, I never went to a movie with him. My mom--despite being a certifiable TV junkie--has always taken a dim view of movies. She feels they insult the intelligence of the audience, and so the only times she ever took us to see movies were for releases she thought were targeted at kids. It was something to do, and many of the movies we saw were second run for $1 a ticket.
I grew up in La Grange, KY and there was no theater in the entire county. In fact, the closest was Showcase Cinemas, a full forty minutes or so away from the house. I'm not trying to create a sense of homebound isolation--indeed, mom made sure that we went out pretty much every other Sunday to a mall, a park, a movie, something to remind us of civilization. Still, coupled with the inconvenience of getting to a theater, mom's own dim view of movies meant we only went for things my brother or I really wanted to see.
Maybe that's why, even today, I still think of going to the theater as a special experience. I remember classmates who saw movies regularly with their parents. I was always surprised that other parents took their kids to see live action movies that weren't made for a child audience. I could never have imagined my mom taking us to see something like Top Gun. Still, I remember other classmates not getting taken to see The Transformers: The Movie, and my mom took me on opening day...and then again the next weekend. It seemed some parents would take their kids to movies they themselves wanted to see, but would not endure movies for their kids's sake.
In September 1995, we finally got a theater in LaGrange--the Oldham 8. The decorum was designed with an old school, vintage theater feel with plush velvet walls. They named the concession stand "Cafe D.W." in honor of D.W. Griffith, the filmmaker from our county responsible for such racist (yet significant) films as The Birth of a Nation. The first film I saw at the Eight was Powder on a date. She was out of my life after barely a month, but my love affair with movie-going had gone to the next level. Friends and I convened nearly weekly for the duration of our school years. Sometimes we saw things we hadn't even heard of, just to see something. Today, of course, because of money and the complexities of being married and having Crohn's disease, I make it to far fewer movies and gone are the days of seeing something blind--but oh, how I miss those days!
Shortly after the Oldham 8 opened, a larger cineplex opened barely 15 minutes away across the county line. Surrounded by shopping opportunities and restaurants, it quickly displaced the Eight as the go-to hot spot for school aged kids. Those whose parents dropped them off preferred having things to do, and that was a battle that the Eight couldn't win. In short order, the audiences at the Eight have devolved into unruly hooligans. It's so bad that they've even taken to having an employee announce at the beginning of a screening what the rules of behavior are, and the consequences of violating them. It's like that scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou? when the prisoners are escorted into the theater by armed guards.
Thinking about all this has got me reviewing a list of movies I've seen theatrically. The list, which I think is incomplete as of right now, can be seen here. Some of my standout movie memories:
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial - My earliest theatrical memory; mom had a panic attack during the movie and I recall playing with some other kids we were there with behind the seats. We got in trouble, and I learned that the theater is not the place to talk or play.
The Transformers: The Movie - The first movie I ever saw more than once theatrically. Mom took me opening day, and then again the next weekend. Bonus: The soundtrack was the first cassette I ever owned.
Batman - Believe it or not, I didn't even want to go see this. Sure, I was interested in the movie, but I wanted to stay home that day. Mom actually made me go, because she grew up with the '60s TV series and she wanted to see it. By the time it was over, I was completely hooked and my mom was dismayed by what they had done with the characters she knew and loved. When I saw Scooby-Doo, I finally understood how she felt that day.
Thunderheart - My first R-Rated theatrical experience. Parents of a friend of mine were deeply in touch with their Native American heritage and even knew several of the cast members from their annual pow-wows. They took me, and I think this was also the first time I ever combined Sprite with Junior Mints.
Jurassic Park - the first movie I saw at a drive-in since I was a toddler. I don't recall those earlier experiences (save Snow White), so this was really the first time I saw a movie at a drive-in and actually knew what was going on. I'll never forget the way the screen looked at night, surrounded by foliage, during the scene where Grant and the kids are in the tree. Truly magnificent. Plus, this was for a friend's birthday outing, and I remember I sat in the front seat with his mom, and he and another friend sat in the back seat. They wanted to charge her an adult admission for me, but child admission for the two other kids. I was always flattered by that.
Powder - Hated the film, don't miss the girl at all, but it was the first movie I saw at the Oldham Eight.
Down Periscope and Happy Gilmore - The first time I ever saw two movies back-to-back. I had seen Periscope with my friends, and ran into some classmates on their way into see Gilmore. They talked me into sticking around for that, so I bought a ticket and did. It was far funnier than I expected, and funnier than the first film I saw that night. The first time I saw an actual, official double feature the titles were Space Cowboys and The Perfect Storm.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace - Not only my first midnight showing of anything, but the first and only time I ever participated in a campout for tickets. The wait for tickets was far more rewarding than the film itself.
Goldfinger - A once-in-a-lifetime outdoor screening at Fort Knox. We sat there, looking to the right at the inflatable, portable screen showing the Bond movie. To our left, Bullion Avenue and the Gold Depository Building. The weather was gorgeous for an early August night, my Crohn's cooperated and I don't think anyone who was there that night will ever forget it.