I had a Facebook page for close to 18 month and would write 1500-2000 word essays mostly about films but a little about myself. I had almost 3000 followers and an amazing amount of likes comments. I would write these essays four or five times a week and was religious about answering every comment. Along with the essay I also had a scan of the Poster for that particular movie. And with my replies relevant photos. As I thought I had a big readership on Facebook, I pretty much neglected my blog and devoted my writing time to the Facebook page. Writing time meaning the time that I am not working on my books—usually struggling to get down my strict 700 words a day regime. Writing time is not a struggle. Writing time is fun.
Then one day by accident I put the wrong poster with an essay and do you know what happened? Ninety-five percent of the comments were about the poster and not the essay. Let me tell you, that was a shock. But it taught me a lesson. Facebook followers aren’t really interested in reading long essays. They are interested in photos or something short to read as they have so much information thrown at them as they peruse Facebook postings that neither have the time nor the inclination for anything longer.
Then when it was revealed in the media what Facebook was doing; and me not knowing what was happening with the information FB wwas culling from my essays, my comments and whatever information they could obtain about me, I was pretty much blown away. So, for ethical reasons I closed my Facebook page and decided to go back to my blog doing there what I was doing with Facebook. My thinking, “I might not have as many followers, but I the ones I do have, will want to read what I wrote. “
What I was doing with those film essays wasn’t writing yet another critical look at a particular movie. I was writing about my personal experience with that movie. This was exceedingly simple because Moves hadn’t just been a diversion for me. They were experiences that I still remember with immense fondness. To a certain degree—and this may be sad to say—they were highlights of the various periods in my life.
An aside. I have about 4000 DVDs and Blue-Rays and I have them shelved chronologically. In other words starting in 1905 they run through 2018 and add to them every week. Why I bring this up is because I can look at these shelves and point to a year and discuss what happened in my life and why, when and with who I went with to each of the movies there. They were just not diversions, they were a big part of my life. I can point to a point on the shelf and say “this is where I met my wife,” and at another point, “This is where I divorced my first wife.”
So, because they were a part of my life that is how I am going to write about films. And as I re-start my blog I will start at the beginning or how me and movies began.
“Gone With The Wind” on Broadway during its 1954 Re-Release
In the beginning my older brothers took me to the movies—or should I say as there was nearly a 7 year difference, dragged me along with them. As it is my belief that adult memory—remembering in a non-fragmentary but systematic memory that continues into adulthood around 7—or at least that is for me. Thus before that age, the films I saw with my brothers—from On The Waterfront to EAST OF EDEN and even GIANT, I only remember as fragments. Specific scenes but little else. The first film that I actually remember seeing was GONE WITH THE WIND during its 1954 release when it was playing second run. My mother took me. Occasionally she would take me to Disney film—LADY AND THE TRAMP comes to memory—but for the most part it was with my brothers. And All I remember of GONE WITH THE WIND from that 1954 showing—which by the way was to become my favorite film— was the “Burning of Atlanta.” I don’t remember a damn thing about that viewing except for that and that we sat in back of the orchestra section. With GIANT it is the Christmas tree. As I mentioned before; just fragments. It is also interested that the films which my brothers took me to were all big hits. There was not a box office bomb among them. My conclusion; my brothers were good at picking movies to see.
It wasn’t until after I turned 7 and began to go to movies on my own during my pre-adolescence when it was no longer my brothers choosing the films but, because I was going myself that my real life with the movies began.
Back then I went to the movies twice a week; Saturday and Sunday afternoon and it cost me, I think, 50 cents. (Those were the days!) As there were two theaters located on White Plains Road in the Bronx near where I lived, and each played a film for about a week it worked out perfectly for me. There was The Wakefield (by the time I was in college it had become a porn theater and is now long gone) and the Laconia (also long gone). These were third run houses and although I loved to go to them each weekend, looking back, they pretty much dumps.
In those days in New York, Broadway theaters were first run, the big chains—RKO and Loews—being second run and the independent neighborhood theaters being third run. These third runs played a film—occasional double bills—for one week. This was before the 2000-3000 theater weekend openings we see today and films usually changed bills on Wednesday and not Friday. This was a release formula developed in the 1920s and lasted for over 50 years. JAWS and STARS WARS in the 1970s pretty much was the beginning of the end. Today most “Hollywood” films in theatrical release will bring in most of their money in the first few weeks of release. In the formula developed in 1920s it took a year a more depending on the film and how popular it was.
Popular films could run for a year or more on Broadway—usually as Roadshows with reserved seats—before they hit the Neighborhood theaters. 1925’s THE BIG PARADE ran for two years at the Astor and THE SOUND OF MUSIC in the 60s nearly two years at the Rivoli. These were beautiful theaters with large screens and starting in the 1950s wide screen and multi-track stereo. But, unfortunately or fortunately depending on one’s circumstances, no way were my parents going to allow their seven year old to travel to Broadway; unless they wanted me to be abducted to become some sort of sex slave. God forbid! My adolescence was bad enough as it was so, that was the last thing I needed to happen to me. Anyway, those days of movie going are long gone.
(My mother told me about the movie Palaces on Broadway with their stage shows when you could see Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra and Even Lewis and Martin when these theaters were at their height. Radio city is the only one left and it rarely shows movies and pretty much is just about the seasonal stage shows. The past is the past)
Meanwhile, in my youth, each weekend about an hour or so before either of these two theaters opened I would get in line at the box office. Line is not quite what it was because I was the first person there because—for some reason unknown to me then but years later with the help of my analyst I would come understand that it made me feel special. How children’s minds operate, today it is really beyond my ability to grasp. Truth is today, I hate being on lines and when as an adult I lived in Manhattan a city block away ity block from Broadway yself good at picking movies to see.from Broadway and absolutely dreaded the lines that always gathered outside the East Side Movie houses like Cinema One or even the Paris Theater near the Plaza Hotel. Fortunately, the Broadway houses had—for the most part—immense lobbies where you could wait and did not have to stand outside until the house emptied from a previous showing. My days of the Wakefield and Laconia were long over.
As a pre-adolescent entering one of my third run neighborhood theaters I would immediately go to the candy counter and purchase these—as I see them today—awful, thick, salty potato chips and head for a seat usually five or six aisles from the screen as even then big screen to me meant big screen. (Today I now sit first row center to become immersed with what is up there the screen. I don’t want to see a movie I want to “Experience it.”) A short while later the curtain would part and the show would begin. There were newsreels for a while but they eventually were phased out in the late 50s as were the shorts. So basically, the bill began with previews, then came the cartoon and the film.
The Wakefield—sans balcony—was the bigger theater and had the bigger screen and I much preferred it to the Laconia which was smaller and had a balcony that was at the rear of the theater and was basically stadium seating situated on a raised floor. Back there sat the teenagers with boys and girls using the movie as an excuse to “make out” for two hours. Radio city it wasn’t.
What is interesting is that I remember watching these films which I saw when Eisenhower was President—as vividly as if I saw them yesterday—which sometimes I can re-experience them as I first did when I now sit close to my big screen TV and watch a Blu-Ray. It becomes a wonderful trip back in time to my youth and the feelings and impression that were so much a part of my life back then. It truly is a trip back in time.
What is also interesting is exactly how really special these films showings were to me. Make no mistake about it, it was pure escapism and I know this because when I arrived back home I would look around at my surroundings and think to myself how drab and even bleak they were. In other words, real life was a drag. This is very different from today when after watching a film I experience much the opposite effect.
Cute story, I was watching Wiseman’s Cinema Verte’ film HIGH SCHOOL in my cabin-office on a big screen TV and I couldn’t wait for it to be over so that I could walk back to the house and de-brief myself from the gloom that I experienced watching that film. The same thing occurred when I watched THE ROAD. UGH! The last place I wanted to be was in that movie. In fact I would have paid to get out of it. I don’t know if this is good or bad but that’s just how it was for me.
Anyway, I will be writing about some of the movies I saw in those days and the years that followed and at a time in my life when movies were really magic time. Again, not critiques but how and where I saw these movies and the experience they gave me. So get ready. No Pauline Kael here.