Why am I posting this in the writing category? Well, I don’t have a general category, so there’s that. But also, I’ve been a movie fan for as long as I remember, and the visual storytelling that is cinema’s stock in trade has no doubt informed my writing. Even so, I’m not writing about movies here, except tangentially; instead, here are three small stories about things that happened inside movie theaters, all from decades ago, that I have never forgotten.
June, 1975. I’m 15, seeing Jaws for the first time. The theater is packed of course, because it’s Jaws, the movie that invented the summer blockbuster. Like always, I’m sitting where I always sat before my body betrayed me and made it too uncomfortable, third row center. Next to me is a young kid, maybe 7 or 8—way too young to see Jaws, but Mapletown Theater, my decrepit local theater of choice in Maple Heights, Ohio will sell tickets to anyone with a pulse—and he’s by himself. He’s got a jumbo pop (it’s Ohio, that’s what we call it)) in one hand and a popcorn in the other, because Mapletown, like many movie theaters back then, does not have cup holders. The kid looks scared, but he’s holding his own. Until the scene. You know the scene. An empty rowboat, and then a head rolls out of a hole in the bottom. In a movie with few jump scares, it’s the biggest. The kid next to me screams and throws both hands up in the air, drenching several rows behind him in a tsunami of pop and popcorn. Not only did it break the tension in a way that Steven Spielberg would not approve of, it brought the house down.
November, 1976. I’m 16, seeing Carrie for the first time. I’m back at Mapletown, because to them an “R” rating is just a suggestion. It’s the very last scene of the movie. Sue is bending down to place flowers beneath the cross that read Carrie White Rots in Hell, and…and…the film breaks. The sound continues, so I can hear Sue screaming, but no visual. I had read that there was a shocker of an ending. Could this be it? I had to go back the next night and watch it again, just to see that hand thrust up out of the ground.
December, 1986. I’m 26, seeing Platoon for the first time with my then girlfriend, now wife Carrie. We’ve got tickets for a special early screening, which, as it turns out, is filled with Vietnam veterans. And for the next couple of hours, we watch the movie, absolutely, but we also watch the crowd. It’s both sobering and exhilarating. The vets, many in wheelchairs, are totally involved. They laugh knowingly, and sob uncontrollably, and I think to myself, I have never felt as much of a connection to a movie as they do, then or to this day. It put Oliver Stone’s storytelling on a whole different level for me.