Movie Magic

Hi, Boomers,

I was wondering if, as we get older, the lure of the movies loses its luster.  It’s happened to me and I never thought it would.  When I was a kid growing up, I used to go to movies every single Saturday and Sunday at the Rafael Theater. I mostly went by myself.  I loved sitting in a dark theater cuddled up in my seat in the back row. Movies were 25 cents; then they went up to 50 cents when I was in 7th grade.  Popcorn was 10 cents and so were Juju beads candy.  So were Good and Plenty.  I first picked out the black wafer because it tasted like licorice.  And I pretended that the rest of the  Good and Plenty wafers were communion wafers like the priest gave us at Sunday morning mass.  The Rafael theater had a balcony as most theaters did back in the old days.  My parents always sat in the balcony.  The first movie they took me to was “The Greatest Show On Earth” with Charleston Heston and Betty Hutton.  I walked out of the movie theater and told my mother I wanted to be a movie star.  The next year I fell off a railing and landed on my face and chipped my front tooth.  My movie star days were over before they began.  But that never stopped me from dreaming.  That’s why we all love movies.  We get to dream.

When I was in high school, we had Saturday night movie dates.  We usually went to the movies in the city (San Francisco) at one of those old, classic movie theaters, followed by pizza in the Marina.  Or we went to the ocean in front of Fleishhacker’s Zoo and the salt water pool and parked and the boys drank beer.  Or we drove to a spot we all knew under the Gold Gate Bridge and told stories and talked about football.  And drank beer.

College was all about Ingmar Bergman films that ran at the art house theater in Berkeley.  We probably didn’t understand them but we sure related to Fellini, and he was our film mentor.  I saw  every great movie ever made from the 60s to the late 70s when great films were plentiful.  I was teaching theater during those years, living in Las Vegas, but I still found a way to see every classic film that came out.  In those days, Las Vegas even had an art house movie theater and I saw all the foreign film that were released.

Films still captured my imagination because when I came to LA in the mid-80s, I enrolled in the American Film Institute to study producing and even learned to write screenplays, and I fell in love with movie magic all over again.  I still could dream and I still could find joy in telling stories.  My Producing teacher said to me the first day of class, “Theater is dead, Joan.  It’s like those stain glass windows in churches that were once used to instruct and tell stories in Medieval times.  And now film does it better.”  I replied, “That’s why I’m in film school, Mr. Garcia.”

Fifteen years later, movie magic stopped. Movies were not capturing my imagination or even holding my attention.  They didn’t inspire me to dream the dreams.  Maybe it was the subject matter.  Or maybe the acting was sub-par.  Or the story was not well told.  I was in my late 50s so my interests were changing and my path lead me away from film and into other passions.  Then, in my early 60s, all the films released looked and sounded the same.  I don’t remember being impressed by films in those days.  Life was far more interesting.

During the years I absented myself from going to the movies, I actually missed sitting alone in a dark theater.  It was the darkness that allowed me to get  inside the story and share it with the actors.  I was suspended in fantasy.

I wonder if, as people grow older, they lose interest in going to the movies.  I’m fairly certain I did because I was more interested in following my passions – yoga and tango and writing – and other people’s stories weren’t as compelling.  And most of the time, when I went to a movie, I felt I was being manipulated by the story telling.  In film school, we used to call it “smell-o-drama.”

Lately, there have been  a few films that have drawn me into a movie theater.  Films I think should be seen on the big screen and not on my television.  I went to the movie theater to see “The Artist” this year.  It was the first time I had been to a movie theater all year and I loved it.  I cherished it.  It was brilliant and everything a film should be.  And no talking!!!!  No speeches.  I also saw “The Descendants” in a theater because  I thought that the background of the story had scope and breadth and Hawaii was actually a character in the film.  Besides, I always find family sagas compelling because they are based on myths.

When my movie magic is triggered, I go back to the time I was 7 years old and saw Betty Hutton fly high on her trapeze over the big top.  It was such a thrill to be magically transported into another time and another place.  I hope I don’t lose all my movie magic as I grow older.  In fact, I really don’t think it has vanished completely.  I was flipping channels the other day and saw a scene from “Somethings Got To Give” with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton and I remembered the first time I saw it.  I wanted to be Diane Keaton’s character – a single woman, a hugely successful playwright who has made it on her own and isn’t looking for love in all the wrong places.  And, surprise, surprise, she captures the imagination of a older, age appropriate single, rich bachelor.  Now that’s a great fantasy.  Movie magic has definitely not died.




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