Once upon a time, going to the movies was a magical experience above and beyond anything the movie-goer saw on the screen. Those times are largely in the rear view mirror. But film fans still recall fondly the once upon a time magic of an escape to the movies.
The magic started at the first glimpse of the theater marquee: a grand, glittering, neon rainbow of lights and artistic design, heraldng the theater's current attraction.
The magic continued as the movie-goer neared the box office: a sculpted wonder, sometimes trimmed with gold woodwork in an art deco or art nouveau style, in which a sometimes costumed employee dispensed the tickets that admitted patrons to the magical world of the movies.
Once inside, the magic was even more potent. One patron recalls, "The ceiling of my neighborhood theater was painted with the stars and planets, and the paint was glow in the dark. From the moment I looked upward, I felt as if I were in heaven. All this, before I was even seated."
A grandfather recalls, "How vividly I remember the magic of going to the movies during my 1940s' childhood. About fifteen minutes before the picture began, the lights dimmed slowly, and a hush fell over the audience. You'd hear the music first, and then you'd see a magnificent Wurlitzer theater organ ascend from its pit. It was all flashing colored lights and music. The organist played the movie songs hits of the day, and then the theater's lights would come up as the organ descended back into the pit. Even before the movie started, I'd feel that I'd gotten my money's worth....experienced my share of theater magic.
"The lights dimmed again just before the movie started. Then layers of glittering curtains rose before each movie, descending majestically when the performance ended."
A movie-going child in the 1950s remembers "the magic of the Saturday Morning Kiddies Show. All week long, the theater might be showing movies my folks wouldn't let me see. Saturday morning was a different story. The Kiddies Show was a magical two hours, programmed with me in mind. For years, I was a regular: the first one on line when the box office opened at 9:30. It saddened me that by the time my children were born in the '70s, there were no Kiddies Shows."
A woman recalls another aspect of movie-going magic from the 1960s. "When I was in high school, every movie theater had ushers to show you to your seat," she remembers. "For me, being shown to my seat by an usher was a magical, elegant experience. It made me feel as though gracious living was just around the corner."
Surprisingly, distressingly even, another moviegoer is nostalgic for movie-going magic involving smoking. He recalls, "I remember being all of about seven-years-old, sitting on a creaky, velvet-covered seat in the balcony of an old movie house. The balcony, of course, because that's where people were allowed to smoke. I was sitting beside my grandmother, enjoying BUCK ROGERS, or STAR TREK II, I can't remember which. Every so often I'd turn away from the screen and see tendrils of lazy smoke curling up and cutting across the light from the projector. The way it danced in and around the light and the wisps of dust in the air was nearly as magical as the otherworldly stuff being portrayed on screen."
Some mature movie-goers believe the multiplex and today's movie release patterns killed much of the magic of a trip to the movies. As one woman puts it, "Multiplexes are nothing more than bland temples of suburban uniformity; there's no magic.
"During my youth, major motion pictures weren't released to thousands of cookie cutter theaters on opening day. A big movie opened in one or two elegant movie palaces in each major city. If you couldn't get to one of the movie palaces, then you had to wait until the movie played your neighborhood theater. This created a sense of something magical and special about the movie."
When lamenting box office declines, as motion picture exhibitors have been doing all year, perhaps they should be considering these, and other, magical aspects of movie-going, lost somewhere on the road to the 21st Century.
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Does advertising, public taste, or overindulged stars determine a movie's box office fate? Christoper Stone explores what's going on behind the box office.
Christopher Stone is the author of the international best seller Re-Creating Your Self. With Mary Sheldon, he co-authored three highly successful hardcover books of guided meditations.|
He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West.
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