28 December 2009

Black Kos Tuesday's Chile is on hiatus until after the first of the year. To tide over until then, I offer the following essay entitled,

Movie Palace Matinees and The Drive-In at Midnight


Justice Putnam

I had an eclectic upbringing. My mother was a regional jazz singer in the Northwest and had pretensions of being an artist, while my dad was a college professor who espoused a Progressive historical perspective. That meant being exposed to Art, Literature, Music and Cinema at an early age. We didn't watch television much when we lived at Blue River in the Cascades on the way to Sisters; mostly because reception was so poor. Later, when we lived outside of Corvallis, reception remained poor. We would entertain ourselves at home; but movie palace matinees and the drive-in at midnight were important cultural excursions.

The first movies I truly remember was at the age of three, in our backyard. We lived next to the Cascade Drive-in along Highway 126 in Springfield, Oregon and the year was 1958. The concession stand had loudspeakers and the pole speakers for the cars would resonate to our house that we could just set up chairs on warm summer nights and enjoy the movies. The first one I remember, one that had a profound impact on me was, "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." I was three, as I stated; the movie totally freaked me out and gave me dreams that foreshadowed the penance paid for a misogynistic life. I must say, I've always watched my step, lest I be crushed underfoot!

Though we could make snacks ourselves; often my parents would walk over to the concession stand and buy popcorn and sodas; hot dogs and hamburgers; french fries and Bon Bons. I have no idea of the prices, being so young. But I learned later that the proprietors of the Drive-in had a tacit agreement with the neighborhood that if we supported the concession stand that no walls would be built to obstruct the view of the screen. After we moved in 1961, a wall was built. The Cascade fell the way of most Drive-ins and a housing development has occupied the space for the last 30 years.

My dad began teaching at Oregon State University in 1961 in Corvallis, Oregon just before Bernard Malamud left to teach back East. In fact, it was Malamud who introduced our family to the Whiteside; a very ornate, Italianate movie palace. We saw "Twelve Angry Men," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Ben Hur," "Exodus," "Sunset Boulevard"; really so many it's hard to list them all. The concession sold a large tub of popcorn for 75 cents, hot dogs for the same, bottles of Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper and Orange Nehi for 50 cents. Reese Cups, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Butterfingers, and Baby Ruth Bars were 50 cents, Bon Bons were 75 cents; but Big Hunks could be had for a dime. Generally, the admission price was for a double feature. Yes, a much simpler and abundant time; except for the upheavals of the age.

In 1965, my father began teaching at Cal State Fullerton. Until the summer of 1969, we lived in the Rowland Heights/ West Covina area of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. We would go as a family to the Capri in West Covina, but I would also go with my friends to the 5th Ave Theater in Rowland Hts, since it was within the range of my Stingray bicycle.

The Capri showed a double feature for the price of admission. "A Patch of Blue," "Lilies of the Field," "Cat Balou," "Hud," "The Sound of Music," "The Great Escape," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?," "Two for the Road," "Dr. Strangelove," and "Failsafe" are movies that stand out in my memory.

The 5th Ave Theater was a box-like single screen with non-descript concessions, but what stands out in my mind is seeing "2001: A Space Odyessy" six times in a row on one admission. The movie started at 11 in the morning on a Saturday. My chums and I watched and analyzed the movie until the last show let out after 11 that night. I had told my parents earlier that morning of our plan to see the movie repeatedly; they didn't think, though, that an eighth-grader would be out until almost midnight. I did have the movie memorized at that point, so my recollection proved the study.

We moved to Yorba Linda in 1969, the summer before my freshman year in High School. I mostly saw movies with my friends at that point, rather than with my family. We would go to either the Fox Fullerton, The Anaheim Drive-in off the 91 or the Highway 39 Drive-in off Trask near Beach Blvd. The Fox Fullerton showed one movie per admission; The Anaheim and Hwy 39 Drive-ins showed a double feature. One great "perk" about going to the Drive-ins was that we either brought a "picnic" or stopped at Carl's Jr before.

Movies that stand out in my mind at the Fox were "Paint Your Wagon," "McCabe and Mrs Miller," "Mash," "Fists of Fury," "To Kill a Mockingbird," and "Cool Hand Luke."

The Anaheim Drive-in showed "The Godfather," "Two-Lane Blacktop" and "Bonnie and Clyde," while the Hwy 39 Drive-in showed "Vanishing Point," "Play Misty for Me," "Scarecrow," "The Shining," "The Wild Bunch," "Easy Rider" and "Apocalypse Now."

I started going to the Nuart in Santa Monica around 1978. I don't remember the concession prices because at that point, I rarely bought concessions at the movies. Admission was for one movie. The Nuart was famous for showing foreign and "independent" productions. I was fortunate to see all of Kurosawa's movies, as well as "Wages of Fear," "Les Visiteurs Du Soir," "Man Bites Dog," "Les Diabolique," "The Swimmer," "Belle du Jour," "Two or Three Things I Know About Her," "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans," "Eraserhead," "Fires on the Plain" and "Spetters."

I saw "Blade Runner" when it was first released at the tiled-courtyard theater in Laguna Beach, when I lived there.

I moved to the Bay Area "full time" in 1984. I would mostly go to the UC Theater and since I live nearby, The Elmwood. Both showed one movie per admission. I've seen many movies over the years at The Elmwood, but two that stand out are "Blue Velvet" and "Wings of Desire."

The UC, when it was open, could be counted on for Documentaries, Foreign and Independent movies. Some I saw there were, "Henry and June," "Woman in the Dunes," "My Life As A Dog," "Incident at Owl Creek Bridge," (though I had first read the Ambrose Bierce story in jr hi and had seen the short in 10th grade at our "little theatre"), "Papillon," "A Boy and His Dog," "Cinema Paradiso," "They Shoot Horses Don't They?," "Desert Bloom," "Down By Law," "Man Facing Southeast," "The Player" and of course, the long running midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

I mostly see movies these days with my Netflix subscription; but when I do go to the theater, I frequent The Elmwood (since it has been refurbished and a neighborhood group "saved" it), and The Parkway in Oakland. The Elmwood shows one movie per admission and the Parkway shows a double feature, if you get there for the first one. They have gourmet pizza and foodie specials in the $6.00 to $18.00 range; plus microbrewed beers on tap costing $14.00 for a pitcher; and some superb red and white wines by the bottle or the glass. Yum!

Movies are no better and no worse than in years past. The same dynamic of Art and Commerce drives the industry; as it always has and always will. There might be movies "produced" by accountants and focus groups; movies that are brazenly formulaic. But as in every era of the cinema, from Hollywood and foreign alike, true gems of the art emerge out of the mediocrity.

It is the search and discovery of these gems that has always interested me.

(update: the Parkway and their El Cerrito Speakeasy locations have closed, a sad and predictable development.)

Dedicated to Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, whose writings were great guides to not only cinema, but to life in general.

© 2009 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

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