THE SILVER SCREEN
16 August 2005
When we were in San Francisco over the weekend, we drove down Polk Street and I saw one of my old haunts: The Alhambra Theatre. Many's the afternoon I spent there with my friends on a Saturday, an enormous (>1000 seats, I'm sure) space, filled with children yelling and throwing popcorn at each other. How better to pass an afternoon?
The Alhambra is now a gym, but they seem to have preserved at least the facade of the building. I'm sure that the ornate interior is long since gone.
As we continued down Polk Street we also passed the site of the Royal Theatre, where I used to go with my grandmother. The Royal is gone completely now and they are building something else in its place. But See's candy is still next door. My grandmother and I used to go into See's and get some candy before going into the theatre to watch the movie.
I thought about the Alhambra and the Royal yesterday afternoon when Walt, Jeri (who is here, briefly, on her summer vacation) and I went to see March of the Penguins (every bit as delightful and amazing as the clips I've seen on television have made it seem).
When I was a kid, it cost 25¢ to get into the theatre and when you got in you got your popcorn (10¢) and candy (5¢ or 10¢) and then you sat through the current week's chapter of a serial (which kept you coming back each week to see how the previous week's cliffhanger turned out), a few cartoons (the good ones, from Disney or Warner Bros.), and then a double feature, two full length movies. You arrived at noon and you left the theatre at 5 p.m. and your parents had the whole afternoon without you under foot!
I feel so old.
Now for the three of us to get in the door cost nearly $20 (and that was for 2 senior citizens and one student, so we were already discounted). I could have ordered my tickets on line for an additional $1 per ticket fee. Jeri bought us popcorn, so I don't know how much it cost, but Walt and I never buy popcorn because it's so expensive. As for candy or any other counter item, forget it. You could run up a huge bill just before you get to your seat.
And, of course, there are no serials and no cartoons, but you do get half an hour of commercials that you can't avoid. Theatres are now supposed to let you know the exact start time of the movie, not the start time of your half hour of commercials, but what good does that do you if you are seeing a popular movie? If you don't sit through the commercials there is a good chance you won't be able to find a seat at all. So we are all held captive to commercialism.
I didn't mind it nearly as much when the ads were for local businesses while we listened to music in the background, but now we are seeing the same sorts of commercials we have to watch on television (Coca Cola anyone?) only on the big screen with sound that you can't turn down. Arggh!
And of course there are no cartoons. (There is a category for short subjects at the Academy Awards. Whoever sees those movies now that they are not shown in mainstream movie houses?)
I don't mind the coming attractions, but when it seems that the endless stream of them is as long as the movie you are seeing, that does get to be too much. Two is nice. Three is fun, but by the time you are seeing your fifth coming attraction, you no longer care about a movie that is not being released until next year.
Gone is the day of the double feature. I suppose that if one were dishonest and clever you could slip into the second theatre of a multiplex and see another film, but we are always good little honest people and leave when the movie we've paid for has finished.
Heck, when I was a kid, if you loved the movies you'd seen you could actually sit through them a second time, since the lights never came up fully and there was no janitor standing on guard waiting to sweep up the debris on the floor before the next movie started.
I'm really glad that I grew up when I did, when an afternoon at the movies was a full afternoon and you didn't have to take out a mortgage on the house to take a family to see a movie and have a bag of popcorn.
It's no wonder that we wait for movies to come out on Netflix rather
than seeing them first-run in the theatre. Even with a senior citizen discount and
not buying any refreshments at all, it still isn't a cheap outing.
PHOTO OF THE DAY