In October, at the It Came From Lake Michigan film festival, I had the chance to have a long chat with Rob Robinson and his wife, Debora Roventini, who were there showing there horror/comedy, Attack Of The Baby Doll, well, Rob and I discussed our movie past and discovered that we were both ‘elder statesmen’ at the fest…meaning that we both had clear memories of the late 70s and early 80s…and that got me to thinking. There are experiences and things that we used to just accept as the norm, that most people now don’t even remember. So, I thought, in the interest of educating all of you younglings out there, I would share with you a few things that used to be, that are no longer, so that you can understand just how good you have it at the movies nowadays.
The double feature: Yes, in the past you would pay for one movie and get two! Now, you had to stay at the theatre, and you would get a little butt-numb, but it was totally worth it! I saw so many double features that I hated to pay for one movie and just see one movie, I felt a bit cheated. I don’t think that this would work today, in this hustle and bustle society we’ve evolved into, just look at the disastrous opening of the cool movie, Grindhouse, a movie that I was salivating in anticipation for, and a movie that really captured the era perfectly. But, alas, you kids today just don’t have the time to sit through two movies, you’ve got to get back to your guitar hero and your PSPs!
The drive in: I mentioned a drive-in to someone at the ICFLM and got a look like I had just spoken a phrase in Martian! I really find it hard to believe that something that I once held so dear is now a piece of history. Let me just explain for those of you who think I’m so old that I’m mistaking drive-in for drive-thru. A drive-in was a great place to see a movie, you had to wait until sundown, but you drove your car into a big parking lot that had huge humps in it (those were so you, once parked, would be able to see the screen clearly), you would park, sit in your car with the windows down, enjoy a lovely summer night and a great couple of movies. The drive-in was the Midwest’s version of the grindhouse theatres, it was the place where you went to see all those movies that were just a little too low brow for the legitimate theatres to carry them. Movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th and countless exploitation, sexploitation and blaxploitation movies played the drive-in, and I loved them all. I can honestly say, that once I had a car of my own, I was at the drive-in nearly every weekend, sometimes every day of the weekend, seeing movies. Sadly, the VCR killed the drive-in, then the DVD just made sure that it would never rise again, it’s a time that will be sorely missed by those of us who really enjoyed a weekend night, with friends and a great movie.
Waiting in line: Now, this might not seem like something that someone would miss…and for the most part, you’re right. But, when I look back to those great day, when we were all wanting to see Star Wars and theatres only had one screen in them (yes, the multiplex was a thing that wasn’t quite around yet in the late 70s and early 80s, those came with the mall boom), you had to wait in line, and tickets couldn’t be purchased online (because we didn’t have an internet yet!), so you just had to stand in line to see your movie. I remember, in the summer of 1980, standing in line that was at least a half a mile long to see The Empire Strikes Back! Now, you might think that’s an exaggeration, but I can assure you that it’s not. My friend Eric and I, stood in line for about a half and hour to get our tickets, and then, walked down to the end of the line, to stand in line at least another 45 minutes to see the movie. Was it worth it? Well, if you had asked us while we were in line, we probably would have said no, but looking back, to have the experience of standing with all those other Star Wars fans to get to see the first sequel to Star Wars, I’m sure Eric would agree, it’s an experience that no one today will get to have. Today, any ‘blockbuster’ movie is released into multiplexes around town and it’s showing on ten screens, so waiting to see your movie might mean about a ten minute stroll through the theatre, not the marathon waits of old. Is it something to envy us for? You know what? Probably. It might seem stupid, but some of the best times I had with my friends growing up were standing in lines waiting to see movies. It was our version of ‘hanging out’, only at the end of the ‘hang’, you got a really cool movie!
So, you see, we might not have had the cool video games, and we might have all had to scrimp and save for the first twelve thousand pound VCR, but it was a simpler time, a time when you didn’t run to the video store to see the latest indie movie, you actually got to see it on the big screen, with other people who loved these movies as much as you did. I was a time that I look back on with some fondness, because, sadly, it’s gone forever. There are no more drive-ins, and, if there were, they would probably be mostly empty. Lines are things of the past, kids today do their ‘hanging’ around the latest video games, and the double feature only exists if you pay for two tickets. It may not seem like something to be particularly nostalgic about, but think about this, someday you’ll be telling your kids about the days when you had to put a disc into a machine to watch a movie and some movies were only shown in a special building. I know that those might seem like strange statements now, but there was a time when I thought that having to explain what a drive-in was would never come either.