Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, February 21, 2013

At the Movies

I've loved the movies since the first frame I ever saw.

That's probably an exaggeration. If my parents ever took me to a movie when I was a Babe in Arms, I, of course, don't remember.  My parents never were big movie-goers, though, mostly because money was so tight for them (teaching in the 1940s and 1950s was not exactly a sinecure), and both of them came from fairly conservative Christian homes, and the movies had about them a whiff of sin.  Better not to inhale.

But, later, I remember Dad telling me about films he'd enjoyed--how he and my mom's brother laughed themselves mad while watching that Laurel and Hardy film The Music Box, the one about the two doofuses moving a piano up a long set of stairs set in a hill, only to discover, of course, at the top: a driveway. (I used to show it to my middle school students now and then.)  He also said I'd never see a scarier film than The Cat and the Canary,1927 (there are earlier and later versions of it, too), a film about relatives gathered in the spooky mansion of a recently deceased old man.  I saw the film not long ago ... scary?  Let's just say (so as not to insult my father), "Times change."

When I was a boy in Enid, Oklahoma, there were four movie (single-screen) theaters in town (the Chief, Esquire, Cherokee, Sooner) and two drive-ins (the Trail, and the Enid).  All the theater buildings still stand--but house other businesses now.  The last time I was there, the Chief was a community theater, and the Trail Drive-In stood in ruins, like the statue of Ozymandias, south of town.

I remember a few films I saw in Enid with my parents: that old Disney cartoon The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (which I showed to my classes for decades--right up until my final year), Brigadoon (my parents loved musicals), and those Disney documentaries--The Living Desert and Bear Country (both 1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (1954).  Bears were big in our family.  I still give my younger a brother a bear calendar for Christmas--when I can find one.

Saturday mornings--both in Enid and for our two years in Amarillo (when I was in second and third grade)--there were programs for kids at the theaters.  (I remember two Amarillo theaters--the Rialto and the Paramount.)  Here was the line-up: newsreel-serial (Don Winslow of the Navy, Flash Gordon)-cartoon(s!), a double-feature, usually a cowboy film (my favorite) with another kind of adventure film (Tarzan).  Afterwards--hours later--we would stagger out into the hot Southwestern sun, which was busy destroying our visual purple and reminding us why air-conditioning was better than Gulf air in August.

When I became an irresponsible pre-pubescent (fifth and sixth grade), my parents--unwisely--let me go with my rowdy friends to the movies in downtown Enid.  We would ride the bus (10 cents), hop off in the square (the four theaters were there), and resolutely pick the film we knew our parents did not want us to see.  There were no ratings in those days, just those in Parents' Magazine, which my parents consulted before sanctioning my Saturdays at the movies.  But because they were not there to make sure I entered the Chief, say, to see Davy Crockett, I would instead enter the Esquire and see Rock Around the Clock with Bill Haley & the Comets.

In that movie is the first smutty movie joke I didn't get--but had to pretend to and then try to subtly elicit its meaning from my more sophisticated 11-year-old corruptors.  Here's what happened in the movie: The bass player says he'll be ready to leave as soon as he changes clothes--and as soon as his bass "puts on her G-string."  Lots of laughter in the theater--including mine, a few beats too late.


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