Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Demographics at the Movies

Is there a measure more reliable of our journey down life's stream than our movie attendance? Last weekend we went to see And So It Goes, the new Rob Reiner film (he makes a clumsy appearance in the film as a lounge piano player with a bad hairpiece) starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton as two late-life folks damaged by the loss of their spouses. (Guess who eventually finds whom?) (Link to trailer for the film.) Would it surprise you to learn who was in the audience at the Kent Cinema that night? A hint: It looked a lot like my 50th high school class reunion.

Through most of my boyhood and adolescence I guess I noticed who was in the audiences of the films I attended, but I didn't really think about it too much. In Enid, Okla., the four downtown theaters (the Esquire, the Sooner, the Cherokee, the Chief) had various programs on Saturday mornings to attract ... guess? We could get into a Saturday-morning film extravaganza with two Royal Crown bottle caps and a dime (nickle?); there, we would see cartoons, newsreels, a serial (or two), a feature (or two)--and emerge into an Oklahoma sun so bright it blasted away all the visual purple in a fragment of a second. Those theaters, of course, were packed with ... kids. I used to love sitting in the very front row, leaning back, letting it wash over me. I'm guessing there were very few adults present (I paid them no mind); mostly, the Saturday-morning movies were a place for parents to dump their kids while they ran some errands.

As I grew older, so did the audiences, in most cases. And sometimes it was not even a factor of age. When Joyce and I saw The Color Purple down in Shaker Square in 1985, we were among the only (if not the only) Caucasians in the audience. That was an experience--especially during that shaving scene. Whoopi Goldberg shaving the abusive Danny Glover. Out in the audience, people were crying out, Cut him! Cut him!  (Link to scene on YouTube.) That was novel ...

Another time I was in a film not really aimed at me: Twilight, 2008. Joyce and I saw it the weekend it opened, November 2008. As I think I've reported here before, until very near the moment when the lights went down, I was the only male in the packed auditorium--and one of the few human beings older than 15, I think. Just as the lights were dropping, here came two sheepish looking high school boys with their dates. I actually stopped them in the aisle, thanked them for their service.

And what was I doing there? At the time I was teaching at Western Reserve Academy, and lots of the girls had read (or were reading) the series of novels. After seeing the first movie (okay, I saw the second and third ones, too) and reading the first novel (I did not read the others), I realized (duh!) that author Stephenie Meyer did not exactly have in mind for her audience a sixty-year-old male English nerd. Anyway, when the vampires first entered the cafeteria in that first film, I laughed aloud ... a mistake. All the young women around me shushed me with vehemence. Lesson learned, I kept my thoughts and sounds to myself the rest of the way. Later, I was very glad I'd seen the film--for one thing, I could talk with my students about it; also, it helped me enjoy that great SNL parody (link to SNL parody).

In Streets of San Francisco
Anyway, I think I've floated about as far downstream as you can get. I've passed through cartoons and Westerns and teen-angst and youthful rebellion and on and on. I still go to some films whose producers did not have me in mind (the first Hunger Games); I still go to good independent films (not all that easy to find close by). But I realize, too, that my demographic is, well, Michael Douglas. The young do not remember him as the youthful, eager detective on the TV series The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77). I'm guessing they don't remember his early film appearances, his enormous popularity (The China Syndrome, 1979; The Star Chamber, 1983). He was, for a time, the hot young star blazing over Hollywood. Now, he's a white dwarf, the crusty curmudgeon dancing on the edge of his mortality.

And so it goes ...

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes, demographics and the cinema. I was extemely excited myself to finally have a child to take to the movies. I was tired of sheeplessly renting all of the Disney and Pixar movies at the library, so I could watch them in private as an adult with no children. I longed to see them large and bigger than life on the big screen.

    As for going to see Twilight, I whole-heartedly understand. It took two years of teaching, a few poorly choosen examples, and a couple of jokes lost on deer-in -a headlight classes before I knew I had to spend my summers reading Hunger Games, Divergent, and others YA literature while listening to the popular pop stations, and skimming TMZ in order to better understand and talk with my students.