Can I Take You to the Movies?
We’ve been steppin’ out. The proof proved positive a few Sundays ago when I realized we’d seen three of the best picture Oscar nominees. In cinemas, no less! American Sniper was not one of them because a war movie without Nazis is like, I don’t know, a Mick Jagger solo album versus pretty much anything in the Stones catalogue – something’s missing.
Home entertainment technology has come a long way since Sony’s invention of Betamax videocassette recorders. Home theatre is no longer a spare room foible of the wealthy. Audio and picture quality are stunning. The lag from theatrical release to secondary media has become increasingly compressed. Inexpensive DVDs and digital rentals have been a godsend for film buffs and fan boys who are now equipped with the tools to deconstruct and examine scenes at their leisure. The rest of us can depress the PAUSE button before rustling in the kitchen for more snacks.
All of this wonderful sensory advancement is grounding us inside of our apartments and houses. Part of what makes film so magical is sharing manipulated emotions with a group of strangers in the dark. The historically inaccurate Eureka! moment in The Imitation Game becomes a shared, universal truth. The bittersweet and dreamy ending of Birdman is that much more poignant experienced tucked into a row of seats amongst a rapt crowd. Not everybody got the gag of Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking as a Dalek in The Theory of Everything, but pop culture savvy audience members’ laughter helped lift their ignorant brethren’s appreciation of a transcendent, comic moment.
The Moore family grew up on black and white television, rabbit ears. Movies in Technicolor were a real treat. In those days a hit would play for weeks or months which, in retrospect, must have been a special kind of hell for the projectionist. I don’t remember being brought to any Dean Jones Disney movies or seeing any long form fairy tale cartoons. I saw Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke and discovered decades later that the story was by 007 author Ian Fleming. The Sound of Music was an endurance test but at least it had Nazis.
My father chose our movie outings well. Together we saw The Battle of Britain, Young Winston and Lawrence of Arabia. Epics! My big brother took me to see Brian’s Song and to this day I still keep an eye on the Chicago Bears during an NFL season. My older sister took me to see the original Planet of the Apes at the Van Horne. This was massive. All the boys at school collected the cards. One was particularly valued. It showed human captives in a cage. A couple of the kids swore you could see tit if you looked hard enough.
My favourite film-going companion growing up was my Auntie Mag. Family lore has it that this free spirit was this close to entering a convent and taking her vows. Instead, this musician and painter became a Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson. If you’ve seen even just one episode of Mad Men you understand the type of environment she toiled in. I cannot call her a mentor but she certainly influenced the direction of my life. Auntie Mag gently nudged me toward a career in advertising. She voiced mild criticisms about my novel once it was published, but overall she was pleased I’d done it.
She used to pay me a dime if I let her clean and trim my fingernails. She made omelets or open-faced sandwiches for lunch, very sophisticated, very Continental. She kept cranberry juice in her refrigerator. Cranberry juice! Oh the places we went, art galleries and museums downtown, strange and exotic delicatessens and restaurants that served food unlike anything her sister, my mother, overcooked or burned.
I thought her ancient and so it made no sense to me that Auntie Mag loved the Beatles. She took me to see Yellow Submarine. Its groovy graphic style struck her as brilliant and afterward she explained to me how animation works and why it can be such a charming art form. She introduced me to the madcap genius of British comedian Terry-Thomas in La Grande Vadrouille. That was a strange film, subtitles and Nazis. In 1970, when I was 10, Auntie Mag took me to see Little Big Man which was rated 14 YRS AND OVER. She blandly fibbed through the speaking grille of the York Theatre box office: she was my mother and I was small for my age. My God, the western we watched together was nothing like John Wayne or Gunsmoke.
The Brutalist nature of multiplexes in malls makes it easy to stay home. In my memory, the cinemas I was taken to and sat in were dedicated art deco buildings with just one screen. There was always a balcony. The orchestra pits, ornate gilt flourishes and grand velvet curtains suggested a life before Hollywood’s studio system; these houses of the holy had once been vaudeville venues. These are the types of places we are drawn to: it’s not so much What’s at the Princess or the Garneau? as Let’s go to the Princess or the Garneau - just to watch a movie, any movie, in a house like the Princess or the Garneau.