Sunday, April 13, 2008

Movies and Theaters - Not Like They Used to Be

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m about 11 or 12 years old. There’s not much to do in Edinburgh when you’re a preteen, but on Sunday afternoons, many of us got to go downtown to see a matinee.

The venue was the Pixie Theater. They showed movies on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings with an added matinee on Sundays. The cost was 50 cents. And, typically, they showed a double feature.

I loved those 1960s comedies about absent-minded professors, Volkswagens that could think and misbehave, and those darn cats. My favorites were Disney films, but I also enjoyed a good beach romp movie. I may have been young but I got the double entendres and euphemisms from the likes of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

It is highly unlikely that I would enjoy those genres today. My tastes in film matured as I did, but it took awhile. I still remember being highly entertained by those early Bert Reynolds films such as Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings.

Although I grew up with movies of the 1960s and ‘70s, I never really enjoyed any of those from earlier than about 1960. For one thing, most of them were in black and white. I hate black and white, no matter how good the story or the editing. And doesn’t it always seem as though the actors in any movie made in the ‘40s or ‘50s were unconvincing in their performances. They all seemed to be overacting.

And all those old movies had to end with a giant calligraphy “The End” plastered on the screen. Did they think the audience would stick around in a darkened theater after the credits unless the filmmakers told us the film was over?

But as movies have evolved through the years, so too have movie theaters. Edinburgh had the Pixie; Columbus had the Crump, and Franklin had the Artcraft. There was typically one movie theater per town. Indianapolis had two theaters downtown, the Circle Theater and the Indiana Theater.

These days, there are three times as many screens in one building as there used to be in all the population centers between Columbus and Indianapolis. That’s probably because there are a lot more movies being produced.

It also means that blockbuster movies like Star Wars don’t have to run for a year as they did in the 1970s. They can be shown on multiple screens so that everybody has a chance to see them the opening weekend.

And most modern theaters are designed with stadium seating, so you don’t have to worry about sitting right behind a tall guy or a lady in a hat.

Probably one of the biggest advances in theaters these days is the sound. In the old days, almost all movies were filmed in mono. Gradually, stereo came into vogue. These days, nearly all films use surround sound. Theaters have large subwoofers for those deep rumbling special effects such as thunder or explosions.

And now, the latest upgrade is the impending switch to digital video. Sound has been digital for years, but only a few films have been filmed in digital video, including the Star Wars prequels. But even so, most theaters do not yet have the equipment to show them digitally.

That will soon change, though. An agreement between thousands of theaters and the company that makes the digital projection systems was penned recently. So celluloid may soon be going the way of the vinyl record.

Of course, with the plethora of movies appearing every week, the bad news is we have to actually make up our minds which one to see. In the ‘60s, we saw the double feature at the Pixie or we saw nothing.

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