One of the things I miss from my childhood is the time we spent back in Salina, Kansas. This is not because Salina is a great place: at best it’s okay, but it had, at one point, four great movie theaters, two okay ones and a several cells in a bunker in the mall.
My friend Darren and I, and several boys from the neighborhood used to raid the Mid-State Mall (because it was in walking distance of my grand-parents’ house). We also used to get dropped off at the Fox Theater or the Vogue downtown. On occasion we were dropped off at the twin bunkers in Sunset Plaza.
I remember seeing Smokey and the Bandit several times, and could pretty much quote it from memory, including the parts a young lad of 11 was not supposed to know. I knew it well enough to fill in the edited parts when it was shown on television. (It’s “I’m gonna barbeque your ass in molasses” not “I’m gonna barbeque (tinny echoey sounds)YOU(end tinny echoey sounds) in molasses.” You can’t fool me.) I also saw Star Wars as many times as I could. I also remember seeing The Bad News Bears a couple times and Escape to Witch Mountain. (I also remember having a crush on Kim Richards.)
After I moved back to Salina, Darren and I saw a lot more movies, especially because we could drive (well, he could; I could, eventually, sort of. Long story.) I remember having one odd ritual: I’d never pick up the popcorn and start eating until until after the movie itself had started. I always had this vague sense that if I started eating too soon, it would guarantee a bad movie.
At that point in our movie going history, when faced with choosing between a couple of movies we wanted to see, our main deciding factor was “which theater had the best popcorn?” This meant we saw Cobra at the Vogue and The Return of the Living Dead at the Fox–now Stiefel Theater because they had the best popcorn in town. I also think we saw Eyes of Fire at the vogue (which is a movie that haunted me for years because I couldn’t remember the title or anything about it other than I’d seen it and it was a horror movie set in 18th century America.)
Eventually, though, one company acquired all the theaters in town and began slowly choking off all but the bunkers in the Central Mall. The best movies got put there whilst the Fox got American Ninja 2–which I think was the last movie shown there. (In defense of the owners, they proved conclusively that people didn’t just go to the Fox for the popcorn and the ambience.)
The bunkers were comfortable and had great sound, but the popcorn was only okay.
Eventually I moved to Japan and was faced with 18 dollar ticket prices. I still remember buying my first ticket and, upon hearing the price, telling the ticket seller “No, I only want one ticket.” to which she replied “and I only want 1800 yen for it” (something like that). My friend Charles and I would take special trips when the first of the month fell on Saturday for Sunday because all theaters in Japan drop their prices to $10 on those days. We saw, in one day, L.A. Confidential (and then made the mistake of reading the book) and Lethal Weapon 4.
Every now and then I still feel compelled to go out and see a movie, usually by myself. Movies are like concerts; even if you go as a group, you experience them individually. Your friends are only useful as “What the hell was that?” sounding boards after the movie. I saw all the new Star Wars abominations and the all the Lord of the Rings movies.
And, after all these years, I still don’t pick up and eat the popcorn until after the movie starts. Although is didn’t save the new Star Wars abominations. I might as well have gone ahead and started eating.