' ' Cinema Romantico: Going to the Movies

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Going to the Movies

The Davis, the 3-screen theater in my neighborhood, opens into the lobby with a concession stand along the right wall, that lobby giving way to a hallway leading to the theaters in back. When I entered this past Sunday, for the first time in 17 months, since early 2020, having just fastened my mask to my face outside to observe the theater’s rule, I paused for a moment. The lobby has been mostly empty before, like the 100+ degree afternoon when I went to see that wretched Tom Cruise “Mummy” remake, but even then there was activity, the familiar sound of popcorn popping and concessionists cracking wise. This was different. It was eerily quiet. There was music but it was distant, being piped in through an open door from the adjacent Carbon Arc Bar, meaning the lobby felt a little like some dying mall’s atrium, a comparison so depressing I immediately put it out of my mind. The only other person was a single concessionist. As I entered, he stepped forward to his cash register, though he was masked too, of course, and, as such, I could not quite tell if his expression was eagerness, to serve someone, anyone, or apprehensiveness, from the whole situation. If I was a journalist, maybe I would have hashed things out with him, but this is just a dumb blog and I was just there to see a movie so I continued past him to the doorman in back where he printed out the ticket I pre-purchased. Though the doorman was masked too, his demeanor was easier to place, helped along by one Apple earbud in his right ear, treating the pandemic like he probably treated college applications, with a virtual shrug. It wasn’t Normalcy, per se, but it was momentarily refreshing, and it made me wonder how I, ex-movie theater employee from the era of 35mm film would have handled working in a pandemic. I probably would have been more like the concessionist, I thought. I would have been ready to help, quietly hoping I wouldn’t have to.

To my recollection, the Davis never had those earsplitting AMC-ish pre-movie ads, though maybe in the last year I had just forgotten, and when I entered Theater 3 for my 3:30 showing of “Those Who Wish Me Dead”, I was momentarily taken aback by the cacophonous advertisement for some TV show I’ve already forgotten. On the other hand, there was something comforting in the din of noise. “Ah yes,” I thought to myself as I plunked down in my seat, in the section closer to the screen, all by myself and away from the five other patrons, further up the stadium seating and toward the back, “this is what the movie theater sounds like.” Everything sounded so clear: the rustle of popcorn bags, the chewing of the popcorn itself, the whispers between the couple during one of the trailers, the soda cup hitting the floor which brought a smile to my face. It felt right. The trailers screened and the lights came down.

I had anticipated some moment of profundity when those lights went down, but it didn’t come until a few scenes in, when Angelina Jolie, as a smoke jumper, the magic of the movies in full effect, holds a red solo cup, holds court and holds the camera’s in a spectacular medium close-up where she is wearing Ray-Bans and smiling that cool, in-control Jolie smile. “This,” I thought, “this is why I’m here.” Not to see a movie over there, on the TV, or down there, on my laptop, but up there, on the big screen, where people like her belong. And if I had dreamed that Maverick’s return in the “Top Gun” sequel might mark my triumphant post-pandemic return to the theater, I knew seeing Jolie in Maverick-like Ray-Bans that the cosmos was communicating to me, telling me, nope, it was supposed to be like this all along. 

I’m reasonably certain I could have extracted a metaphor from any movie that was the first one I’d seen in a theater in 490 days. But hey, you only get one movie as your first movie back in the wake of the first global pandemic of your life and “Those Who Wish Me Dead” was mine. And here was a movie where the characters go through hell, forced to face down a raging forest fire and come out the other side. I was lucky, pandemic-wise. No one in my direct orbit died, few people close to me suffered in any real way, the pandemic isn’t even over in many parts of the world. But seeing Angelina Jolie smile that Movie Star smile, caked in Just-Survived-A-Forest-Fire Movie Makeup, it got to me nonetheless. Because of the movie and because of her, how she sells it, yes, but because of the whole world too. Typically I come to the theater to get rid of my troubles for a little while, and I did, but I was also here because those troubles had lessened a little. 

I left the theater and stepped out on the sidewalk. The temperature had dropped. I took my mask off, breathed in the cool air and walked home.

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