' ' Cinema Romantico: At the Movies

Monday, January 24, 2022

At the Movies

Meat Loaf, occasionally known as Michael Lee Aday, died on Thursday at the age of 74, meaning that both Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, the collaborators responsible for the epic 14x Platinum 1977 album “Bat Out of Hell” and its 1993 sequel, died within a year of each other, which sort of feels cosmically right if also terribly sad. Meat Loaf, though, was also an actor, and a fairly consistent one, at least by mega-successful pop star standards. He was best known for 1975’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, of course, as well as David Fincher’s century-ending “Fight Club”, which probably has as big a cult as the former. But Mr. Loaf did considerable in-between stuff too, a lot which I know because it was in that late 90s, early 00s period when I was seeing, like, everything. He was in the Steve Martin / Debra Winger vehicle “Leap of Faith” (1992) and “Spice World” (1997) and “The Mighty” (1998) and “Crazy in Alabama” (1999) and “The 51st State”, née “Formula 51” (2001), the only movie ever made starring Samuel L. Jackson and Emily Mortimer and Meat Loaf. The latter was a forgotten middling thriller, as was 1998’s “Black Dog”, which is what I really want to talk about today. 

“Black Dog”, starring Patrick Swayze, a long haul trucker action movie, was released on the first of May that year during the spring when I was working in the box office at the Cobblestone 9 Theaters (still kicking, though an AMC now), mostly the weekday matinee shifts. And weekday matinee shifts were fantastic. For one thing, they were far less busy than evenings, never mind weekends, aside from one random February day when school was apparently out for some reason I’m not sure we ever discerned and so many teenage girls flooded the box office to see “Titanic” that, in an unheard of development, the early weekday show sold out. It wasn’t just that weekdays weren’t busy, though; it also meant you had something approximating regulars. The WHO 13 sports anchor frequently came to see a new release on Friday afternoons and there was a small battalion of individual retirees who did the same. One of those retirees was this guy who looked a little like Richard Riehle and always wore a feathered fedora. Often, he would stay for a few minutes afterwards to discuss what he’d seen. I loved listening to him, I really did, and I specifically remember him telling me the forgotten Elisabeth Shue noir “Palmetto” deserved a look. For that, he earned my everlasting respect, my fellow Shue stan. But we had another regular who came in not on Fridays but, I think, if memory serves, Tuesdays, more random, much, much less crowded.

This guy, a little like Pruitt Taylor Vince with a moustache, would pull into the parking lot about 10 or 15 minutes before we opened, hang out in his car, come in once I unlocked the doors, peruse what was playing, and then buy a ticket, usually for a new release. One of those new releases was “Black Dog.” As always, he returned the following Tuesday though it was a rare week in which we had received no new movies, meaning the slate was exactly the same as the previous Tuesday. Like always, he perused the movie times above the box office and then just sort of kept perusing, looking a little befuddled, like he must have missed something new. But he had not. And though I knew there were movies playing that he had not seen, when he approached the box office, he said semi-resigned, “I guess I’ll take one for ‘Black Dog.’” I will never forget this (obviously) and love to tell this story (like I am right now). Because I feel safe in declaring he was the only person in America to see “Black Dog” twice in the theater.

(I went down a glorious box office rabbit hole of trying to ascertain what else we would have been showing that week. My guesses: “The Object of My Affection”, “Major League: Back to the Minors”, “The Odd Couple II”, “City of Angels”, “Lost in Space”, “Nightwatch”, “The Big Hit”, and probably “Titanic” because, yeah, that movie was still playing in theaters five months after it opened. It was a different time.)

I am not making fun of him, this guy I haven’t seen in almost twenty-five years and will never see again, and I can’t stress that enough. I adored this guy, I really did. True, there is a counterargument to be levied against this guy’s method. By only seeing movies at the Cobblestone 9, he was limiting himself to strictly whatever we screened. If he is still doing this now, in 2022, he’s probably seen “Spider-Man: No Way Home” five times. I mean, did he know that just down the road at the Sierra he could see “The Spanish Prisoner” or “Two Girls and a Guy” or “Dancer, Texas Pop. 81”? Growing up listening to the radio in central Iowa meant I did not find out about, say, Jason and the Scorchers or Uncle Tupelo until years later. If you only eat Taco Bell, you may never know how good a homemade corn tortilla tastes. I might have seen the darkest, deepest holes of the various self-righteous factions of Film Twitter, but I am not going to Anchorhead to have my memory erased. But I also think that guy was on a different mission.  

I like to imagine Tuesdays were his day off and this was his treat to himself, going to the movies. Not going to a movie, necessarily, which is why he never picked it ahead of time. If it was “Black Dog” a second time, so be it. He had his popcorn and his soda, maybe some Milk Duds too, and Patrick Swayze on the CB. He was at the movies. 

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