' ' Cinema Romantico: Misty Watercolor Memories

Friday, July 07, 2023

Misty Watercolor Memories

It’s such a muddy line between harmless and harmful nostalgia. One minute the Super 70s Twitter account is light-heartedly rhapsodizing about, say, the Denver Broncos’ Orange Krush uniforms and the nonpareil godforsaken glop they wear today and the next minute it’s essentially saying football would be better with more brain damage. And so I proceed with caution in talking about the recent Dan Kois piece for Slate in which he interviewed a number of people about what life was like at the turn of the century, the year 2000, which somehow still felt so far away just a few years before that Conan O’Brien could create a whole tongue-in-cheek futuristic sketch about it and that now feels so far away it might as well be a faded picture with an inadvertent thumbprint from a drugstore Kodak disposable camera.

Kois interviewed several people roughly his age, which is to say people who were roughly 27 in the year 2002, about how they lived, worked, and played. I was 25 in the year 2002, so close enough, and remember watching “whatever happened to be on television” because that’s all there was, being utterly unreachable after work hours (no tech bro can tell me that wasn’t better than the always reachable hellscape we have now), and how after work plans often consisted of just going to the same place. Indeed, that’s how the bar at Don Pablo’s (!!!), the defunct Tex Mex chain, became our regular afterwork hangout. Because it was adjacent to the same office parking lot where I worked, and I got off at six whereas everyone else got off at five so they would just go there and then I would eventually walk over. 

More than any of that, though, what interested me from Kois’s piece were the anecdotes of how we used to watch movies, or moreover, how we used to decide what movies to watch. As an abject hater of phones from back in the day when they came with chords and were attached to the wall, it is a vicious, vicious irony that life and movie-going has become so inextricably tied to them. Let me reminisce, for god’s sake, I need this.

How We Used to Decide What Movie to See

We did not have Moviefone in central Iowa, and anyway, as an abject hater of phones, as previously stated, I never liked going this route of getting a movie time unless my hand was forced. If life is a generally a paradox, as I have come to discover, then it’s a big one that as much as I have always detested phones, being eternally yoked to a phone is both depressing and salvation, the former for all the obvious reasons and the latter because I can text instead of talk and buy movie tickets rather than having to call for movie times.  

Video Store. It’s true that in some respect streaming has improved the home movie experience in so much as entities like The Criterion Channel, bless it, mean that if, say, they have a Jean Harlow month you can just pick from all the Jean Harlow movies instead of having to pick from whatever scant Jean Harlow movies your local video store might possess if, cross your fingers, they have any in the first place which if it’s Waukee Video circa 1992 they probably don’t. But just as there is something far more gratifying in physical record shopping than in the algorithm of Spotify telling you what you want to hear, there was something gratifying in showing up at the Blockbuster on Friday night only to discover that all 50 copies of what you wanted to rent are already checked out and forcing you to peruse the aisles, on a self-imposed deadline, of sorts, because you couldn’t search Netflix to infinity, you had to choose before you left the store. And if this is how you sometimes wound up renting “Crimson Tide” again, hey, I wasn’t complaining.

If you know, you know.

The Mall. Oof, two levels of longing here. Sometimes, after spending a few hours at your local mall and having inspected every cassette in Musicland, demoed all the gizmos and gadgets in Radio Shack, and lost interest in the overpriced detritus of Spencer’s Gifts, you might decide to check out a movie. This is how in the summer of 1994 I wound up seeing “I Love Trouble” at the Forum 4 attached to Merle Hay Mall. Because if you were 16 or 66 in 1994, it was easier to see a mid-budget romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts in a movie theater than a superhero. We really did have everything, didn’t we?

Just Showing Up. Though I’m a big believer of living in the moment, I’m not the biggest fan of just rolling up to the movie theater, checking the marquee, and picking something to see, chiefly because the list of movies I want to see each years tends to be long and regimented. On the other, I admire the people just rolling with movie times because they are putting the movie-going experience first. And besides, my favorite movie-going experience from my time in Arizona was a spur of the moment, on the premises, I-need-to-see-a-movie-right-now-because-it’s-hot-and-I’m-miserable situation. You never know.

Newspaper. There are still print movie ads, of course, even in the newspapers long since shredded by the Gannet vultures. But they are dispiritingly functional, condensed to just the theater, the movie, nothing like those glorious miniature movie marquees in print, which transformed the arts and leisure section into a treasure map on which virtually every spot was X. 

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