The Hardships of the Cinematic Viewing Experience: Going to the Theater Uphill Both Ways

Going to the movies was a far greater hassle back in the day than it is today. For starters, you had to buy a newspaper. Back then the folded paper was the size of a suitcase, and you had to clear off your entire kitchen table just to open it up. Every Friday was a little bit like Christmas for movie fans. Inside the Arts and Entertainment section was the new listing of show times, including the two big new releases of the week! Thursdays typically had the reviews for the new releases, but Friday had the show times. You had to buy both papers if you really wanted the inside scoop. Before going to a movie it was customary to call the theater and listen to a recording of the showtimes just to make sure they were listed correctly or if additional screenings had been added. In big multiplex theaters that had a whopping ten screens, this could take up to five minutes. Usually the film you were interested in seeing was read last. If you were lucky, you usually had three movie theaters and a drive-in within driving distance. This gave you options. If you lived in a small rural town your options were limited to two choices. The family movie in theater A, or the other movie in theater B. This was similar to the Main Arts theaters in the city except your options were the film with the subtitles, or the film with tons of sexual tension and nudity but ends without explanation.

In a movie galaxy...far far the end of the line...

Showing up early was a necessity then. The sales box office for older theaters was a little glass enclosure built into the entrance of the building, the same still used for will-call pickups at old venue theaters and playhouses today. People would line up outside the building, and there was usually only one person working in the ticket booth. On release weekends the lines were typically long. Theater owners delighted in taunting customers by putting fans in the entrance to blow out the scent of buttery popcorn to entice the waiting crowds. The idea of Fandango would of seemed like witchcraft at the time. The winters were the worst. People got colds just waiting in line for tickets. Lucky kids were spared the hardships and were told to stay in the car to keep warm. If a random person noticed a car full of kids in a theater parking lot with the doors locked and the windows rolled up they didn't call the police, they just nodded and acknowledged the unknown caring parent who was waiting in the long line that was wrapped around the building. And if the kids got too cold they would just burn all the leftover section of the newspaper to stay warm using the cigarette lighter that was built into the dashboard.

Walking into a theater was always an adventure. There wasn't the tiered seating there is today. All the rows were built on a steep descent. It was like walking down the long jump slope in the Winter Olympics. And the floors were all concrete and sticky. It literally felt like walking on velcro with fuzzy socks. Finding a seat was always a challenge since they all folded up when not in use. Pulling them down was like a game of Russian Roulette. It was a rarity to find two seats next to each other that weren't covered in duct tape, gum, smashed Jujubes, or spilt soda. If you dropped anything on the floor it immediately rolled off and was never seen again, and most likely ended up in the troll's lair that dwelled beneath the movie screen.

Have you ever been on a long flight and then suddenly got very fidgety in your seat a few hours in, struggling to find a comfortable position? That's how all theater seats felt immediately after sitting down back then. Scoot forward, scoot back, shift to one side, place an elbow on the armrest and if you were lucky, comfort was achieved. This was always the time someone would get up to use the bathroom and you and the entire row would have to get up to let the person out. The rows were so narrow the person would have to turn sideways, resulting in them rubbing their crotch (or buttocks) against everyone else's crotch in the aisle just to get out. And then repeat the process when they returned. Germaphobes would wear three pairs of pants to the movies as a result. Needless to say it was a creepers buffet.

Excuse me. I need to refill my XL soda. 
When the movie started it was almost always out of focus and blurry. And the audio was wonky, like the speakers were underwater. It was a tug of war match between the two elements for a bit as they tried to sync up. When it all finally came together, the magic of the movies was glorious. There was something special about sitting in that narrow aisle seat and eating popcorn from a giant Styrofoam bucket. And when you couldn't eat another kernel you just lit up a smoke and used the bucket as an ashtray.

Now a days we have it made. Advance ticket sales, reserved luxury seats, an indoor box office, and there is a bar in the lobby. Sorry fancy fill it yourself multi-flavor robot Coke machine, for a dollar more I can get a beer. I'll never forget the first time walking into a theater with a cold one. I popped off that spill proof travel lid and took a sip while watching the intro to Mad Max: Fury Road and thought “What a time to be alive!” Art House theaters have the best beer selection. And to be honest what craft beer drinking Paul Thomas Anderson fan wouldn't want a 24 oz of Final Absolution from Dragonmead while watching Phantom Thread.

These new luxury seats are amazing. You can recline back all the way in a leather seat and stretching out like you're on a massage table. If those seats went back any further it would be like being at the dentist. They'd have to put the screen on the ceiling. Yet despite all these technological cinematic viewing advances the biggest inconvenience of the theater going experience since its conception remains the same today. We still have to leave the theater in the middle of a movie and walk down the hallway to use a bathroom. These movies are all digital now! Can't there be a screen in a bathroom that is...I don't know...inside the actual theater where the movie is playing?!? Instead we pay $12 for a ticket and sit there in discomfort, trying to hold it for the last 45 minutes. This inconvenient theater going experience lead to spike in urinary track infections following the release 50 Shades of Grey. It's a mad dash to bathroom after the movie is over. That is of course unless it's a MCU movie and you sit there hunched over with painful bladder pressure wondering how many post credit scenes there will be this time. There is a special place in Hell for the team that came up with that concept.  After the final credits roll guys rush off down the hallway like it's The Running of the Bulls. Outside the men's room it sounds like the Ballio fountains going off in Las Vegas.

After all the IMAX surround sound digital 3D technological advancements we still haven't perfected the call of nature. Although back in the day there was a thing called intermission. A short stoppage to allow for such things as restroom breaks, popcorn refills, and jazz cigarettes. But today we have to suffer, like a bunch of heathens. Until we come up with a solution to this century old problem you really have to question--have we even come anywhere at all?

--Lee L. Lind