Watching movies

Oh, how watching movies has changed through the years. Today we can call up a movie on demand as fast as it hits the theaters. In days gone by we waited eagerly for the new releases although I do not remember all the hype that we now have.

Our small town had three movie theaters. Each theater changed movies every week. Out of all of the theaters I only remember going to the one on Main Street a few times. It was a real pretty theater with loge seats along the sides. I think maybe the loges were closed by the time I was attending movies on my own. The movie I remember seeing there was a Ma and Pa Kettle story. That was comedy at its best in those days. That was also the era of The Three Stooges. My children were able to watch them as re-runs so I was able to enjoy them over and over.

Our town was not much different than those scattered around the area. Going to the movies was a treat. Even my children remember being taken to the movies on a Sunday afternoon. There were so many good Disney movies at that time. Oh, some of them were sad, but where animals were concerned they were realistic. We could take the children to a show and not be embarrassed by the language or the content. Disney movies were safe in those days.

I wish I could say that about them today. Now if you follow the ratings you will notice that most of the Disney movies are rated PG 13. If they are children’s movies why do they have to be rated that way? Why can’t they make movies for children that do not have offensive content and language? Why can’t they really be for children?

Some of those old movies are still popular with families. They are seen in a recorded form or as television classics. Isn’t there something special about becoming a classic?

When I moved to this area each of the small towns nearby had multiple theaters. Most of them at this point have been razed in the name of progress. There are a couple of them that have been taken over and maintained to serve the various theatre groups that put on productions. There was something so special about these old theaters. They were architecturally pleasing to the eye as well as functional.

I still can picture each of the theaters that I used to visit. There were a lot of plush seats. When you first entered the theater there was the ticket booth and the refreshment stand. I do not remember being able to purchase any beverages. There was fresh popcorn that smelled oh so good. There was also a candy counter with lots of variety. There were candy bars as well as small boxes of goodies.

On Saturday there was a children’s matinee. We often went during the long cold winter months. During the summer if it was exceptionally warm we went to the movies just to cool off in their air conditioning. During the matinee the admission was ten cents. Popcorn in a small bag was also ten cents. Most candy was five cents. That meant you could see a movie, eat popcorn, and have candy for just a quarter.

Once you were seated there was a small news segment. I remember John Cameron Swayze (not sure this is spelled correctly) coming on the big screen with the latest headlines. Communication in those days was slower. We did have radios and some homes had televisions, but it was not the norm. Certainly children in those days did not have anything electronic in their rooms. They were lucky to be able to view programs in back-and-white in their living rooms.

There were also previews of coming attractions designed to lure you back to the theater the next week. There were also cartoons that were funny to watch. After all of the previews were finished it was time for the feature to begin. The lion roared at all of the MGM productions and the screen descended or the curtains parted.

My husband and I tried to go to the movies while we were dating but it did not always work. By the time he finished farm chores and got cleaned up we had to settle for the last show of the evening. If the film was a long one often it started before we arrived. That was why in later years we took the children to Sunday matinees. At least that way we were able to see the whole show.

I was not a very adventurous movie goer. I preferred the comedies and the musicals. I loved watching Esther Williams swim on screen, too. One of my favorite movies was “Oklahoma”. The story was decent and the music was wonderful. I have that soundtrack on an old vinyl record. I believe I also have a DVD of it.

I fell in love with the music of the movies. Later I was fortunate to be able to sing those songs as our high school presented choral, band, and dance productions. As I think back on those productions I realize that probably more than a quarter of the students were involved each year. Each group practiced separately, but then we put everything together for a couple weeks of practice. We traveled with those shows, too. One show we took to a small town on the Hudson River in New York where our band director had family. Another time we went to a small community in the state of Indiana.

We left our small town in three or four buses. No matter which direction we went we were in for a long bus ride. It was all worth it though when we played to a packed house.

Today’s movie theaters are very plain. The price of a ticket is quite expensive and popcorn and other treats are very pricey. We used to have a membership to a video store where we could rent movies. That way we did not start the movie until after farm chores were finished. We watched the movies in the comfort of our own living room and I fixed an assortment of snacks. Frequently my husband fell asleep before the movie ended. I had to tell him how the movie ended the next morning.

Often the children had dates that we watched the movies with. It was a family event. The old folks eventually went to bed so the young ones had some time on their own. I am sure they gave a sigh of relief when mom and dad turned in!

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell. Contact at