Memories of a Movie Theatre

Will theatres go the route of the drive-in, a seasonal roadside attraction?” – Terry Wiens 2022

A shopping bag of the past pointing the direction of the future

I kept “channel surfing” last night often winding up at the Oscar’s to see what was going on. Movie’s have been a hobby of mine (almost a serious addiction) for most of my life. The Oscar’s have always been a bit of a barometer for me that provides me some insight into the pulse of society in general. Last nights Oscar’s really highlighted the changes in movie making while recognizing the changing technology and its effect on entertainment. I also believe the last two years of pandemic management has sped up the future of the entertainment industry in general. I think what might have been a “slow death” of an industry was pushed drastically by the pandemic. The technology of change has been here for years, the “will” for change was slow but, pushed by the pandemic, many industries are reviewing their future. Again, like so many City of Calgary alert apps, many of the current generation (my generation) will be hesitant to accept will be “streaming services”. The days of movies house, I fear, are numbered.

This was at a time in healthcare where most people with disabilities grew up in institutions like the Red Cross Junior Hospital for Crippled Children or, in the case of hearing impaired, in facilities like the Jericho School for the Deaf. This was a time in our history when kids with disabilities were “warehoused” for services sake, prior to that most kids with disabilities were send home to die. Growing up in the hospital (as many polio kids did) activities were continually planned. Between 1955 and 1966 I basically lived in hospital, many polio kids did, that was survival at the time. But we were kept very busy with organization (I wasn’t exactly an exemplary candidate for that kind of structure) but I survived it. A lot of that organization was build around routines and between surgeries, school, physio, crafts night, Cub/Scout night, Saturday chore day, my favourite was the Friday movie night.

Polio kids were “survivors”, not “victims” of the virus and the hospital was survival. The community wasn’t ready for us however life in the hospital was meant to mimic the community, we were “kids”, not “disabled” kids and that’s how the hospital raised us. Growing up in the “polio kids” hospital in Calgary in a decade were hospitals were much more restrictive than they are now (2.5 hours per week of visitation time with parents a week) required structure. My whole youth was planned for me by others however, those doing the planning did so in a way to provide a “normalcy” that reflected community living, preparation of what was to come, life with adulthood. Between surgeries, rehab, activities, education and socialization everything we did in the Children’s was structured and routine with a focus on “normalcy”. I convinced myself over the years that my childhood was “normal”…wrong but hell I think I turned out relatively well.

The routine was very structured, it had to be in order for kids to absorb. One of the routines was the Friday night movie, my favourite night of the week. Saturday afternoon you had the choice between the “fresh air bus” (basically a wheelchair accessible van of the day with windows galore) outing or attending the afternoon matinee. I tended to stick around for the movie.

Some service club (can’t remember if it was Kinsman or Kiwanis) would bring in a projector and a movie container holding two or three reels of 32mm film every Friday night. By 7pm the nurses would have brought us, beds and all, to the solarium while those of us on crutches or in wheelchairs would have found a good position to watch the Friday night “special”. I don’t think there was an Annette Funicello or Beachboy music encrusted film about surfing and partying that we didn’t see. In looking back on that I now see the irony of entertaining a bunch of polio kids with movies about running around on the beach.

And when I really get into it I will watch the same movie half a dozen times. I’ll watch it as a viewer, then through the eyes of of an editor, then as a sound engineer (one song can create a comedy out of a thriller) but I will watch from difference perspectives. I like to analyze movies and I like to understand the technology being used. Sound, for example, when “The Great Escape” came to theatre’s in 1964 I went and saw it a dozen times in six weeks. If I heard the song on the radio, I would go, if I heard a motorcycle, I would go and see. I didn’t realize it at the time, but our sense of hearing can play such a role in our decision making.

I have always loved movie and grew up on either Friday night movies or, when not in hospital, going to the Saturday matinees regularly. Anybody who knows me know what kind of a movie fanatic. Plus I love technology, the effects it has had on the disabled world, and how the blending of the entertainment and communication technology has reshaped how we see the world.. The technology of my youth really dictated the structure of a movie venue, the Friday night hospital technology meant we all had to be on the “sidelines” so no heads were in the way of the light from the projector. Since it was a portable projector, it was placed on a stand right at head level so a row had to be left for the projector light to get through. Like the days when people would stand up and cut off the projector light with their shadow while they exited the aisle to, probably, use the bathroom. Technology has changed all of that. Now streaming has taken over from production to presentation. The number of movies winning Oscar’s last night was overwhelming for streaming services. I don’t think CODA was ever in a theatre outside the Sundance Film Festival. Apple streams it and for a $7/month subscription I also saw Cruella (another Oscar nominee). My point is for about $45/month I stream enough not to need “actual” cable and no more $25 theatre movies.

With the changing technology we now stream, no need for large cable packages or the theatre. The changing technology has advanced however are you keeping pace or are you still making decisions based on the technology of the 80’s. As you can see in the picture above, I still have a Blockbuster “recyclable” bag but who watches videos anymore. Twenty years ago I study the advancements being made in technology however most of my peers have little knowledge of this kind of stuff and continue going to theatres or paying big bucks for a cable package.

I’ll be right back I have to switch cognitive systems, should I grate some cheese for the risotto later, a stimulation of perception skills, have some rice pudding while catching another fifteen minutes of the “Power of the Dog”, critical thinking skills (plus it is a movie that demonstrates how little we have really changed in the last hundred years) or dice some mushrooms for the risotto, pattern recognition exercise, regardless I’ll be back.

Wow that was a long break. Since starting this the Oscar’s have come and gone. CODA (great movie) well deserving of the win, has introduces the deaf culture to the world. The number of winners produce by companies like Netflix, Paramount+, Disney, etc has opened a whole new world to entertainment. I have seen about half of those nominated and I have streamed them all. Why pay $25 to go to a theatre for one movie when I can pay $7/month to Disney Streaming? Still watching first run movies (just watched “The Power of the Dog”), by streaming, not going to a theatre. Entertainment and how it is delivered is changing, are you? Understand the technology before you condemn. It’s that technology that is changing the world, you want to live in it, learn about it. If you are happy “existing” in it then stick to your backyard BBQ’s)


3 thoughts on “Memories of a Movie Theatre

  1. I thought I was following your train of thought, and mostly agreeing, until you got to “your backyard BBQ’s”. What’s wrong or backward with BBQ’s? I enjoy cooking on the BBQ and much prefer it to Skip The Dishes. I understand that you are talking about changing with the times (I think). But don’t mess with my backyard BBQ. (Just kidding,,, almost)

    1. My reference to “backyard BBQ people” is my reference to people who prefer to ignore the reality of many while preferring the safe environment of their own little piece of the world

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