Friday, March 20, 2009

Now Showing

When temperatures climbed well over a hundred degrees for the third straight week, you could take refuge all afternoon in the Panorama for a buck and a half. It never mattered whether you walked into the luscious dark in the middle of the second act of The Guns of Navarone where Gregory Pack had to shoot the informer--it didn't even spoil the picture to know that she had been spying for the Nazis all along--since the second feature would wipe clean the action of the film you joined in medias res, and by the time the Guns of Navarone cycled back for a second showing three hours later, you were numb with candy and soda and air so cold you wore goosebumps.

I had long suffered my parents' long-winded recollections of going to the movies for five cents and spending those black-and-white afternoons of the Bronx and Brooklyn in a theater that not only offered two feature films, but a day's worth of newsreels, cartoons, short subjects, and boxes of raisinettes for three cents. When I was young, we went to Radio City and the music hall featured the line kicking, high-heeled legs of the Rockettes along with comics and side-show artists--and then you got the feature film, too.

But now I view my childhood days, golden and luminous, where Russ and Bruce and I would hop on our three-speed Schwinns and zip through the scorched avenues of Sepulvida, the asphalt already sticky by 11 am as we rode off to the Panorama and parked our bikes outside--without having to lock them against thieves--and ducked inside for at least five hours of shows.

They didn't care then how long you sat in the theater if you were reasonably behaved, and since the films rotated around the dial, you could cower at the brutality of mind control in The Invaders from Mars, then swoon at Haley Mills in The Parent Trap, and then slide back into a repeat nightmare of aliens drilling into the heads of suburbanites and planting mind-control chips in their brains.

No one yakked their brains out during the pictures; we sat rapt at the action on the screen; and no one had to sit in the blue glare of so many cell phones while kids wrote text messages or tossed popcorn at each other. We were in sacred space with tacky floors. At home, celluloid monsters stamped through Tokyo on tiny, black and white sets, but in the Panorama, green and red dinosaurs that lived in the center of the earth chowed down on wayward explorers across a 70-foot expanse of screen, their hideous screams blaring from overhead speakers!

I never had to explain, returning home, that I spent the entire day in a movie theater; my mother understood it was what you did during the heat of day. I desperately yearned to escape the bonds of suburbia with its tidy lawns and self-same thoroughfares to the salt-sea treehouse that the Robinson family built on their deserted island. I prayed for a loyal, cast-iron friend like Tobor the Great, a mechanical buddy assembled in a government lab by a nerd in a white coat (Tobor, by the way, is "robot" spelled backwards). The brilliant beaches of Zuma and Malibu lay just over the pass from our house in the Valley, but I was content to sit in the Panorama (a quarter of the way back, in the center) and imagine I was Moondoggie, buried in sand to my neck and kissed on the mouth by Annette Funicello while the gulls screeched insanely overhead.

You did more than escape the heat those afternoons in the Panorama. And afterwords, Bruce and Russ and I would race through the dirt lots, nosing each other off like Saberjet pilots, skidding around parked cars and screaming out Gregory Peck's lines all the way through Mission Hills, through the alleys and backstreets, blessed with good fortune and a belly full of popcorn as the evening sun ducked beyond the Santa Susana Mountains and we knew that dinner was on the table and it would soon be cool enough to sleep, to dream.


Bill Stankus said...

Very good.

Char said...

excellent write

A Cuban In London said...

The days you described in you vivid post brought backmemories of my very own childhood growing up in Havana. Many times the cinema's air-con was out of order, so no chance to escape the Cuban heat by making off to the nearest theatre. The film splayed on a loop jus like at your local with very small intervals. Just reading your tale revived the smell of dust and time-worn seats that had seen better days.

Many thanks, man. I enjoy popping round so much.

Greetings from London.