*The week it came out, I decided to go see director Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
There was a measure of personal excitement: the last film I saw in a theater was “Black Panther.” Before that, for my birthday, a buddy took me to see “This Is It,” the Michael Jackson documentary. We’re talking ten years ago.
If you get the impression I don’t care for movies, you’d be wrong. I am in awe of great cinematic storytelling. Just not so much in a theater.
I understand the communal sensation driving the world’s time-honored love affair with going to the movies. The collection of humanity in singular rapt with a tale; that big screen. The popcorn.
My recollection of first experiencing this was at age nine. A Saturday afternoon, 1964. My best friend Donnie, a year older, and I were given permission by our parents to venture the short distance from Sixth and High, where we lived, to Fourth Street and the Jewel Theatre.
One of three movie houses serving Oklahoma City’s Black community (with the Aldridge and the Eastside), the Jewel, was showing a double bill of “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and the “Three Stooges Meet Hercules.”
It didn’t matter to us that films at the Jewel were never first-run (“Cleopatra,” in which we had zero interest, had played across town in white neighborhoods the year before, and the Stooges film earlier than that). Like the rest of the kids, we simply relished being free, if only temporarily, from immediate parental guidance.
We yelled at the screen, laughed hysterically over any little silly thing, tossed popcorn, scarfed down Butternut and Boston Baked Beans candy, and spooked one another with the ominous legend that rats, said to roam the Jewel’s sticky floors, might at any time scurry over your shoes.
That theater of kids acted fools. But we acted fools together.
Donnie and I were having so much fun—the two flicks ran back to back, over and over, but who’s really watching? —that we lost track of time. Finally leaving, we were shocked to discover it was nighttime.
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I’m not sure what I feared most—walking home in the dark or what my parents would do to me when I got there. There is a God; I only had to hear mama’s mouth.
Figures that as an adult, it’s the grown-ups in theaters who get on my nerves. The chatter, hissing, the glowing of omnipresent cell phones and just plain old’ lousy films have made the experience harder to enjoy. (Those who use phones during movies should have their chairs fall through trap doors and into a dank, dark place run by rat descendants of the bold Jewel Theatre vermin–movie house rats—who immediately swipe the treats and cell phones.)
Before you can see a feature film, there’s thirty minutes of trailers to sit through.
Decades ago, comedian/actor Steve Martin, his career transitioning from stand-up to film, complained to studio executives that they were putting the best parts of movies in trailers and TV commercials, giving away the good stuff.
The execs agreed, but explained that their research showed that advertising the best parts of a film attracts audiences, which, when viewing the movie, sit in anticipation of those particular scenes.
That, I can understand. But what bewilders me, a buttered popcorn and Milk Duds man, are high- end theaters that serve “gourmet” dishes, delivered to your seat during the movie.
Call me “ticky”—an odd, obscure phrase mama would call me when I acted annoyingly particular about something—but I find unsettling the idea of chowing down in a place whose main product isn’t food. Food you’ll consume in the dark. Kind of like settling into your seat at the strip joint and ordering up, well, anything edible.
In any case, after the sobering first-time purchase of a “senior citizen” ticket, after buying popcorn, a “small” soda the size of a children’s backyard pool and a box of Milk Duds that was more box than Duds—all of which, by the way, I’m still paying for on a payment plan—and endless insipid trailers later, I was all set for “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
Let me just say wow. If you’ve yet to but are planning to see this Brad Pitt/Leonardo DiCaprio epic clocking in at almost three hours, don’t worry about me spoiling it for you here; I didn’t see it, either.
I appreciate what turned out to be the film’s special effect: the sights, sounds and locales of late sixties Hollywood in which the story is set. I came to L.A. in 1973, and the city looked pretty much as it did on the screen. That and the music of the era struck a sentimental chord.
Beyond that, what I saw of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” ain’t shit. Yes, I said it. I’ve heard folks rave about this thing; God bless ‘em. Like I said, I love a compelling story. Wake me when this one starts.
Cinema buffs, please spare me. I don’t consider myself old—just too old to sit in a dark room with a bunch of cell phone-gabbing, pasta-rolling strangers, waiting for a film to get to the “good” part. After an hour, I was done.
Striding up the aisle, under the mythical glow of a giant DiCaprio, I observed people study my determined gait, as if to note, This man’s walk doesn’t look like a restroom or concession stand run–to which I was tempted to reply, Damn right. This is a certified exit out this som’bitch and into the parking lot, while it’s still light outside. Who’s coming with me?
At that moment, had a rifle-totin’ would-be mass murderer suddenly burst in, we’d have made contact, and to both the abject horror and desperate relief of ticket holders, with my bare, fake popcorn butter-greasy hands I’d have choked that MF into an anguished, torturous death.
Out in the evening end-of-Summer air, I felt as if I’d escaped…something.
Will I see another film in a theater? Of course. I’ll probably even give “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” another chance within the sanctity of home. I just need to make better choices.
In the meantime, if anyone reading this knows Quentin Tarantino, tell that MF he owes me for an hour of my life that I’ll never get back. And I want the full damn price, none of this Senior Citizen shit.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]