Think back to the last time you went to the theater - whether it was last weekend or last year. What was your preparation process? Chances are that you didn’t raid your closet for your most stylish clothes and hat, ready for a night full of cinema and relatively lacking in advertisements. If you’re like me, you were throwing your shoes on seconds after you figured out that in order to beat traffic and make a showtime you had to leave ten minutes ago. The times, they have a-changed, and Mental Floss has listed off many things that modern day cinemas haven’t felt the need to bother themselves with, no longer intent on recreating the majestic cinemas that were built when a night to the theater was revered as a privileged experience. Here's what they came up with, click over there for more detailed explanations:
1. Red Velvet Curtains
Granted, the older theaters in the country are still home to some of these features, and the fact that these theaters do still exist deserves its own article, but this is more about the 16-screen megaplexes that you find at either end of the mall.
The grandeur seems to have left the building, so to speak. Theaters used to be built to impress anyone who walked through the doors. Since the buildings were tall anyway, it was a great spot for lavish decoration. Draped pillars, wide carpeted staircases, marble floors. Going to see a movie about a faraway land? Might as well walk through some expensive-looking shit first. If you look up in the last theater I went to all you see the air-conditioning ducts and giant advertisements hanging down on long strings or chains. Immediately upon walking in, your attention span is dominated by wall-to-wall posters centered around an enormous concession stand (Nothing wrong with more service, I’ll give them that).
Once the general magic of going out to a movie was lost during my childhood, the theaters where I live never tried to act like they were anything but a property of business. They don’t have drapes on the windows, much less the walls. There weren't any big, billowy curtains on the screens anymore, either. Many times when the “ushers” are under the age of 30, they don’t appear to give a damn about anything other than they're specific job at hand. I think it’s been 15 years since I actually saw an usher help a patron to a seat when the lights went down.
As the article notes, intermissions between double features, another endangered relic, were formerly the prime time for theater owners to milk their audiences for more money back at the snack bar. This meant when you first sat down before the film started, you could eat a few pieces of popcorn and have a murmured conversation in anticipation for the film you just dropped too much money on. Now the theater uses this pre-feature time to repeatedly mention Coca Cola and snack brands, surrounded by pictures of popcorn bucket icons. They make damned sure you got everything you needed before the movie starts - because you're going to be stuck for the next two hours. Does the clip below make you want something from the kitchen? Does (buttered) it? Does (popcorn) it?
This is also when early arrivals get to watch 20 minutes of advertisements for movies TV shows and pop music peppered with inane quiz questions (Iron Man star “R_obert Downey J_.”) We could talk about the trailers themselves, but that’s a different sign of the times.
A few of the things mentioned on Mental Floss writer Kara Kovalchik’s list came before my time. I never got to see a current newsreel on a big screen, and I honestly can’t imagine just what side of the politically misguided dodecagon that it would serve today. That said, I’d take a stylized newsreel clip from The Daily Show before going to watch The World’s End, but that’s me.
I’ve also never seen a “Ladies Please Remove Your Hats” sign at a theater, going back to the fact that dapper has been replaced by comfortable, and the hats that people wear aren’t as tall as the hair. I also can’t imagine how Dish Night - a special theater promotion where movie tickets would come with flatware and place settings - would work these days.
You take the good with the bad, I guess. What do you guys miss about your theater experiences of old?