Published in Portsmouth Herald, Op-Ed Sunday Edition

A Magical Movie Haven

Theaters provide the daytime film-goer with escape to people, places unknown

On a hazy humid day, the cool air of a movie theater gives a much welcomed and blissful relief from the heat of a blistering sun. Summer sends all city dwellers sans air conditioners to the nearest climate-controlled environment. It's a Tuesday, though, so the other occupants represent a motley assortment of the unemployed, the elderly and a small smattering of truant students. Let the 9-to-5-ers have their power lunches and business trips . . . we have this. A silent camaraderie borne out of necessity links us to one another in the dark. It's a little like coming home.

It is not only a haven, it is our heaven. No cherubic figures flutter on white wings here, but rather the flickering of the screen lulls us into a pleasant stupor and carries us off into another world.

For two hours and a reduced ticket price, we melt into the foam seats willingly ready for transport into the realms of imagination, humor, action, romance or melodrama. Like children begging at bedtime, "Tell me a story . . . " the need for escape from our lives, or worlds, our cares and worries takes us over. The trance begins with the previews and we are whisked away to a marketer's land of demographics and dollars — we know this, but we choose to overlook it to keep the magic intact. Then the reel begins its roll, rolling over and through us with beauty and pain and absurdity and gravity. We everyday characters pay our $6.50 to inhabit the universe of anything but everyday people. I prefer the character actor scene stealers to the headliners, those big blockbuster names with their eight figure faces. To shine amid such obvious beauty is a true accomplishment.

When it's over, we sit and digest. As the credits roll, I think of all the time and effort that went into the creation of the film. Best boy? Key grip? The credits themselves tell a tale. The catering crew that had to accommodate picky stars with requests of sushi and wheatgrass concoctions to replace the coffee and doughnuts of a bygone era. The lighting and editing wizards who magically erase the wear and tear of years of partying and skin cooked under harsh spotlights with their techical expertise.

The long suffering production assistants who woke up at the crack of dawn to ensure that every last prop was in place and that sets were as silent as a tomb to allow the temperamental director free, unencumbered rein for his or her creative vision. Like a ballet or a sonnet, words dance and leap into action. Sound bites from past movies echo, stored in our collective and cavernous memory.

All too soon, it's time to blink hack into day light like moles. A harsh transition from the soothing dark, the sun slaps us with her harpy brightness — a shrill shriek in our brains. At this very moment, frantic traders are running madly like headless chickens on the stock market floor, and somewhere, halfway across the globe a crowd just left another movie theater. It's night there ... people streaming out, chattering away — a different kind of energy prevails. In a few hours on this side of the world, people will leave their offices and head to the gym or home for a bite to eat.

Maybe they'll even go to a movie, but the experience just won't be the same.
Time won't stop for them like it did for me and the other day-world misfits. They will re-enter a softer moonlit world and dissect the movie over cappuccinos in a trendy bistro. They may complain that the popcorn is stale or the theatre too chilly, the ticket prices exorbitant. Their minds will be replaying tapes of earlier conversations and conflicts played out in cubicles across America. Maybe their cellphones will ring or their beeper will tear them away and they'll scoot out at the best part thinking that they can always catch it on DVD later.

After the movie, my movie, there are still daylight hours to fill, still heat to be avoided. The cafes and libraries await like jealous mistresses to distract me from my one true love, the Cineplex, with its ergonomically correct seats or even a ratty old chair with a spring coming through that the older theaters sport like war badges. It just isn't the same. It never could be. The brightly lit arena of all other places can't compete with the heavenly dark of the theater.

People speculate with the advent of so much technology in Digiworld driven markets ... that theaters, like drive-ins, will go the unfortunate way of the dinosaur. I sincerely hope this travesty never, ever occurs. We would be greatly cheated of a special kind of magic that happens when the lights go down and a hush falls over the moviegoing audience.

In the meantime, perhaps Dorothy said it best as she clicked those notoriously ruby slippers . . . "There's no place like home."


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