Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Little Picture

When I was going to movies in my teens, every so often I would hear about or read an article on some fantastic movie that wasn’t playing nearby.

I’d have to figure out how I was going to see the damn thing. This was in the nascent days of cable, when not everyone had 100 channels (promises to the contrary) and not every film eventually ended up on pay t.v. …or on home video 6 months later.

I tracked down “Hollywood Blvd.," Joe Dante's whacked-out ode to low-budget filmmaking for Roger Corman, on the bottom half of a double bill at a rep house a couple of years after I read about it in Cinefantastique. I drove 30 miles to see it at the Fine Arts, a half-assed ‘60s conversion of originally been a liquor store, a bank – or a slaughterhouse. It was billed with "Joyride," and I came in half-way through that in time to see a sequence in which the teenagers drove topless in a convertible down the road. I was too young to see R-rated films, but somehow this one got a PG, and it allowed me to see the much racier "Hollywood Blvd."

It's appropriate that I saw "Hollywood Blvd." in an exploitation theatre on a double bill.

The Fine Arts is gone now, coincidentally now a bank branch again.

I tracked down the horror film "Ruby" with Piper Laurie on the last Thursday night it was showing at the TuVu Drive-in (yes, a 2-screen drive in). "Ruby" is a supernatural rip-off of "Carrie," with elements of "The Exorcist" thrown in - the main action takes place in a drive-in, haunted by ghosts of murdered gangsters. How cool is that to see a possessed drive-in movie - at a drive-in?

I would catch glimpses of the film showing over on the other screen, wondering what was happening over there, so big and so confusing without dialogue or music, on the large colorful board in the night sky on the other side of the corrugated fence.

The other half of that double-bill with"Ruby"? Some cheerleader movie. 45 feet high.

The TuVu drive-in is gone and the area now holds office buildings. Pretty much all drive-ins are gone now. That's not the point.

These are two exploitation films that take place in the world of, and embrace an affection for theatrical film exhibition. The initial release in theatres, especially for quirky or independent genre films, was the primary if inefficient option by which people would see something outside the major studios.

When I was growing up I had to search the listings and check reviews, to make sure I discovered that rare showing before it might disappear from the cultural landscape forever. I didn't have Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB or BitTorrent to fall back on.

And if I showed up late, I couldn't rewind it. I missed the first 5 minutes at my own peril - and forever. It was in charge of me, instead of me being in charge of it.

Now the industry has been taken over by the multiplexes, which don't devote any screens to the smaller films, the quirky or challenging. Certainly now you can find all that off-the-grid fare on Netflix, the Internet, or cable - months, days, or minutes after you've heard of it.

That's likely the only places you can find it.

A whole new generation of filmgoers don't need to do all that work. There's less commitment, less effort. It's no longer a calculated risk, a matter of faith to check something out. Heck, with so much stuff on the internet, why even watch movies?

I don't think people are falling in love with going to the movies anymore. When going to the movies isn't so important anymore, will movies seem not so important either?

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