Because my parents grew up when Hollywood produced happy movies with little objectionable imagery--cue the fade to black so as not to reveal anything too, um, private--and with little objectionable language--even "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" was racy for its time--I was not allowed to see movies in a movie theater. I was allowed to go to a drive-in with the neighbor family once to see Herbie the Love Bug, but I think that exception was made because my aunt dated Dean Jones in high school.
My mother liked to reminisce about the days when movies were worth the 25 cent admission. Stars were stars, and women were beautiful. Children were respectful, and America always won. She remembered the day Gone With the Wind was released in 1939, and for a school girl in Alabama, it was an event. The schools closed early so all the children could go to the matinee, and they were embarrassed when Rhett Butler delivered his final line. What a day that was, and I grew up hearing the story over and over.
At some point in the early 1970s, before the era of Ted Turner and Turner Classic Movies, Gone With the Wind was still being shown in theaters on limited runs. When it came to the theater near my house, my mother decided to place a temporary hold on the "Hollywood-is-going-to-Hell" house rule, and she took my older sisters and me to see the great epic.
I sat in my velvet seat and took in everything--the sconces on the side walls, the smell of popcorn with artificial butter, the sound of soda being slurped from the bottom of the waxed cup. And when the movie played on the giant screen, I became a member of the Tara household, and I was a citizen of Atlanta. I went to the Wilkes' grand party and napped with the ladies while the men talked war. I danced with Rhett at the fundraising ball, putting my wedding ring in the basket for the Cause. And when Atlanta floundered, it's streets and railway stations filled with mamed and dying Confederate soldiers and its doctors forced to amputate limbs without anesthetic, I was in shock.
I don't mean that I was surprised. I mean that during the intermission, I sat with my mother and sisters and cried, my shoulders shaking and hands covering my face--it was all too much for my young and protected sensibilities. The last image before Tara's Theme filled the theater was of Scarlett standing against an orange sky, holding up a whithered carrot and declaring she would never be hungry again. And I was as tormented as if I had been the one on the long, uncertain journey back to my burned out home. My sisters, who had seen the movie before, kept telling me that everything is brighter in the second half, that Scarlett doesn't go hungry anymore. But I would not be consoled--I had to see it for myself.
My sisters were right. Scarlett never went hungry again, although she did want for many things. On the day of my first movie theater experience, I loved movies and Hollywood and greasy popcorn and fountain soda. I loved the temporary world that movies provide and the creative effort that goes into bringing them from the concept to my local theater screen. And on the day of my first movie theater experience, I fell head over heels in love with Clark Gable--the swarthy brute.
What was the first movie you saw in a theater?