Movies were a big part of my life growing up, and certainly why I’m such a lover of them now, but there was something special about going to movies when you were a kid, the magic on the screen was as real to you as your parents were, and most likely more interesting as well. To put some context as to when it was that I was a kid, let’s just say I saw Star Wars in theatres before it had “A New Hope” attached to it, and a child’s admission price was about two dollars. At that time going to a movie for me was a big deal, there was only one theatre in my town so the options were limited, and part of my weekly allowance was the two dollars it required to go to the children’s matinee at The Strand Theater ever Saturday afternoon.
This was before every home had a VCR, and the only regular children’s programming available was either Sesame Street or Saturday morning cartoons, while today kids have access to all kinds of shows aimed at them through dozens of cable channels, or their parent’s libraries of DVDs and Blurays. When I was a kid if you wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland you had to wait until Easter weekend for whatever Network was airing it that year, and this is why those Saturday afternoon matinees were so important, as not only was it getting us out of the house, and away from our nosy parents, but it also allowed us to see a plethora movies that we would otherwise most likely not have seen. It didn’t matter if it was an old adventure film from the fifties, because it was new to us, and when our parents dropped us off – with enough money for a ticket, a large pop, licorice and Milk Duds – a whole amazing world opened for us, and the people putting these matinees together really made it an event. These matinees were a whole afternoon affair, that often included games and such before the house lights went down, then when those lights dimmed our journey into wonder began. We would first be treated to a cartoon, and it was through these matinee afternoons that I first was exposed to the hilarious antics of the Looney Tunes gang, and I’ve been a fan of them ever since.
After the cartoon we’d then get a chapter from a serial from the 40s or 50s, and each week we’d be able to see the latest installment in the adventures of Captain Marvel, Zorro or Flash Gordon, and it certainly didn’t matter to us that they were in Black and White – many of us didn’t even have colour televisions at home – and these chapters would all end in a nail-biting cliffhanger that would ensure that we would be in attendance next week, much as it did to those who saw those serials when they first originally ran.
Then after the serial, we’d finally get the movie we came to see, sometimes two movies if we were lucky, and I can remember sitting surrounded by hordes of like-minded kids as if it was yesterday, we laughed at the antics of Kurt Russel’s Dexter Riley in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or cheered as Blackbeard’s Ghost thwarted a bunch of gangsters who were trying to foreclose on a bunch of old ladies, and even hide behind our mittens as the horrifying Green Slime threatened to barbecue our hero.
It’s amazing what scared you as a little kid that now seems absolutely laughable, yet when you were in the darkened theatre the dangers were real, even if it was just a guy in a terrible rubber suit. It didn’t matter to us that the plot of movies such as One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing made little to no sense, because gosh darn it, we believed it. Sometimes I am able to briefly recapture that feeling when I sit with my little nephew and nieces as they get enraptured by one of these classics, letting me see it through their eyes as I once did my own.
Of course the multiplexes today show countless movies on Saturday afternoons, they even set aside showings for mothers and their babies, but the halcyon days of the Children’s Matinees I grew up with are long gone. I guess it’s a more dangerous world now than when I was a kid, spree shootings and terrorism certainly were not in our lexicon back in the day, and our moms had no fear of dropping us off and getting a break from us as well. I’m not saying times were better back then, predators of all kinds have existed throughout history, but something was lost when those theatres stopped bringing an afternoon of magic to all of us kids.