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Monday, May 2, 2016

Gray Matters: Goin' to the movies

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

(Editors Note: Margaret Door has taken this week off and has asked Bob Reed to be a guest writer for her column. We hope you enjoy Bob's essay).

Time was when a lot of the citizens of Marcus went to "the picture show" down at the Lyric Theatre. It was located (in the '30s and '40s) on Main Street.

The bill changed weekly and the films were sometimes nearly six months old. But the venue offered an escape from daily strife. And there was something about the communal viewing that sort of brought the community together.

This was--I'm told--particularly so during the Great Depression in the '30s, when I was not yet ten years old. It was in that period that the movies' started to take a hold on the popular imagination. The cinema was new then.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, sound film was younger than the Internet is today. And I have read that audience attendance fell from ninety million in 1930 to sixty million in 1934. But things evidently began to turn around that year.

The mythology of the era includes the thought that Americans went to the movies because the movies gave them what they needed. Struggling folks lost themselves in satiny comedies that helped ease their problems.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced in snazzy New York settings. And even the Jimmy Cagney stories of crime attracted audiences--especially after the Production Code went into effect in 1934. That edict said that each pic should close with an upbeat ending.

And the only competition to a night at the movies was the radio, with you and maybe one or two other listeners--not like the large, friendly crowds in a theater. During the blizzard of 1936, when everything in Marcus was closed, my teenage sister and her girl friend trudged through three-foot drifts to join other friends at the Lyric. Sure--it was open.

In 1939, I joined my buddies in the benches at the front of the theater to cheer and stomp as the cavalry raced to rescue the settlers from the Indians. Our outbursts annoyed the heck out of the adult patrons.

This was before the ratings system, and any kid could go to any movie. That year I was so terrified by Lon Chaney's portrayal of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame that I ran up the aisle, burst past the astonished proprietor and fled home--crying. My mother met me at the door, having received a phone call from him. It takes a village to raise a child.

Attendance increased even more in the 1940s, they say, because of WW II. People seemed to want to be together. And at the Lyric it was date night as you faked a yawn and struggled to act casual as you tentatively put your arm around her shoulder.

The Lyric had a fire and was closed and then there was a Quonset hut community theater operating in Sjostrom Park for awhile. But now the only nearby film venue for Marcus folk is in Paullina or Cherokee.

And in the immediate past, they say that theater attendance has been shrinking. We are again in a recession/depression.

Will the movies still be there for us and will we use them in a time when there are so many other entertainments that are cheaper? Some say "YES!"

They maintain that in hard times, people go to the movies to confront their troubles or escape from them. They still want to be seduced by romance or tickled by comedy.

Mostly, I guess, there is a universal appetite to see the world within the familiar order of the language of film on a big screen. The movies remain a popular "together" art. The communal experience is unlike the solitary iPods or computers or video games.

This may be the legacy of the Great Depression. For back then everyone went to the picture show, because whatever else was going on, everyone was in it together.

Will that happen again?