Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Cinema of My Mind's Eye

On the occasion of the publication of the Special Edition of In the Dark: A Life and Times in a Movie Theater, I offer the following, a piece that says a lot about me and the inner workings of my cinematic mind.

Most people have a memory bank. Some unfortunate souls, merely a savings and loan. But me, I have something entirely different sitting inside of my skull and that would be a movie theater.
It’s certainly not one of those generic multiplexes that are so prevalent, they have become the standard of how we view film in today’s world. They aren’t theaters so much that they are just screening rooms, stacked together like so many shoeboxes. What kind of nostalgic memories will those conjure up for future generations? You might as well get all warm and fuzzy for a parking garage.
Not for me.
My internal cinema is an ornate structure from an era before my very own, a time when attending the movies was so special, they were shown in a palace. The huge marquee out front, over lighted in all of its bombastic neon glory announces the current attraction in typical Hollywood hyperbolic fashion. The art deco lobby is trimmed all in gold, including the staircase to the fabled and forbidden Loge section where the really good seats are. The concession stand is not ostentatious, almost a footnote rather than the lobby’s primary focus. It sells treats that can only be purchased in a movie theater like Raisinettes and ice cream Bon Bons.
Inside the slightly darkened auditorium, the air is always cool, no matter what the time of year. Illuminated by black lights on each wall are identical day-glo murals of a wild white stallion in full gallop, ridden by who appears to be the Greek goddess Athena, flying back to Mount Olympus after an all-nighter at Bacchus’ place. The intermission music, set at an appropriately low volume, contains classic motion picture soundtrack music by such composers as Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin and Miklos Rozsa. The massively wide screen is draped over by a majestic burgundy colored velvet curtain.
While the seating capacity of the auditorium can easily accommodate several hundred, there is always an audience of just one. That would be me, sitting smack dab in the middle with my feet up on the seats in front of me, thank you very much. I’ve got the place all to myself ‘cuz that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.
Now playing in the Cinema of My Mind’s Eye are not only recollections of what I’ve seen on the Silver Screen in my lifetime, but also the life and time I’ve spent doing so. As the years pass, so goes the memory, yet I still retain near-total recall of my tenure as a movie patron. Give me a title. I can tell you if/where/when I saw it, who (if anyone) I was with and how I was feeling at the time. “Going to the show”, as we used to call it, was a very special time for me. It formed the nucleus of this passion I have for an art form that has enriched my spirit and consistently given me great joy over the years.
This passion in question has manifested itself into an obsession to be sure. It’s harmless, but not entirely healthy either. Maybe the hermit-like existence I’ve spent at the movies has been instrumental in the creation of the oddball I am today, one whose quirks, phobias and eccentricities can be easily traced back to way too much time spent in a celluloid trance and not nearly enough human interaction.
My belief system is cockeyed as well to be sure. Film, after all, is my religion and a theater is my church. For me, attending a film is not unlike attending Mass, except with Coming Attractions. (Your theological debate begins here) With very few exceptions, I prefer to fly solo in my own particular pew so I may worship in peace. If I had my druthers, I would actually watch movies Elvis Presley style. Big E would rent out a theater after hours for private showings and insist that any guest he invited act accordingly. Keep your yap shut. I’m tryin’ to watch a movie here. You don’t like it? Lump it, Jack. Hit the road and don’t step on my blue suede shoes.
You could say that mine has been a life of too much viewing and not enough doing. If that’s a crime, it’s victimless because the only person that could possibly have been hurt is yours truly. If I’ve wasted my time on Earth by going to the picture show, at least I’ve been entertained in the process.
As far as the theater inside my brainpan, I guess, for lack of a better term, you could call it my Happy Place. (Normally, I would send anyone using that particular phrase to a Sad Place by way of the back of my hand. But, I’m unable to perform that task upon myself. The angle is all wrong.) Safe Haven might be more apropos, but doesn’t that sound more like a halfway house? How about Sanctuary? How about who cares? Whatever name or label you want to slap on it means nothing to me. All I know is that when I am there, I find solace.
I am one of those who Norma Desmond referred to in Sunset Boulevard as “one of the wonderful little people in the dark”. In that darkness, I have found enlightenment. Sure, I know it comes from the lamp of a motion picture projector, but it would be unfair to call it artificial. How is that possible when that light can recreate dreams? My dreams. My past. My present. My future.
As I close my eyes, I open my mind into the theater inside of my head. I sit listening to the final moments of Ernest Gold’s “Theme from Exodus” and I smile at Athena’s ascension to the heavens. The lights begin to fade and the curtain starts to rise. Suddenly, I am basking in the glow of the illuminated screen. It is then that I realize that the world-THIS world-is mine, all mine.
Copyright 2011 by Scott Cherney


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