“For me, film making combines everything. That’s the reason I’ve made cinema my life’s work. In films, painting and literature, theater and music come together. But a film is still a film.”
My love of movies
I was probably six years of age when my parents took me to see my first movie ever, at the time movie theaters didn’t allow children less than seven years of age in to the theaters, at the 8:00PM show mainly I guess at least in my days as a child they put us in bed just after diner no later than 9:00PM, or not to disturb the adults at the theater, besides most movies were foreign movies and had subtitles, if you were too young to read there was no point to take a child to the movies. The movie I remember was Ten seconds to Hell, a movie by Robert Aldrich with Jack Palance, and Jeff Chandler, the movie was sort of a failure, and not memorable, except to me, since it was the first of thousands of movies I have watched through the years.
Fortunately I learnt to read at five, so I could read the subtitles, now there was no television in town, a thing hard to understand to people now days , but I got to remind you this was 1959, there was no satellites even if the first Russian Sputnik was launched in October 1957, first time ever than TV signal was transmitted from a satellite wasn’t until July 23, 1962, but since in my town we lacked a tower to capture the signal, in fact not until 1968 our town got a TV tower for the first time.
So as a child I missed watching TV, but in our small town we had been watching movies since 1897 two years just after the Lumiere brothers offered their first picture to the people of Paris, and in my childhood we possessed a whooping six movie theaters, or at least three of them running continually, since one did not have a roof and run at night only for obvious reasons, (but not a drive in) aptly named “Tropical” and two of them were out of action periodically, theaters would start selling tickets at 3:30PM, and punctually at 4:00PM the magic of turning off the lights and start rolling the first movie would begin, you could adjust your watch to it, possibly the only thing that would run on time in my town!
And we had at each theater three old movies on Monday, three different on Tuesday, and Wednesday, Three more on Thursday, and Friday to Sunday two new releases, if my math is correct we had at least from 33, to around 60 different pictures, you could choose to watch at any given week, not counting matinees who were meant for children, and that I did, watching on the mid sixties to the early early seventies, numerous films, being at the theater four, or five times a week! An evening without going to the theater was a bore, even on school days being out of school by five we could be at a theater to catch the second picture, and stay there if we wish to do so until the end of the last picture around midnight.
Growing Up Nurtured by Movies
Now I used to joke if it wasn’t for the big old theaters at home showing us so many movies, and a respite to our daily boredom, in a town where the only two things a young person could do was go to the beach during the mornings, and to the movies during the evenings, pretty much there was nothing else to do but to read a book, or go to a bar to drink!
I believe the movies saved many of us young people of becoming early alcoholics, sad to say but on those days there where bars everywhere, I remember a particular corner with a bar in all it’s three points, and the fourth point, the local beer brewery! Movies was an innocent healthy escape you could say, not to talk a respite to the heat as well, since few people could afford air condition, and above all, truly an education on cinema, a window to the world seen on celluloid, in a time when communication with the outside world meant to be able to travel. Going to the movies on the other hand, was relatively cheap, around 35, 0r 40 cents depending on the theater.
And what a first class cinema education I got, the rich fare we were served, through our theaters we saw every movie made around the globe, not only by Hollywood, but French, Italian, British, Swedish, German, Japanese, Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Argentinian, Brazilian, and anybody who could make a movie, somehow slowly but surely the heavy canisters of celluloid would reach our theaters, and were loaded into the big old projectors. In my opinion the golden age of cinema was reached on the late fifties, through most of the sixties, and had been a long slow decline since, to the point that long after I ceased to go to the theaters, in the early eighties, and renting them instead to watch at home, and finally cancelled my Netflix account quite a few years ago, now days I ever hardly watch a movie, and haven’t been to a theater in ages, by that I do not mean good movies are no longer made, they do, not just that often.
I saw Cinema Paradiso on video, some years after it was released in 1988, already somewhat disenchanted with the mass production of movies on a totally corporate business like, industrial line of production, not that old movies were not done that way, but wised up by age, disillusioned, with the so named seventh art, maybe too much of a cynic. One of the reasons for the success of Cinema Paradiso, no doubt was that Toto’s story it’s for many of us who grew up in a small town, our own story, people like me who left for good their small town, in an age where people abandoned their small towns to go to the big cities to study, or try their luck in search of work, and a better life somewhere else, and the local movie theater was the window that provided the necessary inspiration to look for bigger horizons.
And we share the same story with some variants no doubt, but pretty much on the same lines, leaving a young High school sweetheart behind, family, and friends, to face life in the big city, with farther, and farther in between visits to home, and family, and when back, the heartbreak from seeing the abandoned remains of the old movie houses, where we spend our childhood, for so many hours dreaming…
My Story, A Matinee, and Things to Come
Only twelve years of age on September 26 1965, a Sunday my elder brother and myself did what we used to do every Sunday morning, and that was to go to the matinee that started a 10:00AM. every Sunday, it matter little to us what movies were playing, as long we had not see them yet, we used to go along with three or more friends, little did matter also that the day was sort looking like rain was coming, in those days without satellites to track the weather they relied on weather balloons that would send up every day sketchy weather information, our mother hesitated a little before letting us go, since it looked like a storm was about to hit town, but we went anyway prevailing over our mother’s fears, we arrived to the old theater and there were two movies to watch, and that was all we cared, we took our seats in our favorite spot and saw the first movie without any incident worth talking, I can’t even recall what movie it was, but during the second movie an interesting old British prewar movie, about half into it, we start noticing that the old theater roof was having leaks of water here, and there, first slowly, but as the minutes went by, more and more water start leaking down on us, suddenly a ceiling panel with a loud noise ripped off the false ceiling, and a veritable waterfall equal to emptying a swimming pool on top of our heads come down the theater!
The movie being of interest to us took a second seat to the real show when every panel of the ceiling start being coming apart under the weight of the water accumulated, between the roof, and the false ceiling, we were exposed not only to get soaked wet, but in danger of a piece of ceiling hitting us, so we run for cover, not out of the theater as we should have done, but under the projection cabin, to protect us from the water, and the more dangerous debris from the roof, and just sat there to weather the storm and keep watching the movie, and the falling debris of the ceiling!
Incredible enough the movie kept playing and we didn’t abandon the protection under the cabin until every piece of the roof was gone, and the corrugated sheets of asbestos were totally torn off by the storm, and flew away one by one, like if they were sheets of paper, still wonder where they landed, they probably did great damage!
Water kept pouring and we decided we had enough, mainly because we couldn’t see the movie anymore, there was no roof anymore, and the place look like if it was a drive inn with seats, even if the projector kept running and the light of the day, and the rain made it difficult for us to keep seeing the action on the movie, just as we started to leave the theater finally the power gave out, no doubt an electricity pole falling down somewhere, or many!
Every employee of the theater had abandoned the theater, including the projectionist, in fact we were the last to leave the now totally wrecked theater, my surprise had no end, when we descended in to the lobby and saw the candy shop under water, and the popcorn floating around!
The theater was located in a low zone of the city, in terrain that very likely was a estuary, or a marsh, if not outright land gained from the ocean, that naturally flooded when a storm of the magnitude of Hurricane Hazel hit the city.
Luckily the employees of the theater, who obviously knew better, had deserted us for quite some time, but didn’t even lock up the theater, or turn the projector off. With water to our chest and waddling through a current of water holding ourselves cautiously from the iron works of the house’s windows along our way we reached narrow Constitution street where water was running with the force of a river rapid, and had a first hand knowledge at that moment as to the why the sidewalks on that street where that high! We solved the problem by walking back in the opposite direction from where the water was coming, and forded the current so we could come out successfully at the opposite sidewalk, crossing the street at an angle, now reflect how lucky we were of not been swept away by the strong current!
From there we reached high ground on Plaza Revolucion, right at that corner in the picture below, although the plaza didn’t look as nice as in the picture!
There was no a tree left standing, every heavy Indian Laurel fig laying on the ground, but to us was an adventure just crossing the park through the the jungle of fallen branches, by that time the storm had subsided, and we reached home all excited by such great adventure, in our young lives, of course mother had another view of the event, herself a victim of an earlier Hurricane adventure, my poor mother was scared out of her wits, and blaming herself for letting us go to the matinee, posted to the window through the storm in hope to see us come safe home that day, and later more terrorized by our account of the destruction of the theater, and the general mayhem at the town caused by the storm.
Later next day my father who was out of town arrived home, and we drove on his car avoiding all sort of obstacles, like downed trees, and big water holes, and cautiously made our way along the coast seeing the devastation of many places and kept driving until we reached a point called Sabalo, at the time way out of town, where the lonely figure of a local character, famous for his jolly occurrences, nicknamed Pacharo, who had recently acted on a minor role, a little above extra, working for scale on a non talking role, along Yul Brynner and George Chakiris on a forgetful movie named Kings of the Sun, filmed on location on the outskirts of our town, Pacharo who owned a palapa restaurant by the beach, and faced the storm all by himself, very little remained of his destroyed place, but he was so happy to see us, being the first people to be able to reach his place since the day before the storm, he recognized us and yelled my father’s name running toward us as soon he saw us, as we got out of the car to talk to him, in character with his recent movie exploits he exclaimed: I withstood the storm all alone; Like Attila frente a Roma! (Sign of the Pagan) thing that provoke all the members of our family to laugh, and remember through the years Pacharo’s ordeal.
Not My First One
It was not even my first Hurricane, I had a first seat from a window at home, as a witness of great mayhem occasioned by a Hurricane in 1958 or 1959? When I was only five or six years of age and our house’s windows faced another park, and saw every huge Indian Laurel tree in the park being lifted in to the air pulled by the roots like a carrot, and crash with an uproar, like thunder sound, just fifty feet from our house, meanwhile I watched my father and an elder cousin who where trying to rescue my mother who had the bad idea just before the Hurricane hit, to go and fetch up a bag of coffee at the grocery store for breakfast that day, mother spent most of the hurricane a block from home holding in to the iron bars of a window until my father and cousin could rescue her, and brought her back home safe, a home that no longer exist, and was located in front of the park on the upper right corner in relation to the park (middle) in the picture below.
Neither those Hurricanes were the last ones, been on six Hurricanes through my life, however non as exciting as the two first ones, for many years between our friends who participated on that faithful matinee in September, try to figure out what was the name of the movie we never finished, the main problem being because at that age we cared little to read the credits, all we wanted was for the credits to end soon, so we could start watching the movie, that and the fact we didn’t knew the original title in English, on those days the translators would change the original name and give it any name they saw fit, or they pleased, as an example the Sound of Music was translated as La Novicia Rebelde! (The Rebel Novice) go figure!
Well, after almost fifty years later could figure it was Things to Come (also known in promotional material as H. G. Wells’ Things to Come) is a 1936 British black-and-white science fiction film from United Artists, produced by Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and written by H. G. Wells. The film stars Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle, and Margaretta Scott.
Thanks to the Internet, and Youtube could solve the mystery, we went to a matinee to watch Things to Come, and what it come was a Hurricane!
Ironically in my town, the oldest of all the theaters, was the only one to survive, and after it’s almost total destruction by another Hurricane in 1975 was beautifully restored and you can appreciate it on the third picture, now the place for all kinds of cultural events.
I have wonderful memories of the great many movies I had watched through the years of my life, even if now days hardly watch a movie, tired of the direction movies in general have gone, some people mainly young ones, sometimes try to talk me into watching this movie, or that other one, rarely if I do, care too much about it, at least not as I did so many years ago, I guess I have changed, lost that sense of wonderment you carry as a young person, and look at things, and life with different eyes, I will not go to specifics, too well known by many, and in fairness there is a few movies made that are good, and enjoyable no doubt, but I am no more the same small child who looked in wonderment from my seat, in the cool darkness, and silence of the old theaters, with devotion like in a temple, to the magical reflection on the screen that opened new worlds of discovery to my young eyes, and imagination.