Berkeley, Calif. is THE place to go to the movies. We lived there at the university briefly in the late 1980’s. The movie theaters are palatial, with bas relief all over the place, decorative light fixtures, velvety stage curtains and plush seats. Ushers in uniforms with gold brocade cords wear white gloves and little round hats like the little guy who used to call for Phillip Morris.
Some of the movies I saw there were Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF, the first full length Batman, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and several arty films that did not enjoy national distribution. (UHF was the first time I had ever seen Michael Richards, a.k.a. Cosmo Kramer, perform. He played the part of a janitor who got promoted to children’s television game show host. I was not surprised when I later learned that Red Skelton was his idol). My work that summer also concerned films, ethnographic documentaries, facilitated by prize-winning filmmaker Andre Simic (Conviviality: Medicine for the Heart). Among other things, I learned from Andre that films appeal to the same part of our mental makeup as our dreams. Perhaps that is why it takes us awhile to come back to the real world after watching an engaging movie.
I don’t think I considered attendance at a movie as an escape when I was growing up, though. Going to the movies was just an activity that did not cost too much and the snacks were good. However, in retrospect, I see that going to a movie was an escape indeed. Even though the Rialto in my town was not as fancy as those strikingly elaborate theaters in Berkeley, they were quite Baroque, plush and cool. Some of the memorable movies from my youth were The Yearling, Ma and Pa Kettle, The Big Country, Pickup on South Street, Battleground and No Time for Sergeants. (The book of the latter was funnier than the movie, especially when the bumpkin hero goes into oxygen deprivation and says nonsense like, “Put, put, put, Blue.” I have always loved quirky humor more than the kind that makes logical sense.). Leaving these air conditioned movies on a hot August afternoon took a lot of adjustment, both physical and mental. My cousin had a term for the moment you reenter the real world, sometimes as long as 10 to 15 minutes after leaving the theater. He called it “snapping.”
I am glad I have the capacity to snap. It is when people do not have it that they get into trouble. An altered sense of reality can mess us up. We should strive to live a snapped life. Interestingly, when I finish a good book, I do not need to snap. Oh, I think back on the characters, plot and dialogue, but I suppose I do not enter into the book on the level of dreams.
So, I have learned that the cinema is a deeply consequential kind of art. I am resolved to work to lead a snapped life and depend more on my imagination than on digital manipulation of my brain’s synapses.