Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

What Was Lost: Netflix vs. Rubber Snakes & Dress Slacks

with 2 comments

RKO Albee, Downtown Cincinnati, from vintage postcardMorning coffee with my dad, we’re discussing all the lost businesses, factories and other establishments in our hometown of Reading, Ohio (the conversation is prompted by the fact that my great aunt just gave me the key to the city’s historical society building, and, boy!, am I psyched). He starts talking about the movie theater on the main street of our town that he used to frequent as a kid. All the little cities and towns surrounding Reading (itself one of the nearer suburbs of Cincinnati) had their own movie theaters, he said, and you only went to the neighboring town’s theater if you’d already seen what was playing at yours—a rare occurrence, because even though they only showed one or two pictures each, they switched frequently. He remembered all these great and silly special effects and theatricality, the kind of old-matinee lore—rubber snakes on the ground, or plastic spiders dropping from the ceiling, during horror flix; one movie with a “shocking twist” ending, for which kids were made to sign a waver upon entering that they wouldn’t tell anyone the surprise. There was another theater they sometime went to, and it was a little bit in decline already—the owners had closed down the concession stand and replaced it with vending machines. This was perfectly all right by my dad and his friends, however, who thought the soda machine—which dispensed not cans but little styrofoam cups that soda was then leaked into, like the automatic coffee machines you sometimes see today—was a marvel in and of itself, a sign of the future.

Later, when he started dating my mom (he was 17, she was 15, which would make this 1972), they would sometimes go to the big, old movie palaces in downtown Cincinnati—this was where you took a date, instead of one of the neighborhood theaters, if you wanted to impress her, he explained. In just a year or so, cultural norms would start to change, but that year, you would still put on a dress shirt, a tie, some slacks, to see an evening show.

I listen to these stories jealously. For movie going to be an event! For the awe, the clothes, the red velvet, the smoke! For the community nature of theaters, before they all became National Amusements, or Showcase Cinemas, or Loew’s. For the names—the Emory, the 20th Century, the Gaiety the RKO Albee, the Vogue—of the theaters themselves.

And then I think about Netflix. And how I can get 3 movies at a time, unlimited times, for under $20 per month. How I can find almost any movie I want—foreign films, indie films, those made 20, 40, 60 years ago. That I can have these movies delivered directly to my house, that I can watch them in my own home, or really anywhere, from my laptop, that I can send one back and a new one will arrive in a day or so. Would I trade all this for plastic spiders falling from the ceiling?

It’s easy to romanticize some things. “Oh, it was corny,” my dad says of those matinee theaters of his youth, but he gets kind of animated when he talks about them, nonetheless.

I’m sure, given the choice, most people would take the choice and convenience of services like Netflix (or of online movies, or of DVDs) over the spectacle of movie-viewing past. I think I would, too. But it’s still hard not to feel a little regret about what’s been lost. If I could somehow collectively erase our knowledge of how we watch films now while simultaneously bringing those days back: I would.

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Written by Elizabeth

August 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Story-Telling on August 16, 2009 at 6:11 pm Other things that have been lost: We used to not only have a movie theater, but ever other damn thing a town could need. So did Lockland, next door, and really all the […]

  2. Yay! A Reading post!

    Don’t forget about the Watch Instantly option! Insane!

    Yes, every sentence of this comment needs to end in exclamation!

    Johnny

    August 18, 2009 at 6:42 am


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