The first movie I saw in a movie theater was Sleeping Beauty. My grandmother Glading, no my Nonny Glading, took Mick and Ted and I to see it in late 1959 in a theater in suburban Philadephia. I was amazed. The witch was terrifying, the screen was huge and all of us could talk of nothing else for weeks.
We rarely went to movies when I was young after that. Not until the end of 2nd grade and on into my early youth did we routinely visit movie theaters. When we went to indoor theaters we usually went to one of two movie theaters in Gloucester County. The Wood Theater in Woodbury or The Pitman Theater in Pitman. Both were old vaudeville playhouses that had been converted to movie theaters. When I was under 17 we went primarily for Saturday matinees. A feature, a B movie, cartoons and a theater filled with screaming children, tossed popcorn, and enough sugar to power a small nation.
Birthday parties were the primary vehicle for these jaunts. Parents would gather a group of us together on the pretext of celebrating one of our birthdays and schlep us off to the movies where for three hours we'd be happily ensconced in the rich glow of cinema.
Our parents, when they took us to the movies, took us to the Drive In. South Jersey was the place where the drive in movie was invented. No shit. A drive in in Pennsauken NJ was the first drive in in all of the Americas. My father and mother's favorite was the Starlight Drive In. We could see the screens of the Starlight and other Drive In theaters as we rode home from my Nonnies house in Pennsylvania. We could imagine the dialogue and guess at the action and then we were by and the images were gone.
A drive in was a crazy experience. You paid by the car and by the number of people in the car. You'd drive in, pay your admission and proceed to a spot where a sound device was hung on a pole. This device was then moved from the pole to your driver or passenger side window so you could hear the movie. Drive in's were made for two groups of people. Young adults with cars and young parents with children.
My parents in the 60's were the latter group. We'd load up the family wagon, the Plymouth or the Chevy depending on the year, fill it with blankets and pillows and head to the Starlight. They'd be showing some great epic. Spartacus or D Day or whatever. We'd sit rapt for perhaps a half hour then fall asleep. My parents would have an hour of peace, we'd have a treat, and maybe they'd neck.
Teenagers only went to drive in's to make out. For further information on the uses of drive in's and the middle of the 20th century see any number of horror movies made at the time. Only bad things could come of this.
You got refreshments from a stand in the middle of the vast field of cars. Otherwise it was a movie theater with beds.
The movie I remember most was the Guns of Navarone which was released in 1961 so I know I'm cheating here but still.
I'm going to have my spleen removed on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I'll spend the three day weekend eating jello and bantering with women from South Jersey, some of whom may have visited the Starlight. Maybe their children were conceived in the Starlight. I'll lie in bed and watch bad television and read and think.
On the way home from my grandmothers we were always in a fugue like state. Half full of energy, nearly asleep. We lay with our heads on the car cushions and looked up to the stars. We'd pass a field with a huge screen filled with movies. The movie had no sound and was gone in minutes. It was the way you experience adults or nature when you're young. One moment you're transfixed, the next moment they're gone. My parents were young people with desire and needs. They worked hard raising us and making money. They came home and acted as they thought parents should. What did they do when we weren't around? What were their desires? What were their needs? They were young and beautiful and passionate and we cared nothing for that. We glimpsed their lives for just a second. A flash as the car passes a drive in movie screen.
Perhaps you remember a moment of anger or a hated chore. Perhaps your parents were monsters that lurched in and out of your life like Frankenstein or Barbara Stanwyk. Perhaps you cherish a few moments cuddled on a couch with a book open and the drowsy drone of your mothers voice. Images on a large screen on a hot summer night. The words unknowable. The context unreadable. All we have is that.