So this weekend past I went to the cinema for the first time in eight months.
The last time I went to the movies was on Sunday, April 15. My wife was heavily pregnant at the time and about five days past her due date.
We went to the Nova on Lygon Street in Carlton and saw an exceptionally good French movie called “Le Havre” about an African refugee who is taken in by an old shoe-shine man, who helps him escape across the English channel.
In the cinema my wife started having light labour pains and a couple of days later – in the early hours of a Wednesday morning – Edith (Edie) was born.
She turned eight months old on Tuesday.
Fittingly, I broke my cinematic drought with another movie at the Nova.
I went to see “The Master” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, set just after the second world war and about a ex-navy man drifter called Freddy Quell (Phoenix) who falls under the spell of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), an incarnation of Church of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. The film, directed by the much revered PT Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights) is intense and interesting, brilliantly acted, but kind of leaves you wondering what the point was in the end. If you liked PT Anderson’s other agonising effort “There Will Be Blood” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a brutal turn-of-the-century oil prospector, you will love “The Master”.
Still, it was something of an experience undertaking the ritual of going to the movies for the first time in so long.
Coke and popcorn purchased, I wandered into the cinema and found a seat. It was a small cinema – for some reason I had been given one of the double “love seats – and I stretched out, munching on my popcorn and sucking the fizzy ‘solo’ through a straw.
The cinema darkened, and just before the film began, a couple walked in and the guy next to me began tapping away on his iPhone. Clearly he was ignoring the message that had just flashed on the screen: “Please turn off your phone?”
I whispered in his ear: “Can you turn your phone off?”
His reply: “It’s on silent.”
No shit, douche bag!
“Can you turn it off? The screen is bothering me.”
“OK, OK,” he muttered, as he slid the phone into his pocket.
Of course I spent the first 10 minutes of the movie, wondering when next he was going to pull it out again and start tapping away. Thankfully, he never did, though I got the feeling he resented the crunchy sound I made as I munched my way through my jumbo-sized popcorn.
I kept munching anyway.
And half way through the movie, I stopped watching and looked around at all the people staring up, mesmerised by the screen. Have you ever done that? It’s like watching people who have been hypnotised.
Since then, I’ve been reflecting on childhood memories of movie going.
One of my first memories of the cinema, was going to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I remember it was somewhere in town (Johannesburg) and must have been the late 1970s – I would have been six or so.
It terrified me. I have memories of the strawman being set on fire (this I’ve checked does happen in the movie) and the tin man being stuck inside a giant sandwich-maker – but maybe I imagined that bit, because I can’t find any reference to it – I’ll have to watch the film again.
My best friend growing up was Jonathan. We were friends since babies and lived on the same street in Germiston – a city about 20 minutes from Johannesburg and site of the world’s biggest gold refinery (and not much else).
The 20th Century Cinema in Germiston
After synagogue on a Saturday, we used to walk into town and like good jewish boys, go to the movies. It was a large imposing building on Main Street, now I believe knocked down, called the 20th Century Cinema, with an art-deco sign and built in 1939. It had an old-fashioned ticket booth at the entrance and an imposing, cavernous lobby. The cinema could hold over 1,400 people (though it was never full when we went) with an upstairs section and a space for an orchestra to play in the pit in front of the screen. There was always a Bugs Bunny cartoon before the film started.
They don’t make cinemas like that anymore – at least not in the Western world.
The art deco Eros in Mumbai
In India we saw a movie in an enormous art-deco cinema called the Eros in Mumbai, where people got up to dance alongside the characters on screen, mobile phones rang, the ticket cost a few dollars and popcorn about 50 cents. Ironically it was a musical about Indians who move to Melbourne and then find themselves being racially abused along with songs and dancing and bad Australian accents.
But back to Germiston and the 20th Century cinema. I recall the great excitement Jonathan and I experienced going to see our first movie on our own.
It was ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, which came out in 1984 when we would have been 11.
I distinctly remember being terrified at the scenes where the evil sorcerer tears out the heart of his victims amidst the chanting and the lava, and of course the banquet with its monkey brain soup and enormous snake, which is cut open and all the baby snakes slither out.
What I also remember through the haze of time was the Ster Kinekor movie club, where you joined, got a special card and paid only one rand a movie. That would have been about 50 Australian cents in those days.
One rand for a movie. One large silver coin for two hours of escape, excitement and adventure.
My other distinct movie-going memory is heading into town (the centre of Jo’burg) when we were teenagers with Jonathan’s mom and some other friends and going to the cinema, while she went to work. It was very quiet (must have been the school holidays) and we’d buy one movie ticket and as the cinemas were all upstairs, we’d watch one movie and then sneak into another cinema and watch another movie for free and sometimes one more. We thought we were pretty rebellious!
Apart from those early memories, I confess (with much embarrassment) that I recall crying bitterly in my seat when I went to watch E.T. at the Bedfordview Nu-Metro in 1982. I would have been nine years-old. I think it was when they had found E.T. and had him in the quarantined zone and everyone was walking around in plastic suits.
So what did it cost me to go the cinema this weekend?
One admission to The Master at Cinema Nova, Lygon Street: $18
Coke and popcorn combo: $10.50
Hamburger at Gr’lled for dinner: $12
One Corona: $7
Total cost (excluding petrol, toll road): $54.10
Or around 481 Rand at current exchange rate – that would have bought a lot of movies back when I was a kid!