Of Movies, Magic, and Mountain Dew

I loved the movies when I was a kid. As an adult, I realize the movie industry loves me. I'm Hollywood's favorite kind of customer. I can just as easily plop down $8.50 for Armageddon as I can for American Beauty. And the $5 box of artery-clogging popcorn? I have to have it.

How did it come to this? It all started when I was a kid watching poorly dubbed screenings of Pippi Longstocking movies in my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. A summer matinee at the Malco Tri-Cinema offered an air-conditioned break from the gauzy humidity of Arkansas in August. Chilly Dilly Pickles - twice the size of a bratwurst - were a must. Mountain Dew was my beverage of choice, and a box of Milk Duds or Sweet Tarts provided an ample dose of sugar to complement the caffeine. There was usually enough spilled soda on the theater floor to make my Keds feel like they had suction cups. But I didn't care. It was magic.

As a teenager, I graduated to "mature" fare like Grease and Xanadu. My sister Shearon, who is six years older, sometimes accompanied me to movies in those years. To me, she was a trend setter. When I saw her order a Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew became a thing of the past. Shearon would drop subtle hints to let me know that movies like Xanadu weren't cool, but she couldn't quash my enthusiasm. I still bought the soundtrack, and now I own the video.

Jonesboro's Malco Tri-Cinema is now the Malco Cinema Fourteen, and Xanadu has not exactly aged well. Shearon has three kids and doesn't get to the movies much anymore. And me? Adulthood and the demands of having a job and owning a home have certainly cut into my movie-watching time, but I still consider it one of life's simple pleasures. When I'm on a roll, I can see two movies in one day, sometimes four in a week.

The problem is keeping it simple in an age when movies aren't just about escaping for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. The film industry is an economic engine with far-reaching social implications. The weekly box-office tallies reveal how much cash movie junkies like me have shelled out, and the media cover the business of Hollywood with an intensity approaching the latest political scandal. A less than stellar opening weekend means a film can get bounced before I even have a chance to see it. Meanwhile, moviegoers complain about skyrocketing ticket prices but keep on buying.

Movies are also a lightning rod for controversy, which often boosts attendance and profits. I'm outraged at parents who monitor the sexual content of movies their children view yet impose no limits on their kids' exposure to on-screen violence. And films that aren't being banned, boycotted, or at least criticized by one group or another are increasingly rare.

Given that I've always been a bystander who has never aspired to move to L.A. and launch a career in "the industry," I guess I shouldn't complain about what's put before me or how other people react to it. And I'm violating my own rule; I'm not keeping it simple.

Movies are many things to me. They can be thought-provoking. They can educate. In rare instances, they can become art. But they are fundamentally just entertainment. Perhaps that's why I'm sometimes annoyed by those who seek to distinguish "films" from "movies."

There's really no distinction for me. I embrace the entire moviegoing experience. I like to see the previews. I stay for the credits. Only movies in the theater count. Video isn't the same. Talking during a film is one of life's greatest breaches of etiquette. Film reviews that give away the plot are almost as bad. Even when a movie is mediocre, I take heart that I can revel in the glimmer of anticipation before the show begins.

Hollywood's star will never shine as brightly as it did at the Malco, but there are still those moments when the magic comes alive for me, and for just a fleeting moment I can suspend disbelief , forget where I am, and lose myself in a movie. Now that's entertainment!

--Shawn Presley

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