Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nostalgia is a Hell of a Drug.

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and realize these subtitles stopped being funny several entries ago, but if I stop now I'm totally a quitter.

Yesterday I drove out to my dad's to take him a burger and spend a little quality time in his central air, which as it turned out he had not even considered activating.  It was 92 degrees at 10:30 am yesterday, and despite my unadulterated loathing of summers in Ohio, I was feeling restless.  As I exited Springfield on my way to South Vienna I realized it was Memorial Day weekend - and that meant the Melody Drive In was celebrating its opening weekend, which sent me into nostalgia overdrive.  So I decided that the only way to spend such a grotesque day was to drive around, blaring Skid Row's first album*, and take a tour of the only places that shaped me growing up in that uneventful place: Springfield's movie theaters.

The Melody's sign still lights up in the most beautiful rainbow neon, a beacon among cornfields and Highway Patrol offices, singing "yes, we are open!  You can bring your entire family to see TWO movies!"  Most of the speaker poles hang empty these days, as you tune your car radio to an AM station for audio, but for the most part the Melody's facade (and pre-movie concession stand cartoon) remains untouched by progress.  And I mean that as the highest compliment.  While I may shudder to think what happens in parked cars at the Drive In these days, I cancel that out by remembering all the milestones that happened in our 1974 Chevelle.  Seeing "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" during such a severe thunderstorm that the screen was erased from view for a time.  Crying so very hard during "The Fox and the Hound" that my father threatened to take me home (for the record, I still cry that hard during that damn movie).  I know I saw my first 3-D movie here, but it is killing me that I can't remember what it was.  When I was a child, The Showboat, another Drive In, was directly across the street.  It's an empty field now, but I will always remember my aunties taking me to see a film, then telling me to go to sleep in the back seat while they stayed for "Top Gun."  I laid in the backseat and watched the entire movie reflected in the rear window.

When we weren't at the Drive In, my mother was taking me to one of three other theaters.  The State and The Regent, beautiful downtown theaters that were built at the turn of the century, had been old Vaudeville theaters.  A friend of mine was a manager for Chakers' Entertainment and he said that the wings were still full of old costumes and props from the antique productions.  

It was here, at The State, that I braved "The Dark Crystal," but years later I told my mother my tummy hurt so I could sit on her lap during "Gremlins" because I was secretly horrified.

I held hands with a boy for the first time at The Regent.  He totally played guitar, you guys.  The movie?  "The Last Boy Scout," which was incidentally probably the last movie I saw at this theater, as it closed in 1991 and has been rotting since.  The State closed for a while in 1990, but has since been utilized for local productions and silent film screenings.  I look back and realize how lucky I am to have been in such opulent theaters.  Can you imagine seeing "The Dark Crystal" in a theater with burgandy velvet curtains, chandeliers, red velvet seats, and 70 year old murals painted on the walls?  It was a gift, and I am grateful.

In 1991, Mr. Chakers opened Springfield's first "good" movie theater.  One of the first movies shown was "Cry Baby," which if you know anything about Springfield is HILARIOUS.  I saw Gary Oldman on the big screen for the first time ("Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula"), saw people get up and leave in the middle of a movie for the first time ("Natural Born Killers").  And even though in hindsight I knew I'd experienced it before, it was here I became aware of how a movie could move you ("Schindler's List," "The Piano").  I still get chills during "The Lion King" when I remember my mother grabbing my hand as the title slammed on that screen.  We looked at each other and knew we were about to see something amazing.   My friend Mercedes died in a car accident over a decade ago, but I will always remember the time we were the only two in attendance at a showing of "Howard's End."  Cede threw a Skittle at Helena Bonham Carter, but I don't remember why.

     Forgive me for upsetting the chronology, but I had to save the best for last.

It's called "Chakers Cinema 5" now, but back in the day it was simply "The Mall."  Located in the front of sad little Upper Valley Mall and eternally smelling a little bit like diapers, it's one of the most important buildings in my life.  My mother wept during "ET," cackled with laughter during "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and closed her eyes and sighed when Michael Keaton dropped an f-bomb in "Beetlejuice."  History came full circle when my father cried during "Dances with Wolves," which is also historical as it's the only time my father and I were in a movie theater together.  I saw "Wayne's World" five times one summer, because there was literally nothing else to do in Springfield.  "The Goonies," "Back to the Future," and of course, that first damning nail in my social aptitude's coffin . . . "Return of the Jedi" - it all happened here.  I had to grin yesterday as I looked at the "Dark Shadows" and "Avengers" posters in the windows.  Sixteen year old me would have shit her pants over Tim Burton and Johnny Depp making a Dark Shadows movie AND Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man.  As it stands, 35 year old me only shit her pants over one of those things.  There was nothing I enjoyed more in my youth than walking through those doors you see in that picture.  Nothing.

There are so many important theaters in my life.  The Neon in Dayton, which gets me through every Oscar season and housed me through the credits when I couldn't stop crying after "The Savages."  The AMC on Olentangy in Columbus, where I held hands and shared tissues with a complete stranger because we were both crying so hard during "Titanic."  The Beavercreek Regal, where I saw "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2" at midnight.  Studio 35 in Columbus, where you could drink beer, eat pizza, and smoke cigarettes while watching your movies, four things that were wildly important to 21 year old me.  

Friends and neighbors, I love movies.  And it pains me how much I love going to the movies, as the majority of United States citizens don't know how to behave in public and the event of going to a cinema can be considerably less enjoyable as a result.  But I still love it.  The dimming of the lights, the green screen announcing the trailers, and lately the gigantic slushies to which I have become oddly partial.  All of it gives me goosebumps every single time.  So I guess the moral of the blog is . . . something I never in a million years thought I would say: Thank you, Springfield.  Thank you for giving me this appreciation and all those amazing experiences.  I can't imagine what my life would be without them.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see MiBIII.

*Super Fun Sidebar:  As I drove around the decrepit downtown listening to Skid Row, I passed a local guitar legend standing at an ATM.  It was the very same man who taught me to play all those songs 20 years ago.  


  1. Fantastic post!! I loved it and I'm the same way about nostalgia for theatres most of the ones I remembered are gone...the one I went to on my first date in highschool with my wife...the one I saw Batman in. Luckily I also have (two!) drive-ins locally that are still open (saw Aardman's "Pirates" with "Avengers" at one of them a couple weeks ago.
    Again, great read!

    1. When I retire, my gift to myself is going to be driving around the country one summer visiting Drive Ins. I hope there are some left in 30 years! That's so sweet - your first date with your wife! I love sharing movie theater memories.

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  3. Great post! Glad to see someone enjoying the classic movie theater experience. But really, The Piano? YUCK. Otherwise excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to write about your childhood theaters and for taking some excellent photos!

    1. The Piano is worth it for the score alone! :) Don't hate me - I even went to see Michael Nyman in concert when I was in college. And thank YOU for reading!

  4. I too loved those lavish theaters of yesteryear with their impressive and beautiful curtains and such. The Dabel in Dayton is my nostalgic memory theater... such a great place it was.

    Maybe your dad cried everytime he went to the theater and he didn't want you to see him do it every time. Can you imagine having to sit by his side as he weeped during five showings of Wayne's World? He was doing you a favor.

    Great photos and perhaps my favorite of your posts so far!

  5. Thank you, Kat . You helped me remember the part of my life that seems so long ago . I loved going with our moms to the movies . It was the years of Saturday night card games at my parents house and you and I building forts on the couch watching Saturday Night Live . I miss your mom and dad so much, once we lost your mom it was like that chapter of our lives were over . Our parents lives went in different directions and so did ours . I miss you Kat you were always like my sister and I will always love you .