"They sure don't make movies like they used to."
Actually it's true. For those of us who go back more than a few years, the moviegoing experience is radically different from what it used to be – say around 1950 or so.
Let's take a trip to the old days at the local movie house. Back then, most people attended neighborhood theaters, with a single screen. But those neighborhood theaters showed four or five different films a week, with a separate one on Saturday afternoon for the kids.
See how many of these movie-related terms you recognize, before you read the definitions.
Newsreel: In the days before TV most people could see the president waving to crowds or a college quarterback throwing a pass only in the theater. So for perhaps seven or eight minutes Fox News or Movietone News would give you a quick summary of the events of the past week, with voiceover by a dramatic narrator.
Travelogue: I never met anyone who actually enjoyed a 10-minute epic on life in Fiji, but for reasons which still escape me, travelogues were tacked onto feature films for generations. Actually, they were just long enough for you to run out and get more candy and popcorn, which was probably the real reason they existed.
Second feature: If the main movie was less than 90 minutes, or it was Saturday afternoon and the parents wanted the kids away from home for as long as possible, there would be an hour-long movie preceding the main one. More often than not it was a "horse opera" starring Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, Gene Autry, Monte Hale, the Durango Kid or other actors in buckskin and 10-gallon hats.
Comedy short: I loved the Bowery Boys, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy and other comic titans. Sometimes these fillers were so long that they stood as the second feature. Great stuff! I wish they'd bring them back. I think the Stooges' films ought to be preserved in museums for future generations.
Race reel: Upon entering the theater you'd be given a ticket with a number on it. Then a film would show a bunch of guys racing while having goofy spills and adventures along the way. If the racer with your number won, you could go up to the concession stand and get a free popcorn.
Singalong: While an old standard like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" would play, a white ball would bounce across the screen from one syllable of each word to another, keeping the (presumably singing) audience in time with the music.
Serial: This was a multi-part story in which each episode ended with the hero in dire straits, and you had to come back next week to see how he got out of it.
The differences didn't stop there. Decades ago theaters held events to build up trade. Sometimes a star whose movie was due in a few weeks would make a personal appearance on stage. As a holdover from the old vaudeville days, some theaters would package a movie with a stage show – perhaps a magician or a singing group. Bank night was a surreptitious form of gambling in which audience members could win prizes. Dish night? A patron could build up a set of dinnerware at discount prices by seeing enough movies.
Do I long for those days? Not really, except for one type of film. Here's a hint.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.