By Charles Chandler
Editors note: Longtime freelance writer, popular N3 contributor, avid angler, and White Cloud advocate Charles Chandler is an admitted aficionado of the cinema. With the Academy Award nominees announced and Oscar’s Night arriving March 4th we have enlisted his assistance in presenting some thoughts on a few of the candidates.
Prior to beginning this process we asked Mr. C. to deliver a little background on how his relationship to film developed.
I love good movies and all the things associated with movies. At this time of the year we usually have a great selection of films each vying for the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and the Academy Awards. I especially like going to the movie theater in the cold dark winter, munching insanely expensive popcorn, junior mints, slurping soft drinks and sitting in those giant comfortable recliner seats. If you get one of those and don’t like the movie or are of that certain age you can always take a nap, as long as you don’t snore.
In one of my former lives going to movies was a life saving adventure. In that life all the country folk went to town on Saturday to pay bills, run errands, shop and socialize with friends and family. All these things were hard to do while wrangling packs of feral kids, especially squirming, smelly little boys.
We little country bumpkins could not be turned loose because at that time there were so many ways we could get in trouble, the list included but not limited to not paying attention to the traffic lights and wandering mindlessly into the streets to be run down by cars and log truck, hanging out in Ben Franklin Five and Dime pilfering the toys bins until the poor manager came down from his secret hiding place and ran you out, trying to sneak into the pool hall, strolling over on Tuff street dodging tobacco spit while trying to hear a new swear words and most dangerous of all going into the public bathroom in the basement of the Courthouse.
This place was off limits and if ever found there you would be punished by everyone in your immediate and extended family and brought before the Baptist Preacher and the full Deacon Board. I feared that Deacon Board because my Grandfather Lewis was on the Board. According to my saintly Mother, Grandmother and an assorted aunts, the reason this basement bathroom was so dangerous was because it was where the perverts and kidnappers hung out. If caught there you could be captured and sold to the Gypsies that occasionally came through the countryside.
Once on a dare from my double third cousin Dennis Durwood Jones, I asked my Mom how you could identify a pervert or body snatcher. She said they usually wore dark shades to hide their evil eyes and had small faded tattoos on their forearms. If Mom were here today she certainly would have to rethink that definition.
Of course going to this fearsome place was a rite of passage for all the boys. We knew and passed on to each successive pack the secret passageway into this chamber of horrors. You waited on the Courthouse steps until no one that you knew was watching and then you casually walked up the stairs into the Courthouse, past the Judge’s Chamber, past the scary courtroom and through the door marked bathroom, down the two flights of stairs and into the dreaded bathroom. Once there you would run across the black and white tile floor scanning the urinals for perverts wearing dark glasses and out the lower level door and up the stairs into the sunlight on the Courthouse Square.
This activity soon lost its excitement because the only folks we usually saw were the old timers that belonged to the spit and whittle club occupying the shady benches on the Square. Occasional one would turn from the urinal and grumble out, you kids better get out of here you know you’re not supposed to be down here, if your Mom catches you it’s a whipping for sure.
Usually around 10:30 all the torture of having to stay with you parents ended as we were handed the sacred half dollar. Once in hand we fled like lemmings to the sea into the Venus Theater for the Saturday Matinee. Normally on family nights you would have to drag us to the theater because in those days the Venus like many other movie theaters had as many rules as a Marine Boot camp and a staff to enforce them. During the week matinees or evening movies the dreaded ushers with their military grade flashlights patrolled the isles like wraiths listening for a tell tell whisper, or popcorn munching that was audible only to their bat ears, or heaven help you if you put your feet on the back of the seat in front of you.
But for the Saturday Matinee all bets were off and the kids ruled. There was some order to the melee, the older kids especially those trying to develop some sort of relationship with the opposite sex, and the inmates in training, would sit in the darkened balcony. The rest of us would hunker down in the seats on the main floor. We called these the trenches and we always sat with our pack usually based on geography or family clan. No one sat in the four rows under the fall line of the balcony because there was a study rain of popcorn, candy wrappers, half chewed tootsie rolls and whatever that could be dropped or thrown overboard. On Saturdays the Venus was a magical place, it was dark, without adult supervision, the air-conditioning let us escape the swampy summer heat and those newsreels gave us a view of a larger world. Those Z grade movies helped us escape from all the rest for a few wonderful hours. The matinee programming usually consisted of a short, a cartoon, the news reel and most often two movies, one a B grade and a Z. They had to be action films as we had the attention span of a flea, usually shoot em ups with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or something really scary like the Creature From the Black Lagoon, none of that mushy romantic stuff and never a musical. Those were for family nights or the strange adults. We went into the Venus at 11:00 AM and usually came pouring out blinking like little bats around 3:00 PM. We then would start searching for our parents and once found begin whining to be taken home or back to Ben Franklin’s to buy some lame toy that we had spotted early in the morning. These Saturday Movie Matinees helped developed a lasting love for movies great and small.
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