Going to the Movies
Written by Gail Walter
I remember going into town to watch Love Story when it first came out. My best friend and I were fourteen-years-old. It was my first introduction to that powerful combination of love and mortality. It was the saddest movie I had ever seen.
My mom and dad collected us after the movie in their cream colored Citroen with the fancy suspension. As soon as the car drew to a halt in front of us we clambered in. My mom and dad turned to ask us how the movie was. We couldn’t say a word. Both of us put our heads down on our knees and sobbed all the way home. We were devastated, heartbroken. Life would never be the same!
Cinema was a powerful thing in the Seventies. Television was nowhere near the quality that it is today so there was no question that the picture you got in the cinema was going to be far superior to the one you got at home.
Watching a film on video didn’t happen for most of us until much later. Home movies were atmospheric but antiquated projector affairs. There was a long delay between the release of a film on the main circuit and its much later appearance on the home movie circuit. All of this meant that going to the movies was still very popular in the Seventies.
This meant that more money was pumped into this entertainment event than there is today. In the seventies cinemas were respectable places of entertainment. Dating happened here. Going to the cinema was an occasion. You dressed up for it and thought about what you were going to eat while you watched the movie. The concession stands were exciting destinations compared to the casual affairs they are today.
The seventies was also a benchmark decade for cinema with filmmakers taking greater risks and restrictions in language and sexuality opening up.
Friday and Saturday nights as well as Saturday matinees were still the most popular times to see movies. If the movie was any good queues of people would routinely line up outside on weekend nights. There was a festive air and everyone was fresh and just a little excited about seeing this larger than life slice of life.
In the summer of 1972 I was a fourteen-year-old about to see my first real music concert on the silver screen. It was a 10am show. Two hours later I emerged transformed. I said goodbye to my friends and re-entered the theatre. I watched The Concert for Bangladesh three times that day and was only able to finally leave when I promised myself I’d be back as soon as I had enough money saved for another ticket.
Concert for Bangladesh was the first movie of its kind. It was musicians turning moral responsibility into music or vice versa. George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and many others gathered together at a benefit concert at Madison Square Gardens. The rest of us saw the concert thousands of miles of ocean away, but the effect rippled throughout the world and gave birth to a trend of benefit concerts like Band Aid, Live Aid and Farm Aid.
Previously music had barely played a role in movies but the Seventies changed that. Saturday Night Fever took the Western world by storm grossing enormous amounts of cash as people came in their thousands to catch the fever. Dancing was never the same again. There was the era before John Travolta sashayed across the dance floor and the one after. Grease followed and no party was complete without at least one run through of both of these dynamite soundtracks.
The Seventies saw some cutting edge stuff too. Directors vied with one another to bring us material that took our breath away and made us sit up straight and pay attention. The Godfather forever put us off getting into bed for fear of finding a horse’s head, Clockwork Orange portrayed menacing like menacing had never before been portrayed. Few people could hum Singing in the Rain without getting a chill up their spines.
Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight introduced a new breed of cowboy with a cool hippie desperado that eclipsed previous models.
And then there was the string of disaster movies that were birthed in the Seventies allowing us all to vicariously experience all kinds of horrors. The Poseidon Adventure gave us the opportunity to join a cast of charismatic characters as they pitched themselves against the treacherous power of the ocean. Airport gave us airborne disaster and the Towering Inferno placed us in a fiery highrise alongside equal numbers of cowards and heroes.
Jaws made some of us afraid to flush the chain in the loo in case we should be surprised by a vicious Great White. The soundtrack alone was enough to evoke primitive fears in anyone who would otherwise have been heading down to the beach.
These were just some of the cinematic offerings that marked our “wonder years”. Our own children might laugh at aspects of Seventies dress and interior dÈcor but it certainly wasn’t a slouch in the cinematic department. We had our share of erudite offerings and just some good ol’ entertainment…