Watching Movies in the 70s

Fiction by | May 5, 2019

I’m a Gen Xer and I love movies.

It saddens a movie freak like me that the movie house of my youth, Timber City Cinema in Tandag City, has gone kaput and become display center for all things China.

In mid-90s, during the dying years of Timber City Cinema, watching movies meant sweating bullets from heat; inhaling cigarette smoke; resting one’s feet on the seat to avoid contact with rats the size of cats; and evading raindrops falling from the holey roof.

During heavy rains, a puddle would form on the orchestra floor, between the screen and the first row. And from the balcony I would watch the movie on that pool of water because images were less blurry.

In the 70s, movie houses were enclosed by foldable gate grills. Behind the grills and encased in glass cabinets were movie posters under the “Next” and “Coming Soon” labels. And outside of the grills, tacked on both sides of a plywood panel were still pictures under the “Now Showing” label.

As we waited for the movie house to open at 1 o’clock, we would entertain ourselves by gawking at these posters and photos.

Vendors on makeshift stalls crowded the margins of the theater, bombarding my eyes with colorful vision of sliced mango and pineapple, ice-cold drinks, etc. Smokes swirled and wafted the air with smells of melted butter, grilled and fried bananas, popcorns, and peanuts. All these would take a strong resolve on my part to hold on to my extra money—which my parents intended actually for my snacks—because I had decided to use it instead to buy Hiwaga Komiks that I would read at home.

And when the movie ended, I would linger at the lobby to see if every single still picture was shown in the movie. And I’d feel shortchanged if there were some that weren’t. I was young then and so how was I to know that still pictures were taken long before the film went for final editing and those scenes didn’t make it to the final cut?

Watching movies back then needed undivided attention. A little distraction would mean missing a scene or a dialogue. And if that happened, I had to “review” the movie, which meant another three hours of sitting inside a dark and dank room because movies during that time were always shown on a “double program.” And so it became a choice between watching the movie all over again and missing the 5-o’clock last trip home. The latter would mean braving a 7-kilometer walk with nothing but faith in my heart.

Ahhh, but the best movie time for me was in the early 70s when Tandag didn’t have theaters yet and movies were shown courtesy of a “panel” or delivery truck of a popular milk product like Darigold.

Waiting for the Darigold panel was like waiting for Christ’s second coming: We didn’t know when, but we sure knew it would happen. And when the panel finally arrived, mostly during Friday afternoons, we’d be so happy it actually felt like Christ had returned.

As the Darigold panel went around town to announce that a movie would be shown at the town plaza in the evening, we would be restless inside our classroom because we couldn’t wait to go out and tail on foot like a procession the Darigold panel.

Chaos and frenzy would seize every home in our town of Tago in Surigao del Sur. And at 5 o’clock people would begin to carry either a stool or a bench to the town plaza. And there, at the rotunda, perched on the roof of a Darigold panel was a screen a bit smaller than that of today’s LCD, showing Fernando Poe Jr. punching the plump nose of Max Alvarado; Jess Lapid pumping lead into the lungs of Eddie Garcia; and Zaldy Zhornack giving Paquito Diaz an upper cut.

And as these notorious villains of the silver screen puked blood and breathed their last, we would cheer and clap our hands until they turned red and sore.
For the whole week that followed, me and my friends would talk about the movie as though one of us hadn’t watched it.

My love affair with the cinema continues up to this day. But I wonder when will I ever get the hang of watching movies in the confines of my home or my room. Netflix and Torrent may have made movie viewing convenient, economical, and practical; but the concept of home theater doesn’t appeal to me. That’s why I make sure to watch movies every time I’m in the city because there’s nothing like watching movies the old fashioned way even if the movie house has become less dark inside than it used to.

But make no mistake. Given a choice, I’d rather watch movies under a “sequined sky.” You know, just like in the early 70s.

Romel Oribe spent four years balancing debits and credits at USC, Cebu City. Presently I work in a government agency that services mSMEs. He lives in that part of Surigao del Sur where crab is a delicacy and not a mentality; where waterfalls are spaced within a kilometer or two from each other.

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