Best Worst Year [2]: Tonight’s Episode: Oatmeal and Death in Modern Cinema (or Lights, Camera, Murder!)

The nightmare is recurring: Wilford Brimley grimly drowning me in a pool of Quaker Instant Oats, repeating “It’s the right thing to do.” over and over and over. Mantra. A vow. An oatmealy black prayer of doom.This is my dream life at 17. Not Elle Macpherson. Not Liz Phair. Not even Winona Ryder. Nope. Wilford Brimley. It was like my fantasy life was already hunkered down for what it saw as a long, cold, nuclear winter of the nerdom in Notgettinganyville.

What broke the spell was going to the Bloomsburg Cinema Center on what could have been the second date of my young life–could’ve been if I didn’t go totally bug shit crazy when Tom Cruise pound the sweet and everlovin’ bejeezus out of The Oatmeal Strangler in a bathroom stall. While girl X–and the rest of theatre 3–were passively enjoying a dramatic chase scene from Grisham’s The Firm, I was acting like the ‘80 Phillies were winning the fall classic all over again. By the time I realized I was on my feet cheering, I felt the pan searing shame that is teenage embarrassment sizzling in the seat next to me.

Such was another bonehead memory radiating from seeing movies in Bloomsburg.

Twenty years later, the BCC hasn’t really changed. On a stretch of Rte. 11 which could be a mile of listless strip mall living Anywhere, USA, the theatre is a shell of summer’s past. It shares a parking lot with a electrical supply store. It’s a forgotten city of the dead in a town which already killed off its best theatre, the Capitol Twin.

A gorgeous wrecked double decker theater on Main Street, the Capital Twin was where I saw such classics as Spies Like Us, Highlander, Ghostbusters 2, and the post-Brat Pack IMDB career of Emilio Estevez. It was also where I woke the fuck up and over an amazing 36 months I saw classics like Pulp Fiction, Dazed and Confused, Tombstone, and Army of Darkness. I remember not long after The Crow came out they had to close the upstairs off because it was raining inside the movie theatre–”It can’t rain all the time (sic).” Now that was special effects, kids (and help Uncle Jim off his hemorrhoid pillow).

Film was escape in public. I had become so good at hiding away in my room with music and books, some faint part of my social survival instincts kicked in and forced me out into the dark, air conditioned, theatres of Bloomsburg, PA–I said faint part of my instincts; I didn’t say they were savvy.

A cinematic giant towered in front of me. It was not a world of cornfield neighbors and one stoplight towns. Film taught me that there was a world just beyond my current reach, and I was upon its threshold. Life and the way we could recount it could be as cinematic as we allowed ourselves to be–with or without the Bruckheimer budget.

(Sidenote: Did anyone else creep out a little bit when Aerosmith did the video for “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and had Steven Tyler sing to his daughter in a very Gainsbourgian way? Good. I’m glad I’m not alone on that.)

I know I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but to some of you, I am describing a car no longer in production; like Dolorian or the Pontiac Sunfire. With Blu Ray and Netflix (and before that Blockbuster–hey remember when you still had to leave your house to find a movie? Me neither.), the escape plan leads to our couch. Hulu, Youtube, the occasional but discrete trip to…all of these treasures laid at our feet. Life is as big as our flat screens–we escape like we’re on Hoarders. I think we’re forgetting just how going to the movies can be transformative experience.

When you’re unemployed, the key is to be a moving target–you must keep the mind sharp. The options on how you fill your day are as limitless as a Senior Sunday brunch at the Old Country Buffet. It’s easy to fall upon the sword of ennui and slowly determine the glacial expansion of your backside as it fattens up on the Today Show or The Later Today Show or The-Are-You-Shitting-Me-They-Are-Paying-Kathy-Lee-to-Get-Loaded-In-Front-of-Cat-Ladies- from-Indiana-Who-Got-on-a-Superbus-to-Go-to-NYC-to-See-Jersey-Boys-Show. Perhaps it was out of the need to escape the mundanity of application and rejection but I started going to the movies–early–like first show of the day early.

As it turns out, the early bird special is no longer for people who wear their pants slightly below their armpits. Discount movies at ten o’clock in the morning? Sign me up!

Usually the theaters are totally empty–further fueling my Omega Man-like fantasy that I am the last man alive with reasonable taste in film. Can you tell me a time you’ve gone to the theatre in the last ten years where you haven’t had to put up with one of the following:

1. Random children wandering the aisles, eating whatever is on the floor.

2. Incessant glow of cellphones “Blowin’ Up. LOL.”

3. The Dutch being all Dutch with their goddamn wooden shoes and talking to the screen in their knock-off horseshit Finish wannabe language.

4. Stoned teenagers making all kinds of racket and who refuse to share.

5. Old people totally confused by a jump cut–it’s a #%#@$# jump cut! Pay attention!

Well, going to a movie at ten usually eliminates four of the five problems. (Stupid windmill loving Dutch.) On Halloween I saw a Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein double feature in a totally empty theatre. It was amazing. Afterwards, I got lunch.

But Jim, aren’t you just watching a bigger tv in a strip mall? Why not stay at home where you don’t have to pay for Sour Patch Kids or wear pants?

This is the disconnect (although pants…); film is meant to be seen in a theatre. You are supposed to get lost in the filmmaker’s world, and when it’s done well, (Tarantino, Scott, Hitchcock, Waters) you are as absent in the darkness of the room as the shadow passing on a set or a flair of light reflected in a camera lens. You become the shared vision of the film, as active as any grip,actor, or soundtrack. These are experiences of film we lose every time we choose Redbox over Fandango just out of the simple fact that we are not going somewhere specific to the experience of film. Theatres are the cathedrals of celluloid. But there’s something else at work here–there’s something that watching a movie during the day draws out of you that even seeing a movie at night doesn’t. The transition into the real world is an act of transformation. Eyes take longer to adjust…the realization that you have the rest of your day ahead of you to consider what you saw…Also you’re more likely to be alone–not the emotionally crippled alone which leads you to take the username Willing2Settle on Eharmony–but the solitude you need to truly absorb any good art. In that isolation, I have learned a lot about I see the world and how the world gets seen through the director’s lens, refracted by my own personal experience.

All those lessons have such a weightless delicacy to them that if you’re not careful, they will float along the shaft of projector light and into the rafters to be forever unclaimed among the cast and crew of life’s scrolling credits.

Of course, sometimes you just need to see The Man with the Iron Fists because it’s totally fucking badass and who doesn’t want to hear RZA score a marital arts scene?

Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. Follow His Master’s Voice on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.

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