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Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Simply Remember my Own Cinema Paradisio!

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite cinema?

When asked to recall one of my favorite childhood movies, I cannot help but smile as I recall my mother and sister and I skipping hand in hand down the sidewalk of our lakeside town toward downtown Ashtabula, away from our gingerbread clapboard house singing, “Climb Every Mountain,” from the tops of our lungs. We clasped two quarters each in the palm of our hands, ready to plop down our money at the Shea’s Theater to see The Sound of Music. I am saddened to think that young theatergoers today will never be able to appreciate the grandeur of the old time theaters---five hundred and ninety two theaters in Ohio alone which have been closed, remodeled, or sadly---demolished.
And like many other theaters across the country, our theater was grand! Modeled in a combination of Spanish and French Baroque and Rococo styles, the lobby of the Shea movie theater was designed to resemble the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Years before I was born, the $850,000 theater opened in 1949 with the June Allyson and Mickey Rooney musical, Words and Music. This was at a time when a new house could be bought for $3000 and a new Model A Ford for $1000. The theater had a Wurlitzer organ, crystal Czechoslovakian chandelier, and a snack area with the standard greasy popcorn and raisinettes. The theater staged local musicals such as The King and I, but it also aired movies like the The Three Stooges and Black Beauty. It was heaven.

By 1968 however, it seemed that movie directors and moviegoers, and society in general, were expecting something different than a movie like the Sound of Music---A story about a failed nun turned governess who falls in love with an Austrian
soldier, a widow and father of eight who plan an escape from their own war ridden country. Horror movies, like Rosemary's Baby became the new trend in movies. A young married couple, trying unsuccessfully to conceive, finally have it happen when the husband strikes a deal with the devil worshippers next door.
All of this is unbeknownst to the poor wife/mother who soon realizes she could be having Satan's child. I believe this movie brought about the first parental guidance warning at the ticket booth. “Ah, the times they are a changin,”
Bob Dylan sang in the sixties.

Interestingly enough, one of my all time favorite movies as an adult would have to be a Sicilian movie (1990) entitled Cinema Paradisio which follows along with my theme of old time cinematic movie theaters like Shea giving way to the new. The movie is about a famous film director, Salvatore, who returns home to a Sicilian village for the first time after almost thirty years as he reminisces about his own hometown theater---The Cinema Paradisio---where Salvadore, under the influence of Alfredo, falls in love with the theater and film making. The film brings the audience through the changes in cinema and shares the dying trade of traditional film making, editing, screening, and theaters! It explores a young boy’s dream of leaving his little town to foray into the world outside.

When I try to make a connection between The Sound of Music and  and Cinema Paradisio I see the similarities in the growth of the characters as they are forced to move forward in their lives---The VonTrapp family moves from Austria and Salvatore leaves Rome---
the forces of war and economic development creating changes that prompt people to tap into creating new personal narratives for themselves. And, so it sadly follows that the grand theaters of those days, all across the United States, would also undergo change.

Yet, there is always hope to climb every mountain until you find your dream, whether it is viewing a story of escaping a country to avoid war, a horror movie,or a tale about revisiting a country or city after many years. But I like to think that maybe
the majestic theaters that celebrated the imagination of decades, those great masterpieces with marble floors and Czechoslovakian chandeliers and Wurlitzer organs, guarded by young smiling men dressed in suits and ties who took our tickets and directed us down to our seats with a flashlight---all served a purpose.
It gave us a place to go that wasn’t the world outside. And sadly, now it is not the grand dame of the past but multiplex theaters with surround sound systems and air conditioning, not glamour and

Ah well, if it’s all the same to the reader: I think I’ll close my eyes and simply remember a few of my favorite things.

And then, I don’t feel so bad.

Kathleen Gallagher
Akron, OH

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