WHEN WATCHING MOVIES WAS AN EXPERIENCE

This writer a.k.a. “me”, have been a fan of movies since I first became aware of this form of media that takes advantage of viewing a moving image projected on a big screen within a large room with seats along with other people I did not know who were watching the same thing I was looking at.

The first movie that I ever saw in a setting such as the one described was when I was a very long kid. The movie was The Incredible Journey that was created and released through The Walt Disney Company. Its premise was about three animals, two dogs and a cat, who became lost in the Canadian wilderness and made a 250 mile journey to become reunited by their owners, getting into adventures along with way. The feature was inspired by the True Life Adventures short subject series that the Disney studio was known for.

I of course, did not choose to see this movie on my own. My mom through this was a film to take their small child to see because is had animals in it, and the fact it was released as a Disney film that offering “quality” and family friendly entertainment.

As I got older, the movies I choose to see in a theater setting ranged from the for said family friendly stuff, to movies that had subject matter that you could not see on TV, thanks to the level of violence, cussing (for what the level of “cussing” was), to even stuff like nudity and sex! You can say that what I would see through standard television wasn’t good enough for me. So the movies was the only place I would see such content.

But I was no longer limited to seeing movies in a movie theater. My godsend to crossing that threshold started in the 1980’s. That was the decade that cable TV became more accessible, especially with the so-called “pay cable” services that was part of the CATV package. Channels as Home Box Office (HBO), Showtime (also known as SHO), The Movie Channel (TMC), and Cinemax (CIN) offered a variety of movies. Most of the movies were recent releases, one two three years from its original intro into theaters. On occasion, there would be an older title made available for viewing. And Cinemax, part of HBO, offered selection of titles that were more eclectic in nature, making sure that CIN wasn’t a clone of HBO.

Then there was home video, where thanks to trekking to the local video store outlet found in just about every urban and suburban neighborhood, one can find a vast selection of titles prerecorded on VHS to rent for a day’s time period. Just as long as one didn’t mind trekking out to the outlet twice in a row (first trip in getting the tape, and the second trip returning the tape), one can see whatever was available.

A few of the more “independent” outlets even rented “adult” titles. (That is, porn!) These outlets offered their selection in a separate room at their store (some with a separate entrance to this separate room), where the titles were on display for just about whatever one wanted to experience, all in the comfort and privacy in one’s home.

But for the most part, all of the local outlets I used to haunt offered the standard fair, along with a group of movies that were just as eclectic as one could get.

Of course, movie theaters still thrived, and indeed they expanded in leaps and bounds. From the 1980’s through the first decade of the 21st century, movie theaters grew from one location with a double or triple screen, to as many as ten screens, offering whatever Hollywood was churning out at the time. Some theater went beyond by providing more than text screens, even offering fifteen, twenty, as many as thirty separate screen at the same place. Theater size of the auditorium were smaller in size, holding 100 people and less, but the notion was that one can stop at the same theater for the most profound selection that became available.

And since many of these places had so much staffing, if one knew the setting of the theater, one can pay to see one movie, and after than movie, one can see another movie playing in the same multiplex by sneaking in to the other screen, just as one knew when the first movie would be over with and when the second movie was scheduled to start. Of course, there would be at least twenty minutes of non movie content that would be seen before the feature actually started. That “preshow” consisted of a service of trailers for other films that the theater would show, along with commercials (yes, commercials), advertising products that catered to the type of patrons that would normally see the movie in question. Since a good chuck of movies goers were those aged 30 and younger, there would be ads of items as surgery soda pop, snack foods, and related content that would appear of this demographic. If one was attending an “art” movie especially in a theater that catered toward “art” and even “independent” tiles, one may see an ad for the local non-commercial radio station, or some other product or service geared toward an older and more prestige form of audience.

But getting back to the topic of yours truly in and at the movies. When I started to review movies through the various media outlets I was associated with some 30+ years ago, I would go to a screening of some film a few days before its official release. At one time, I would go to just about any and every title I was offered to to go. Some of the movies I attended I did give some kind of review, while others I just didn’t write up anything. I just attended because 1)-I was given the opportunity to see a movie I would never go out on my own to see, 2)- It gave be something to do for that evening with an occasion afternoon or even a morning screening to take part of, and 3)- It was for free! All that I had spend was the time and effort to trek over to the theater the movie was showing.

Some of the movies I attended this way were entertaining. Some were just “OK” for what they were, and even a few was somewhere between lame or just plain awful! When these movies were good, I knew that I picked out a winner. When they were “OK” and less, they may have wasted my time, but I always said to myself, “It least I didn’t pay to see this dog or a movie!!”. A few times when I would see this kind of movie in a multiplex where something else was playing that sparked my interest, I would exit the theater room when it was over (after reading all of the end credits) when I would be in the hallways finding the theater room that was showing the other movie I wanted to see, and walked in taking the first seat I could find, usually one toward the rear making my night out as a double feature. Many of the second movies I viewed this way were better that the first movies I indented to see.

Over time, I because rather selected in what I was offered to see and what I wanted to review. Granted, my time because more available since I usually had other responsibilities outside of hacking out film reviews that desired my personal attention. And thanks to the pandemic, an “event” that is still occurring in spirit of what others may want to believe, that notion of weeding out titles has become a game changer. Now I have access to seeing a new movies through a secure streaming media connection Now I can pick out a feature for the few days I have the option to scream, and watch it in the comfort and privacy of my own domain! The movies finally come to me rather than the other way around!

And what about those movie theaters? What are they doing in these times? The answer is, they are surviving for what they area while a few theaters are holding on for dear life. Any movie that is more of a something melodramatic and character driven found its home from the movie houses to streaming, This includes heavy dramas, selected comedies, and even sub genres as as the classic “rom-com”. (Romantic Comedies) Perhaps it’s just an illusion to me, but watching a heavy drama or even light comedy plays a lot better through the TV universe than in a traditional theater!

And glancing at the recent box office tallies, it appears that action/adventure titles that emphasis a comic book super hero (or heroes and some work as teams), are its biggest movie theater draw. Ditto for titles that are are horror, animation, and some sci-fi/fantasy selection. These are titles that cater to a younger crowd aged 35 and less, although those in their teens and 20’s would become bigger draws. And even length of the movies doesn’t seem to be a factor to what draws them in. The next Batman title released through Warner Bros. titled The Batman (The original name of this comic book character when it first made its debut in 1939), is reported to have a running time of almost three hours, including eight minutes of the end credits! This means that whoever will see The Batman in a movie theater, one better bring an extra large badder with them, or wear diapers if one doesn’t want to miss any one the action deployed on the screen.

With all of the selection made available within my reach, I will still try to see whatever I can, but not everything.

And no offense to those movie makers that spent their time and effort putting together a quality film. One only has so much time to set aside in watching movies, and yours truly can only do so much.

Again, I am not bashing the scope of feature films existing in this post modern world. I believe that this time for movies are their best time. But that doesn’t mean that quantity should outpace quality. It takes skill to create movies that offers plenty of appear to those that seek it. The streaming services, accessible through a television-esque portal, has proven that television as a medium is better than ever before! A video screen can offer the same kind of emotional appeal that movies have done since the the late 19th century. And movie theater has their one place in domestic society as well. But for yours truly? I will honor and respect the powers that make it all happen. But the time are changing, and they are chaining for the better. Just as long as it could be changed without some invisible force getting in its way.

But right now, I’m going to dip into my VHS collection of silent movie titles that were once offered by Reel Images, an independent video releasing company based in Sandy Hook, Connecticut that not only offered silent films and early talkies, but included vintage television, obscure short subjects, and even had a collection of “smoker” porn reels form the 1920s, 30’s, and 40’s! Alas, Reel Images have been out of business for the last twenty years, never having the chance to embrace the growing DVD market. So my collection is long out of print! That’s what makes watching movies appealing, watching something that nobody else could see. Or almost nobody!

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Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the world premier of John Strysik’s DEATH WITH BENEFITS, a dark comedy of two elder ladies who take care of older and somewhat wayward men not because of the kindness of their hearts, but for their own financial gain.

Mary Helsworth (Susan Damante) and Duscha Gehenlegen (Cheryl David) are a pair of middle aged women who are good friends. Because of their financial straights (both have been widowed from their husbands for some time, but not without going through the economic strains their dearly departed caused), Mary had been taking in a disabled elderly man that served as the “son-in-law” from her daughter who relocated (fled?) to somewhere in Europe. Mary placed an insurance policy over this man listing her as the beneficiary. This means when he dies, she collects! And indeed he did pass by being hit by a vehicle. This springs an idea between the two. Across the street from where they live is a church that performs feeding of those homeless and down and out. They would step in to take one of these wayward men in as their own. They would then draw an insurance policy by making him as a “cousin” or some other relative. And once he dies, they collect again! It seems that it’s a good idea, but how long do they have to want until the “cousin”, etc. dies? All they have to do is the fast forward the process without the standard murder plot. Will Mary and Duscha get away with this notion, or will their status of being sweet little old ladies give them leverage?

This play is loosely based upon an actual true crime that occurred in Santa Monica in the late 1990’s where a pair of ladies in their latter 70’s hatched a plan to “save” selected wayward men only to take cash heavy life insurance policies hoping they would die outside of slow drawn natural causes. In this play by John Strysik, the piece holds the humor that a pair of these “golden girls” attempt to make a financial living in ways that are far from another act of kindness! The two leads, Susan Damante as Mary and Cheryl David as Duscha are not really grannie types, but more of a bunch of middle aged schemers that are almost good to go within their game. It’s not as wacky as they could be as illustrated (no “Lucy and Ethel” here), but amusing enough where their portals of their characters carry this production throughout.

Jeff Rack, Theatre 40’s repertory set designer who decorated Mary’s modest, if slightly outdated living room and kitchenette, also directs this program that holds a little less movement than it could have i.e. no running from one wing of the stage to the next, or franticly attempting to hid the fact that these “cousins” are indeed highly insured “cousins”, etc. So the plotting and its dialogue are the featured points to carry the comedy that this play presents itself.

Also featured within the cast are (listed in their alphabetical order), Kevin Dulude, Larry Eisenberg, and Phillip Sokoloff.

It’s been said many a time that crime don’t pay. And this play does prove that notion to a point. It’s a stage production that holds a charm and grace within its own right. After all, how can two women of a certain age go on to take care of these men only to have them taking the benefits? They indeed got away with it! Or did they…???

DEATH WITH BENEFITS, presented by Theatre 40 and performs at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, located within the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 South Moreno Drive (off little Santa Monica Blvd.) Beverly Hills, until February 20th. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights @ 8:00 PM, and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 PM.

At the present time, all attending patrons are required to wear face masks and show proof of vaccination.

For ticket reservations, call (310) 364-0535, or via online at http://www.Theatre40.org

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ACCESSIBLY LIVE OFF-LINE (C) 2022 Linear Cycle Productions. All rights reserved. The views and opinions are those of the writers, and not necessarily of the staff and management. ‘Nuff said!

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