Thomas Edison figured out how to make slides projected on a screen move. Imagine that. The wonder. By showing twelve different slides per second, the image seemed to move. The image flickered a lot, but moved. Viewers called them the flickers. The flickering moving slides were called movies. . Establishments opened that showed movies. It cost a nickel to get in. They were called nickelodeons.
Then movies went legitimate and were shown in theaters. Like the a Broadway theater, you went to an evening’s entertainment, and there was no popcorn nor refreshment served. In fact, you were prohibited from eating in the theater.
I started going to movies about this time. I remember seeing only one silent film. I don’t remember the movie and I can recall only the last scene: the hero dying.
The hero dying? What kind of a movie is that? Heroes are supposed to survive so they can appear next week in a new film.
Sound-on-film was invented and movies became talkies. I can’t remember the first talkie I saw, but it was probably Wings with Jean Harlow, Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers.
Talkies were still an “evening out”, dress up affairs in theaters. There were a newsreel, a travelogue, an animated cartoon, and the feature attraction. Since it was evening, kids did not get taken.
For kids, the Saturday Matinee was started. Movies, talkies I mean, have not been the same since. Kids are kids. They brought pop corn and candy and sneaked it in. The screamed, they shouted, they made cat calls at the kissing scenes. Adventure thrillers took the place of romances, and were shown as serials, one chapter each week. Each chapter ended with the hero or heroine in peril, such as hanging off a cliff, and you had to come back the following week to see how he or she could possibly escape.
The theater owners gave up any semblance to legitimate theater. “If kids are gonna eat pop corn and candy, we might as well make money by selling it to them.” I remember my shock the first time I saw a refreshment stand in a theater….right there in the lobby. My parents were shocked too. Now they had to add a dime for pop corn to the quarter they gave me for admission.
Then, in a price war, the double-feature was invented. To the newsreel, travelogue, cartoon, feature, was added a second feature. The second film was usually a low budget film. They were called B-movies, as opposed the main feature, the A-movie. Double bills drew more patrons than single features.
Then shows began to show continuously. You could go to a show at any time. You often walked in in the middle of a feature. You watched it until it finished, viewed the short subjects, saw a second feature, and then, starting over, the first part of the movie you walked in on. When you came to the part you had already seen you were free to go. The term “This is where we came in” became common parlance. If you remembered the end of the movie you had seen, you added it mentally to the first part you were viewing, and through mental gymnastics made a compete story. If the intervening second feature made compiling the story in your head difficult, you could sit through the ending again.
Finally after three or four hours, head reeling, you would stagger to your car and drive home muttering, “Now what was the second film we saw?”
Unless you have been living in Nyrobe or Uganda, you know what happened next. The corner theater became the Multiplex with a whole bunch of theaters in the same building, with a refreshment stand with pop corn, ice cream, hot dogs, and hot meals, video games, and coin operated rides.
The movie house has become an amusement park, a home away from home.
That’s the history of the flickers, as related by one bleary-eyed movie buff who has lived through most of it.