Let's go to the movies! (May 28 column)


There's this old song that was featured in the 1980s Annie movie, “Let's go to the movies!” Little Orphan Annie, spending a week as a guest of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, wants Warbucks to put down his phone and do something fun with her and his assistant, Grace Farrell, but he resists. Eventually, Annie's noise and horseplay as well as the fact that despite living in Manhattan her entire life she's never really been anywhere, snaps, “All right! Let's go to the movies!”

I can't find any information about the song aside from the movie. It seems like it would probably have been a 1930s standard, and it wasn't included in the Broadway musical soundtrack because in the play, when the three stroll down Park Avenue toward the movie theater they sing about cab drivers, hot dogs and all the crazy in “NYC.”

So, here we go. Are you ready?

“Let's go to the movies. Let's go see the stars! Red lights holler: deep Depression! What do we care/ Movies are there! Only happy endings; that's our recipe! Welcome to a lovely M-O-V-I-E!”

We no longer have ushers with lights and an opening act and newsreels and featurettes, but in this time of pandemic, I'm guessing many of us have streamed more hours of content than we ever thought we'd watch.

This week as he detailed how Fridley Theatres, owners of Estherville's Grand 3, would strive to safely start its screens, District Manager Russell Van Orsdal said, “Imagine seeing something like Indiana Jones on the big screen again.”

With film distribution and production delayed due to COVID-19, the theaters will be playing old favorites as well as some movies out this year.

Van Orsdel said guests and employees each have responsibilities if the reopening is going to work.

Guests should stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19. The maximum group size is six. Arrive early and allow extra time for paying and seating. Ages 12 and under must have an adult with them, and children eight and under should be accompanied on trips to the concession stand and restroom. Employees will ask questions: have you traveled out of state in the last 14 days, had symptoms, been exposed?

As often as possible, use credit cards to pay.

And, as we've heard countless times, practice social distancing of six feet or more.

It's recommended that guests wear a face covering, but it will not be required for admission.

There will be hand sanitizers all over, employees will disinfect during longer periods between shows, and there will not be drink refills. One large popcorn refill will be served in a new bin.

Seating will be every other row and in a checkerboard pattern.

With those changes in place, there is now bargain day pricing for nearly everything.

Between May 11-18 nearly 43% of people who answered a survey of previous online movie ticket buyers said having spaced seating was the most important safety measure that would help them feel confident about returning to movie theaters. Next was heightened sanitation and third the use of masks by staff members.

Movie industry watchers say for now, the 2020 and 2021 slate of films coming from Hollywood is already set, and there are titles coming from superhero blockbusters and action films to romantic comedies and animated features. The pandemic may have more effect on late 2021 and 2022 releases, depending upon how long social distancing affects shooting schedules.

While it would be fun to go with some or all of my household to see Indiana Jones or some other classic in the inimitable darkness of the theater, when I think of the blockbuster openings from my youth: Star Wars: A New Hope, where as a kindergartener I was a) dropped off to stand in line on my own, clutching my six quarters in my sweaty hand – a buck for the movie and 50 cents for pop and popcorn, I think. It's not that I didn't have any friends, it's that none of them would have been just dropped off. My parents thought I was next level or something; and b) not in a world of social distancing. Most of the kids in line, ranging from my age through high school, I knew from the Sioux City 'hood. I watched the teenagers in long, flowing sundresses, or impossibly short gym shorts with long, striped tube socks seeming to move as a group as they hung on to each other. The line moved as one cutting the sweaty sidewalk like a shark fin moving on top of the water (I'm not sure what made me think of that; I was too little to be allowed to go to JAWS).

And yes, the movie, which was billed as overdone, cheesy, some outer space thing, was the coolest experience I'd yet had, though I can't remember if this was before or after my first trip to Walt Disney World. The Millennium Falcon careens through the field of starlit black while Darth Vader breaths creepily into his...


Do you think Anakin felt safe behind a full-head face shield? I know they showed the backstory of how he got fitted for his monotoned getup.

Skip to seventh grade and the opening of Ghostbusters.

The eponymous theme song had been out for weeks or months. The hallowed halls of Herbert Hoover Junior High School were peppered with shouts of, “I ain't 'fraid of no ghost!” Boy were we cool.

This time, the opening was at the mall, and again the non-socially-distanced spread of young humanity stretched as far as the eye could see. This time I was about to be 13 and I towered over most or all of them. Also, this time, I was with friends. We took the city bus across town, the main mode of transportation for tweens and young teens because no one was buying us a car, even when we were sixteen, and most of our parents either worked all the time or partied all the time or had younger siblings they had to cope with.

I was not expecting the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man – were you?

Movies and their premieres are not just for kids, of course. Especially when so many of the new movies are just 21st century versions of the same ones we were watching in the '80s and '90s. Now we can take our kids and enjoy the pop culture intergenerationally.

I don't know how soon the theater will show a movie I just have to see there. My sons usually go to the blockbusters they want to see together, though I'm thrilled when they invite me to accompany them. I think it's also okay to wait.

What I hope is that returning to the movies will promote acts of consideration for the community. They recommend patrons wear a mask. What's wrong with wearing one? Stay socially distanced. Be patient with the extra time it takes to get in, to order and receive concessions, even to get out. Don't let your kids run wild around the place.

In other words, keep being awesome. Don't get slimed.

May the force be with you.

Don't cross the streams. It would be bad.

Life moves pretty fast.

Yippee ki-yay...oh, I can't finish that in the newspaper.

Let's go to the movies.


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