A Date with a Movie Buff

Before I met my husband, I didn’t even know movie theaters were open on Thanksgiving, let alone on Christmas, let alone that people would actually leave their loved ones to go see movies on significant holidays. At the beginning of our relationship, I was quite shocked to observe him scanning the newspaper’s entertainment section one Thanksgiving morning and making plans. Now that he’s a family man, John has his priorities straight. He limits himself to only one movie on Thanksgiving, even though he has the whole day off! And he’ll probably even remember to invite me along.

When we were dating (back in the seventies, when this quaint locution was still in vogue), we went to movies all the time. If I wanted to see John at all, I had no choice, since at that time he was averaging more than 300 films a year. We know this total for a fact, because he kept meticulous records in a little Hallmark calendar. A big thrill at Christmas time was to leaf through the calendar (this was pre-computer, of course) and add up the big annual movie total. This yearly ritual was only one of the many quirks of the quintessential movie buff, personified by my husband. Other idiosyncratic behavior surfaced during a typical date.

First the painful dilemma: what movie to see? Our decision required careful calculation of running times and travel time, weighing the chances that a film in a 16 mm print might return to town in the infinitely preferable 35 mm, and sometimes making agonizing choices between worthy auteurs (Herzog at Case Western’s Strosacker Auditorium or Truffaut at the Cedar-Lee?) Since most of our dates involved driving to Cleveland from our native Canton, we’d pack in as many as four movies so as not to waste the trip. Our Canton friends thought we were nuts for driving to Cleveland so often. Our Cleveland friends thought we were nuts for living in Canton.

Anyway, at last we (that is, John) would decide what to see—say, an Antonioni, a Godard, and a Bergman, all within an eight-hour period. We’d schedule a twenty-minute break for dinner, usually a Presti’s pizza slice. I’d figure which movies to nap through by reading up on them the night before.

On our drives to Cleveland, John would educate me. He’d admonish me never, ever to watch a move in 16 mm if I could help it and threaten to dump me if I ever watched a great film on TV, this in the halcyon pre-video, pre-DVD days. He’d rid me of the impression that Orson Welles was a fat pompous ass from talk-shows and wine commercials. He’d get so misty-eyed describing his favorite movie, Shane, that I’d have to grab the wheel and steer his little Vega back into the proper lane on 77 North.

We’d arrive at the theater early. John has been perennially late to church, to work, and to every appointment in his life, but never, ever for a movie. That scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen refuses to go in late to The Sorrow and the Pity, a four-hour documentary he’d already seen, was no exaggeration. John didn’t even find this scene funny. I used to have a terrifying recurrent nightmare in which I made John late for Citizen Kane.

As we entered the auditorium, we’d gravitate automatically to our usual seats, depending on the theater. In the late, lamented New Mayfield, our seats were on the aisle, middle section, left side. In a house with Dolby sound, of course, you have to sit in the middle. Having regular seats also facilitates the other buffs’ finding you after the show. It also allows you to locate your seat without removing your eyes from the screen in the unhappy event you have to leave the theater for a minute.

Okay. We’d find our seats; the lights would dim. Most people, of course, think of movie houses as romantic places. You know, holding hands and stealing kisses. Not so for the true fan – or, alas, for his girlfriend. John squirmed if I even rested my head lightly on his shoulder, as I was wont to do after an hour or so of recondite Swedish dialogue. No distractions! No talking, no touching, and no snacking except for sustenance. Despite his concentration, however, John never hesitated to yell “Focus!” at the top of his lungs to the projectionist when necessary. Nor to leap over the laps of other moviegoers in a paroxysm of frustration and to race back to the booth when his cry went unheeded. Another advantage to the aisle seat.

After the movie, the buff always stays for the credits, no matter how many times he’s seen the movie and how impatient the teenage usher to clear the theater. It’s just a rule, or a matter of honor, or something. You never know when the key grip is going to be someone important. Then you locate the other movie buffs and analyze the film. Sometimes you do this in a cold parking lot. Many times we’d stand in sub-zero temperatures behind the Cedar-Lee discussing Jean Luc-Godard’s mise en scene or some such thing for an hour or more.

On the drive home, the conversation would center on such matters as movies, film, and cinema. Of course, I learned a lot on these dates. I learned my way around Cleveland based on the locations of various theaters. I learned how to spell “Federico.” I learned the importance of proper screen ratio. I even learned to read white-on-white subtitles.

Most importantly, I learned what I was getting myself into. I might have known from our very first date. John took me to Kent for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Beware the Holy Whore, a film I can only describe, charitably, as interminable. John sure knew how to impress a girl.

Leopards don’t, as they say, change their viewing habits. And so John, now a film exhibitor, still sees more movies a year than most people see in a lifetime. If he can slip out after Thanksgiving dinner to catch a new release at the local mall, he will. I spend my life scraping my shins on film cans and tripping over stacks of Variety. Even our kids’ view of reality has been skewed. When a relative once told us that her husband, a car dealer, was at work, our six-year-old son asked politely, “What movie is he showing?”

photo credit Cleveland Magazine

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