Monday, December 7, 2009

Going to the movies, now and then

WATCHED 2012 yet? I thought I’d wait a while till the novelty wears off and the crowd has thinned out a bit.

Back in the early ’80s, going to the movies was the highlight of the week for most people I knew.

Tickets, depending on the quality of the cinema and the movies screened, were priced between RM1 and RM4.50.

Regular shows cost as little as 65 sen in cinemas on the outskirts.

There were also students’ matinee and “adult” movies but you had to be in school uniform to watch the former and above 18 to watch the latter.

Even if you could slip by the burly guards at the entrance, the ushers patrolling the aisles would catch you.

At the Alhambra, the pride of the people in Setapak and its vicinity until it was demolished in the 1980s, front row seats cost only 45 sen and those near the projection window slightly over a ringgit.

On Fridays and weekend nights, it was packed with moviegoers and touts out to make a fast buck from those too lazy to queue.

A post-movie neck sprain was almost a certainty if you insisted on the wooden front row seats.

Unless you had indifferent nostrils, the stench of mothballs emanating from the toilet, a spit’s distance away, would be forever etched in your memory — if it didn’t make you vomit first.

Bigger cinemas like the Federal, Rex, Cathay and Pavilion had better seating arrangements.

Some even had velvety gallery seats upstairs which were priced about twice as much as the regular ones downstairs.

In the days, when munching kuaci (melon seeds) was in vogue, regular moviegoers instinctively knew not to sit directly below the gallery’s edge.

Of course, kuaciwas not much of a problem compared with spent chewing gum stuck on the armrests, s e at s or floor.

But if you had sat on one, chances are that youwould also have learnt how to get the sticky mess off and save your new Amco jeans.

In the days when smoking was the norm, a movie outing was a smelly experience just as a trip to the pubs is today.

It took a hot bath and lots of Lux soap to get the lingering nicotine smell off your hair and skin.

In badlymaintained cinemas, leaky roofs and rodents made moviegoing a memorable exper ience.

When the arrival of the Betamax videocassette tape, and later VCDs, drew the curtains on many of the poorly-kept cinemas, most people thought it spelt the end of moviegoing.

However, the cinemas returned as cineplexes, which are cleaner, have better seats and improved audiovisual systems.

Some of the toilets, stench-free and far away, even smell better than the air in the cinema itself.

The phone reservation system has also, thankfully, put the touts out of business.

Although they do not sell Eagle brand kuaci these days, you can still stuff yourself silly with popcorn, hamburgers and fizzy drinks.

The price of going to a movie is not lower but at least you don’t have to worry about rats or spent gums sticking to your bottom.

But of course, themovie industry is still under threat — not only from night market traders but also from cyberspace torrent downloads and portable media players.

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