When my dad went off to college at UNC in the 1950s, his friends made fun of him the first time he suggested they go to the “picture show.” That’s all he’d ever heard the movies called when he was growing up in the small town of Coleridge, and his friends laughed at him for being so country.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that Paramount Pictures stopped releasing movies on film. From now on, distribution will be digital. Nothing to hold on to. No reel to load. Nothing to thread into a hulking 35-millimeter projector.
It won’t affect how we see movies — “picture shows” — in a theater. To us, the audience, those pictures will look the same on screen — but do you know what this means? It means we can no longer legitimately call them “films.”
When I was about 10 years old, I got a handheld Canon Super 8 movie camera for a birthday present. For months, I walked around with the rubber eyecup of the camera pressed against my Coke-bottle glasses, and I aimed that thing everywhere — at the birds on the feeder in the backyard, at my mom while she washed dishes and folded laundry, at my dad drinking coffee at the kitchen table. With no real storyline to shoot, I recorded the mundane details of my family’s day.
That camera, though, fueled for me a lifelong passion for movies — not just going to them but a love for how they’re made. In high school, I subscribed to moviemaking magazines, and when I was in college, I got a job in a video store. We played movies on a loop all day in the store, and after work, I went to midnight screenings at the Terrace and the Janus, fantastic independent movie theaters in Greensboro. In fact, when the Janus opened in the late ’60s, it was the only two-screen theater between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia.
For years, I saw nearly every movie that came to those theaters. I was one of the first in line on opening night of The Last of the Mohicans; I remember the amped-up adrenaline of the audience watching Days of Thunder. All of us in our seats in the darkened theater were answering the universal call of the movies: a chance to escape from the commonplace of our own lives; two hours of romance and action and drama and comedy and animation — storylines that were long ways away from washing dishes and folding laundry and drinking coffee at the kitchen table.
The Terrace and the Janus are no more — Romano’s Macaroni Grill restaurant sits in the spot where I crossed through those red velvet ropes so many times; a multistory First Citizens Bank sits in the old spot that used to house the Janus.
But that’s the beauty of movie theaters — long after they’re gone, you can still remember what they held. And that’s the beauty of movies, too. Long after the show is over, you still remember the story.
I haven’t seen those reels from my Super 8 camera in many decades, but I know what’s on them: There are frames of me walking up the staircase of our old house, dressed in my pajamas and proudly holding out my palm with a tooth in it; I’m sure I must’ve put it under my pillow when I got to my bedroom. There are other scenes, too: a five-minute stretch of green trees and blurry mountains shot from a car window on a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. My grandmother and grandfather standing beneath a sprig of mistletoe that I Scotch-taped to the door casing in their kitchen; when they realize I’m filming them, they laugh and lean in to kiss each other. And there’s a scene of my childhood dog, circling, circling, to find a warm spot in the sunshine beneath a window in our old house.
There’s something about that particular scene that makes me so happy — the way her little body curls into a C, the way she tucks her nose beneath her leg. My camera didn’t record sound, and yet, I am sure I can hear her toenails tapping on the hardwoods; I am sure I can hear her breathing, softly snoring, on the floor.
Those movies, simple as they were, made us stars in our lives. When I think of these scenes now, they’re the opposite of mundane. They’re majestic.