Friday, November 16, 2012

A Close Encounter

When I was growing up in Arkansas, there was a domed movie theater in a shopping center in the nearby city of Little Rock that always seemed to have the latest hit movies.

It was in the era before the multiplex theaters with a dozen or more screens. In those days, most theaters only showed one movie at a time.

And if anyone had asked me where I would like to see any movie, that was the place I would have chosen.

This theater had a very futuristic name to go with its futuristic look — Cinema 150. And it was such a great place to see a movie — it was designed so virtually no one's view of the screen could be obscured by a person sitting in front and with a state–of–the–art sound system that could make anything sound good.

I'm told the Cinema 150 went out of business many years ago. That both saddened and surprised me. We live in the age of, as I mentioned before, multiplex theaters, and Cinema 150 was not designed for that — so the fact that it went out of business didn't particularly surprise me because I never figured that a single–screen theater could survive in the modern environment.

But I was still surprised because, frankly, I just never imagined Cinema 150 not being there.

And I was saddened because so many of the movies that I still love today were movies I saw for the first time at Cinema 150 — even if they weren't always recent releases (and many of them weren't).

Some of those movies are regarded as classics; others, I suppose, would fall under the heading of guilty pleasures. Most fall somewhere in between, I guess. But when I see them now, those films always bring back warm memories of afternoons and evenings spent with friends and family.

On this occasion, I have been thinking of the time I first saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which premiered on this date in 1977.

I saw "Close Encounters" at Cinema 150 — the perfect place, I remember thinking at the time, to see a sci–fi flick like that — a few weeks after it premiered.

And I saw it with Karen, my girlfriend. At that time in my life, I judged whether a day was good by how much of it I spent with Karen.

That was — indisputably — a good day. In my mind at the time, nothin' could be finer.

We drove to Little Rock one Saturday evening — as we often did — and went to Cinema 150 to see the movie. When we emerged after the movie was over, we walked from the theater to my car, which was parked about midway through the parking lot.

On our way, there was a sudden clap of thunder. Karen and I looked at each other, and, wordlessly, we made a mad dash for the car, arriving and unlocking the doors only a few seconds too late to avoid getting drenched in the downpour.

We sat in my car for a few seconds, staring at each other, our mouths hanging open, and then we both began laughing simultaneously. And we hugged each other.

And then we drove home, talking all the way about the movie and our eerie trek from the theater to the car when it was over.

I don't remember now what we talked about. Points of the plot, I suppose. Maybe we spoke of lines of dialogue from the movie. Steven Spielberg's movies always have lines that I remember long after I've forgotten points from the movie.

One of my favorites at the time (and still today) was when Richard Dreyfuss' long–suffering wife, Teri Garr, said to him, after being dragged from her bed at 4 in the morning to stand in the middle of nowhere waiting for whatever it was (and, at that point, only the audience really seemed to know what was going on) to return, "I remember when we used to come to places like this just to look at each other ... and snuggle."

At the time, I was a teenager in love, and I couldn't imagine being so obsessed with anything that it would distract my attention from my love interest — yet that was precisely the case with Dreyfuss when Garr made that remark. And I remember pondering that in the theater, temporarily losing track of the story.

(Karen had her own distractions, particularly her weakness for "little ones," and there was none cuter in any of the movies we saw together than the young feller who played Melinda Dillon's son.

(He wasn't a distraction for much of the movie, though. The aliens abducted him early, and he wasn't seen again until near the end.)

Ah, yes, the end of the movie. Spielberg has this knack you may have noticed. Although he is revered in an almost godlike way by many, Spielberg does make a movie now and then that is mostly ordinary — but there is always a segment in his movies that is unique, something that elevates them and gives other movies of that genre something for which to shoot.

Few, if any, manage to hit that target, but that is Spielberg's role, I guess, to provide the target — even where one may not have existed before.

In "Close Encounters," that segment came at the end, when the aliens returned, and people who had been missing for decades emerged from their spaceship.

It was a breathtakingly fantastic sequence for which I can provide no insights that haven't already been offered repeatedly in the last 35 years.

And, if you've seen it, you'll understand why the memory of that jog across a Little Rock parking lot in a cloudburst is still so vivid in my mind.