And so my Saturday begins, as at least one weekend morning a month does, with an early-a.m. kiddie matinee, this one at AMC Plaza Bonita. Never mind the feature in question. The screening took place a while back, and I waited to write about it so as not to ruffle studio feathers. My gripe is with the projectionist’s nearsighted seeing-eye dog and the goon family that was parked directly behind me, not the company that released the picture.
My guest that day was none other than Winnie Lickona, my partner’s youngest daughter and a welcome plus-one. Though the size of both screen and auditorium (as well as the overall quality of the product) has greatly diminished over the years, Matthew and Deirdre Lickona (fellow Reader writers) have instilled in each one of their six kids an awe and respect for the moviegoing process, the kind that takes me back to my youth.
Every time that I set foot in a theatre — we’re talking at least two or three times a week — is in my mind an event. My parents saw to that. When I was Winnie’s age, Babe and Larry strapped a sportcoat on me for roadshow performances and in cases of Cinerama, a suit and necktie with a pair of Yogi Bears stitched onto either end of its bow. Times have changed. The average Lickona comes decked out in T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.
The aspect ratio is set for 'Scope, but this morning’s film is not shot with an anamorphic lens. How do I know? Half of the opening title is floating somewhere in the black abyss that masks the top half of the frame. Damn the luck! In a room filled with over 200 people, this reporter is the only one to take notice.
All of this could have been avoided if the booth-op had bothered to size-up the picture with a pre-show test run. When the movie ended I asked an usher, "If I told you at the beginning of the show that the film is in the wrong aspect ratio, would you have known how to correct it?" His "Huh?" spoke volumes.
It’s next to impossible for me to watch a film projected in the wrong aspect ratio. I grew up in a world before letterboxing, when networks lopped off two-thirds of a film’s sides to accommodate the size of the small screen frame.
Fifteen minutes pass. “Winnie,” my hushed movie theatre voice whispers in her ear. “This one isn’t for me. If by some chance you want to leave at any point during the movie, let me know. If not, it’s okay.” For Winnie's sake I see it through to the end. As she later explains, “I didn’t want to leave because I was hoping it would get better.” They never do. I don't have the heart to tell her.
Sitting directly behind us is Momma Bear, Poppa Bear, and their three little cubs, the youngest of which is the only occupant of the theatre more bored than I. The kid, probably no older than three, is disinterested to the point she starts pacing behind us, banging into the back of the chair with every turn. No sooner does Momma B. position the tyke in her lap than the toddler begins to scream. The kid has two modes: pace in silence or sit and scream. The thought of removing the decibel-shattering brat never once crosses the mind of either parent.
One moment makes it all worth the trouble. At one point, my darling Winnie turns and shoots the seat-kicking little varmint a dirty look. I beam with pride. Grumpy Poppa Bear has a different reaction when I try a similar move. Before so much as a “Shhhh!” is whispered, he flips me the bird.
What was I to do? The Lickona children are a well-mannered bunch, and I respect and admire that. Winnie has never heard me utter so much as one curse word. Well, maybe there was one time a “shit” slipped out in traffic, but other than that (and an occasional fart joke), I don’t work blue around these kids. I am not about to engage in a war of words with a jadrool who instills within his kids the precept that a movie theatre is a place where one acts like a swamp pig.
After the movie, Winnie and I retire to Sbarro's for our afternoon repast. Without prompting, Winnie asks, “How come the opening credit was cut off at the top?”
"Do you want the long answer or the short answer?" I ask as I remove my notebook and begin to illustrate the differences between aspect ratios for an inquisitive child.