In 1976, there were dozens of doors at the St. George Theater and other movie theaters, but the doors all led to a single screen. There was a curtain above that screen, and ushers too, amenities you’ve learned to live without since the days of the single screen movie theater. Quickly you take a seat, peel off your coat and hat. What’s the rush? The lights aren’t dimmed yet. But something’s on the screen.
Remember “Selected Short Subjects?” Cartoons? What’s up on the screen is tricked out to look like a movie, but it’s really Coca Cola. You’re a captive audience, you can’t scan through it or go to the fridge. You could go out and come in again, pay for more popcorn — you’ve eaten most of it already, and “Coming Attractions” haven’t even started yet.
What is it about product advertising at the movies that seems so wrong? Movies are not television. They’re suspended reality, and the moviegoer in you is ready to surrender to the dream. Short subjects, like foreplay, served a purpose. They lubricated the imagination. If a movie is any good, the filmmaker Hollis Frampton used to say, it should make you forget your toothache, the balance in your checkbook, a love just lost. Short subjects got you ready to do that.
How can I suspend my disbelief, while a dopey couple collide in front of a polished steel fridge from Sears? Note to self: Next time, bring something to read and noise-cancelling headphones. Buy extra popcorn. Here comes the first trailer — well it’s about time.