In July, we ran Jaws a 1974 title that was already stale, so we over-advertised it. We painted the front portico red and blue to match the posters. In three-foot red plastic letters (purchased just for the occasion), the marquee proudly boasted JAWS. Inside the lobby, the central (NOW PLAYING) display case sported a two-sheet (giant-sized poster) of the inevitable white shark bearing down on the midnight swimmer. Despite these efforts, a group of would-be patrons on a Sunday afternoon approached the box office to inquire, “What’s showing?”
MIke Nichols, the brilliant director who just left us, was no stranger to this kind of thing. Apparently, as a teenager, he worked at a Howard Johnson’s.
“A customer asked me what our ice-cream flavor of the week was, which was a dumb question, because there was a huge banner showing that it was maple. So I told him that it was chicken. The customer laughed, but the manager fired me immediately.”
Who knows what ice cream fantasy the customer at HoJo’s was entertaining, but in our movie palace it was not uncommon for people to enter in a trance state, ready to share a waking dream. Nichols also observed, “Film is an act of the unconscious. It is the unconscious speaking to other unconsciousness. [You are] sitting alone in the dark, and the dream begins.” There they sat, our patrons, dreaming together in a deep cavern surrounded by statuary and velvet, and gilded plaster stalactites. It was easy, after all, to forget the price of a Coke.