If you think landmarking a sign seems a bit quaint, consider the HOLLYWOOD sign in L.A, (originally erected in 1923 to advertise “Hollywoodland,” a real estate property, and landmarked in the seventies, as simply “Hollywood..” Okay, you say, that’s Hollywood, not Fairborn, Ohio.To which I say, Fairborn is a suburb of Dayton, and Dayton is the birthplace of Aviation!
The Skyborn Drive-In showed its last flick in 2015, the theater done in, presumably, by the cost of digital conversion. At one point in the eighties, hard up for product that would get people to come on out, the drive-in had earned itself the moniker, “FairPORN,” for the genre it had embraced. As someone remarked in the Comments column of the theater’s Cinema Treasures page, “For a while in the 80’s (maybe the 70’s as well) they showed porn movies. imagine flying in on final to Wright Patt and seeing porn on a drive in screen!I’m surprise there weren’t more accidents....”
The marquee of the St. George Theatre, a 2,672-seat movie palace I helped to run in 1976, was rusting, and unremarkable even then, and has been torn down since, replaced by a new ripple-front electronic marquee. But we were not bereft of noteworthy signage inside the theater.
Coming Soon! An entire roomful of signs bearing this and other hopeful bywords and useful clichés existed on the mezzanine, some vestiges of which survive in my basement.
Starts Wednesday, Starts Thursday, Starts Friday, New Release! Double Feature! and my favorite, a tasseled banner, Sneak Preview Tonite! It’s hard to think of our time at the theater without reliving the load-in, when the film canisters arrived, the marquee letters went up, and one or another of these plastic or cardboard showcards bearing a Coming Soon variation was replaced in the poster case by the inevitable Now Playing.
It was a time when people came out of their houses and apartments to sit together in a communal trance, in an auditorium large enough to rival Lascaux or the Luray Caverns, and watch Linda Blair’s head swivel three hundred and sixty degrees on her body — and, for a moment, believe it!
That’s what happens with good storytelling/ moviemaking. It’s called “willing suspension of disbelief.” The poet S.T. Coleridge came up with it, back in 1817, and it more or less means that I throw logic and caution to the winds, in order to enjoy an obvious piece of fiction. Nobody could enjoy a magic show without pretending that the assistant really is sawed in two, and then there’s that novel you wish wouldn’t end.
The best demonstration of the fact that willing suspension works at the movies is that an audience watching Casablanca, most of whom are not completely colorblind, are in a world that is entirely black and white. I’m happy when Dorothy lands in Oz, and the world blossoms into Technicolor (the 3-strip color process no less, in its first iteration), but at the end, I wake with her in black and white, safe at home in Kansas, and I’m still in the movie’s dream.
Perhaps my happiest moments at the St. George — talk about being in a world — involved movies so completely satisfying that I was able to forget the overdrawn checkbook I’d left back in my office under the stairs. There was Taxi Driver and its gleaming mean streets of Times Square, that I knew so well having walked through them, desperate myself. There was The Man Who Would Be King, when Sean Connery/Danny humming “The Minstrel Boy,” strides to the middle of a rope bridge he knows will soon be cut down, pitching him into a Himalayan chasm. Since the St. George Theatre, in its twilight as a cinema, was itself a kind of chasm for us, its temporary occupants, I can see why this is one of the only movies I watched from beginning to end, my legs tucked up in a cozy seat in the lower balcony.
I’m a little worried about the line between fiction and non-, these days. Are we getting our willing-suspension fix often enough in a world that’s “post-truth,” whatever that actually means? How can we tell what to suspend, when there isn’t any difference between belief and disbelief? This holds true even for the news we choose (or that chooses us algorithmically).
What's coming soon...or next?
1. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in owning some theater signage, the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, in a valiant attempt to keep going during Covid-19, was selling, as of July, 2020, its old aluminum marquee letters, along with vintage theater seats. There’s no business like show business, I guess...
2. Thanks to Thom Moon, for the Skyborne info!