Originally posted behind HE Plus firewall on 4.15.19: My father was the last guy in the world you wanted to watch a movie with. Or at least he was when I was young. He was the Ultimate Moviegoing Killjoy.
Every so often he’d take me to a film, but for some reason he so hated watching films in the usual way (i.e., from the beginning) that we’d never arrive before the film started but always around the three-fourths mark. 20 or 25 minutes before the ending. We’d watch the conclusion, wait for the next show to start, and then watch the three-fourths or four-fifths that we’d missed and then leave at the point where we came in.
In short, my dad’s primary interest was less about enjoying a film and more about not arriving and leaving with the crowd.
This, believe it or not, was what moviegoing was actually like whenever we’d catch something together. All through my toddler days and up until I was eight or nine or whatever. It was almost as if James T. Wells, Jr. was trying to suppress any real feelings of absorption or enjoyment I might have felt or developed.
It was only when I started going to Saturday matinees with friends that I began to appreciate what it was like to see a film from the start and then leave when it was over.
I’ll never forget the thrill of walking into a darkened theatre at age five and being fairly stunned by the titanic size of the screen. Even my father couldn’t diminish that excitement.
My dad would also ruin movie-watching at home. He always insisted on the sound being turned down so low that you couldn’t really hear anything. He had extra-sensitive hearing, my mother told me more than once, due to his WWII experience as a Marine Lieutenant. The ear-splitting sound of bombs and shells exploding nearby as he went up against the Japanese on Guam and Iwo Jima. Okay, sorry and due respect, but in his own way he took this trauma, transformed it and passed it along to his kids.
The vibe was so quiet when we watched a film or a TV show you could barely pay attention to the dialogue. What did that guy say? My father would repeat the line. “Why not just watch with the sound completely turned off?”, I once said in jest. The sarcasm wasn’t appreciated. An argument ensued.
As a result of this I’ve never been able to watch a film with too-low sound. All through the ’70s and even the early ’80s even I would routinely go to management and complain about the whispery dialogue and having to cup my ears, etc. Which wasn’t a neurotic thing on my part. Sound levels actually were pretty low back them, as a rule. Theatre managers figured they were saving money on sound system maintenance. It was like the Curse of Jim Wells had spread throughout the land.