Monday, January 10, 2011

The Communal Deadly Mantis, or “Movie, good! Piano, bad!”

Now kids, put down yer I-Phones and stop yer textin’ cause yer ol’ Uncle is gonna tell you a story…

Once upon a time in a far distant land known as Kentucky there was a little boy named Randy. Now this boy would be known today as geek or possibly a nerd, but in that ancient time those words weren’t common usage yet – at least not in Muhlenberg County

And one of the biggest weekly thrills was the arrival of the TV Guide. Sure the arrival of the mail was major event every day (and that’s a topic for a future blog – see how easy this stuff is?), but the TV Guide came every week, on the same day, and from the second I pulled it out of the mailbox, I was scouring the listings like a hellhound on the trail of Robert Johnson.

In Dunmor, Kentucky our main television connection was with Nashville. There was Channel 2 (ABC) which we could barely get, and was often quite snowy and unwatchable, Channel 4 (NBC) which was always slightly snowy but still very watchable, Channel 5 (CBS) which was almost always clear, Channel 8 (PBS), usually snowy but still watchable, and Channel 13 (ABC) out of Bowling Green, Kentucky which was always clear (and consequently the main source for ABC programming).

There was also Kentucky Educational Television (PBS) on Channel 53 out of Bowling Green and Channel 7 (ABC) and Channel 9 (PBS) out of Evansville, Indiana (which always struck me as transmissions from a parallel Earth.)  And, on very rare occasions, a fleeting ghost of Channel 3 from far away Louisville would drift on to the set.

And that, was it – no HBO, no TCM, no Encore, no SyFy, no nothing. It all had three letters and ended it either a “C” or “S.” And it was wonderful.

But back to the TV Guide… Every issue not only brought a short listing of the network series episodes and movies of the week, but more importantly there were the listings of what would be playing in all the various local station movie slots. For Channel 5, WLAC in Nashville they had The Big Show every afternoon. And checking those weekly listing were better that than waiting for a $40 million Powerball drawing. Would it be a week of boring dramas or perhaps a week of monster movies?

But with the gigantic mirths there were also equally gigantic melancholies to be suffered.  There was nothing more crushing than finding a listing for a movie that you HAD to see only to be followed by the desperate realization that it was scheduled for a time where you would be separated from the TV set.

This dilemma resulted in me never seeing the classic Bride of Frankenstein until I was an adult. Oh, it was shown, sure enough.  Each fall The Big Show would have a “Frankenstein Week” that would feature five of the Universal Frankenstein movies. But since Bride always fell on a Tuesday, and that was the afternoon for my piano lessons, well, let’s just say I never figured out a successful way to fake broken fingers for one week.

With the only access to older movies being the limited number of spots of network and local TV (the closest we ever got to a “revival house” theater might be a re-release of Smokey and the Bandit…) my generation was the last to view the ability to see older movies as a valuable and demanding privilege.  In just a few short years the introduction of consumer VCRs and the spread of cable TV would change everything.

And though I wouldn’t trade my bloated library of DVDs and the ability to instantly access just about anything in a short time, there was a special sweetness to knowledge that if you missed that 4:00 pm showing of The Angry Red Planet, Wednesday, on Channel 5, you might NEVER get to see it(!), or, at best, it might be YEEEARS before you did(!!!)

But it wasn’t just the rarity of viewing that made it special. Movies were a communal activity. This was true since the beginning of motion pictures when they burst forth onto big screens, and it had continued on through their transition to the cathode ray tube.  When I plopped down in front of the TV to watch the CBS Movie of the Week showing of The Planet of the Apes (and you better believe I won the fight to make that the viewing for the evening!) there were millions of boys all over America doing so at the exact same time. And at school, or church, or wherever kids gathered it was never “I saw a movie last night…” it was “DID YOU SEE!?!?”

One of my favorite memories of childhood was winning the argument with my parents to be able to stay up until 2:00 am on a Friday night for The Deadly Mantis.  Not only was I treated to the sights of a big bug munchin’ down on New York City, but I had achieved something truly special. And in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder how many other kids in the Middle Tennessee/Southern Kentucky viewing area had won the same prize that night as our monster lovin’ souls mingled in the ether and pushed the big ugly critter on in its reign of devastation -- at least until the credits rolled or we passed out on the couch.

1 comment:

Mr Black said...

I still have not seen this movie and i would love to. Like you say it is a communal event and there weren't very many of my childhood chums who wanted to see these. Thank God I have you guys!