Let’s go to the movies!

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

What is your most memorable movie-going experience? We all have them: the epic love story that made us cry as we gazed up at that big screen; the first special effects experience to blow our minds; or the first make-out session in the back of a darkened theater (confession: Top Gun, 1986, his name was Sean).

For me, it’s not any one particular movie that is most memorable, but rather my overall movie-going experience as a kid. I grew up on Army bases across the county and most would have a single-screen theater that showed second-run films. I remember the seats being filled not only with kids and parents in civilian clothes but also men and women in uniform. Before the start of each movie, the theater would darken and everybody would rise and remove their caps for the national anthem. The screen would be filled with rousing, patriotic images of tanks rolling across rugged terrain, Navy destroyers smashing through the high seas, and fighter planes soaring over the mountains. Even now, quite a few years later, the memory of those experiences is as clear as day.

I queried the staff of the Indiana State Museum to find out about some of their favorite movie-going experiences. Because sometimes the best part of history is not researching important artifacts or examining “old-timey” photographs, but rather simply recalling our own experiences with the past, and what it means to us. That’s what makes history fun. That’s what makes it personal. So, for some of you, your memory of going to a theater to see Top Gun may involve squealing at seeing Tom Cruise playing beach volleyball or gripping your seat while watching the action-packed fighter jet scenes. For me, the memory is something completely different.

Joanne M. Williams
Program Director and Cultural Administrator, Whitewater Canal State Historic Site
I was in the fifth grade when Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet came out. I fell in love with the young man who played Romeo, Leonard Whiting. My mother allowed me to go to this movie alone (no one else would go with me!). The scenery, costumes and music were incredibly beautiful. Of course you can’t beat Shakespeare’s language. I bought an album from the movie and I memorized many scenes from the play. Even today, this is still one of my all-time favorite movies. It taught me to appreciate Shakespeare and I have been a lover of the ‘Bard’ ever since.

Young Petra practices her moves for Leonardo and JTT!

Petra Barleben
Arts and Culture Program Specialist
So, my earliest movie experience that I can really remember was when I was 13, and I got to see my first PG-13 movie, Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in it. I was so excited, I couldn’t even understand half of the Shakespearean dialogue, but it didn’t matter because Leonardo was in it and next to Jonathan Taylor Thomas (aka JTT) and Devon Sawa, he was the bomb diggy. I remember we were all giggly about him in the BOP magazines during class, I think I still have the magazine posters of him that I hung in my locker too. Of course then Titanic came out, my friends and I saw that movie three times. Though, to tell you the truth, Romeo and Juliet is still one of my all time favorite movies, which, of course, I own on DVD and have the soundtrack.

Brian DuVall
Marketing Graphic Designer
I have so many. I was huge fan of action as were most boys during the ‘70s and ‘80s. One of my fondest memories was seeing episodes V and VI of the Star Wars franchise. I think I was 3 when the first one came out in theater but I did see that one probably in a second “by-popular-demand” run because I distinctly remember the theater having to change the reel. For The Empire Strikes Back, I remember sitting in the front row and at the end wondering, “This is it?” and my dad saying there is one more coming. I think I responded with something like, “When? Next week?” and his response was “No, they do one every two years.” Of course, my reaction was, “I have to wait TWO YEARS!”

Gail Brown
Manager of Science Content Delivery
When I was 7, my parents took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the old Lafayette movie theater. As you walked down the hall to the theater itself, you walked through a recreated Hoth ice cave, complete with dry ice steam. Thinking back on it, it was done with papier-mâché, wires and paper, but at the time it was one of the coolest things I had seen. It really added to the movie experience and helped capture some of that “movie magic.”

Tom King
President and CEO
I’m not much of a movie goer. However, James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause are my all-time favorites. Rebel Without a Cause is the only movie I watched in its entirety four times in my life. I was in the seventh grade when Rebel came out and every boy in my class at IPS School 54 had to have a red nylon jacket like Dean wore in the movie. It was quite a phenomenon, and one of my fond memories of growing up in the ’50s.

Batman fan Krystle!

Krystle Buschner
Science and Technology Interpretation Specialist
When I was 8, my parents took my sister and me to see Batman Forever in the theater (1995). I was very excited because my parents never took us to the movie theater and my sister was even more ecstatic because she had a HUGE crush on Val Kilmer.

Tiffany Conrad
Interpretive Naturalist, Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site
I can remember going to the Strand Theater in Kendallville every Christmas as a kid. The company my dad worked for at the time would rent out the entire theater for their employees and their families. Each child would get a small soda and popcorn and maybe a box of candy if Mom and Dad were feeling the holiday spirit. After the movie we got to visit Santa and get a fresh bag of Kraft caramels with a little gift. The caramels were always so soft and chewy that we would have them gone in just a short time! Man, this brings back memories; I could go for some popcorn and a great movie about now!

Denver Howlett
Mount Maker
One of the greatest movie-going experiences for me happened once each year as I was growing up. Each summer around County Fair time in Indiana, I would spend a week with my aunt, uncle and cousins in a small town in southern Indiana. A very regular event for my cousins was to go to Saturday morning matinees at the town’s only movie theater. The place was always packed with grade school and junior high kids. The smell of popcorn, theater candy and soft drinks was almost overwhelming. The main feature, a kid-friendly B movie, was usually a sci-fi or a sappy teen movie with Annette and Frankie. But what I remember the most were the news reels before the main features. They were shorts such as Victory at Sea, completion of an interstate highway, a new land speed record at the salt flats, or a new altitude record set by people such as Chuck Yeager in the deserts of California. All this for just 50 cents!

Young Eric is probably not smiling about Twizzlers!

Eric Todd
Gallery & Programming Specialist Program Manager
My most memorable movie-going experience as a youth was the first one I remember. My family didn’t go to the movies often, so one Sunday when my parents took my brother and me out for lunch and then to see Jurassic Park, I was pretty pumped up. I would have been 8 or 9 at the time and it seemed like an awesome day. Unfortunately, the excitement perhaps got the better of me as I ate way too many Twizzlers during the movie and proceeded to vomit in the theater, causing us to leave early. I still don’t eat Twizzlers to this day.
Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker
Curator of Social History
Flashback: It’s 1965; I was a 14-year-old farm kid who had never been to a “real” theater, only drive-ins, and not often to those. Mom saw publicity for The Sound of Music, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s famous musical about the Von Trapp family, and laid down the law to my father: she and I were GOING! He reluctantly dropped us off one afternoon at the old Circle Theater in downtown Indianapolis, and I walked into another world.

First, it was dark. Drive-ins weren’t dark until way after sundown. Second, even in the dark I could make out elaborate moldings, the remains of intricate balustrades and inlaid floors left over from its days as a fashionable movie theater where pianists played live music for silent films and Rudolph Valentino stalked across the screen. Remember, these were the 1960s; Indianapolis was busily tearing down its decorated, once-elegant public buildings and homes and building featureless International Modern offices and interstates. All this splendor, even faded, was exciting!

The movie started, and in moments I was in Austria, feeling the wind off the mountains, the impatience of the nuns, the trepidation of beginning a new life as a governess, of all things; I knew no more about taking care of children than Maria did. Her creativity inspired me, her well-scrubbed good looks made me glad I was a blonde, and that voice — Julie Andrews’ unbelievable, multiple-octave range voice! I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I wanted her to sing forever.

Elaine dreams of finding a long-lost twin!

Elaine Klemesrud
Visitor Advocate and Survey Specialist
Going to the movies was a real treat for me as a kid; our family was very conservative on spending money. I was the youngest of four children and the daughter of parents who had lived during the depression. Taking that drive to the movie theater was a treat in itself. TV was black and white and the movies were in color and bigger than life. The cartoons prior to the movies rather than the actual movies are my first real memories — I continue to have a passion for old cartoons (Betty Boop, Merry Melodies) today. My first personal connection to a celluloid star was created during The Parent Trap (1961) when I first met Hayley Mills. It was summer and she was mischievous and daring, and I decided that I wanted to have a twin sister. I left the theater with a glimpse into another type of existence and the person I wanted to emulate. An awakening during a time of innocence, I was only 6 years old at the time. I did not get a twin sister, but I did continue my life with a mischievous flair — which came very naturally to me and still does today.

Meredith McGovern
Arts and Culture Collection Manager
Growing up in Batesville, Indiana, the “thing to do” on Friday nights was catch the newest (or not so new, sometimes) release at the Gibson Theatre, a historic one-screen movie house. Before the show, my classmates and I would meet each other at the Pizza Haus for steak hoagies and then would queue up in a line outside the theatre that stretched around the block, waiting to purchase our tickets. Once inside, we’d settle in for the movie, passing candy down the row. Our favorite nights were when the movie sold out and the managers would open the balcony seating, enabling us a view from above! I also remember (after much begging on my part) my mom taking me to see The Bodyguard and Ghost, even though both were rated R and I was under age. She covered my eyes during the racy scenes!

Kara Vetter
When the action packed Independence Day came out in 1996, my dad and brother were so stoked to see it. My dad would walk out of the room with his fingers in his ears singing “la la la la” every time a preview came on TV. Since they were so excited we had to go to the midnight showing. The theater was packed with young and old alike and I remember that a whole group of college guys were sitting in the first few rows because they were being extra rowdy. While it was a pretty standard “aliens try to take over the world” flick, I remember the scene where the wall of fire and destruction was bearing down on Vivica A. Fox’s character while she, her small son, and dog are trapped in a traffic tunnel. I remember the theater erupting in cheers, myself included, and all two rows of the college guys in the front were bowing to the screen in “we’re not worthy” movements. It was hilarious and made the rest of the move fun because we were all watching the movie and then their reactions to it. Amazing!

Young Dale (far left) and his siblings loved the drive-in shows … especially the late ones!

Dale Ogden
Senior Curator of Cultural History
(c.1963, 10 years old) When I was a kid, my parents would pack the five kids into the Mercury and we’d head to the Warsaw Drive-in. There wasn’t much for a family to do in Warsaw, and five bucks a carload was cheaper than bowling. My folks were making about $2.50 an hour between them. We’d get a large popcorn and two large cokes and the whole night would cost $8. The first feature was always family fare: Doris Day, a Martin & Lewis re-release, or something from the Tammy series with Debbie Reynolds. The second was often more adult, and we kids would have to lie down in the back seat or on the floor. I peeked over the seat sometimes, though …

Jennifer Spitzer
Associate VP of Exhibitions
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. I saw this movie over 20 years ago with my friend Doug in Philadelphia and I can still picture it today. I knew going in it had some parts that were going to be hard to watch. The movie is filled with rich, beautiful color-coded scenes of food and gluttony and sex. The murder, torture and cannibalism was a bit more difficult to watch and to this day it is the only time I ever thought I was going to vomit in a movie theater. This movie showed some of the most disgusting scenes I had ever seen. I have never wanted to rewatch it, but I highly recommend it if you are a Helen Mirren fan. She was fabulous!

One Response

  1. First off, this made my day. Reading things like this is one of the reasons that I’ve deeply missed the working at the ISM for 4 years.

    When I was 8, my dad somehow scored advance screening tickets to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. We went to see it at the Greenwood Loews Cinema. I don’t remember a ton about the film itself, but this was back when America had a raging mad-on for young Macauly Culkin, so it seemed like a significant event. More important was the fact that this was an advance screening, so I was seeing it before any of my friends. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and tell them all about it.

    When I arrived in class on Monday, I told all of my pals about the new movie and was met with the accusations that I was:

    1. A liar
    2. A stupid buttface liar
    3. Just lying so that Emily P. in Mrs. Earl’s class will like you but she won’t because you’re 3 feet tall and you have Mickey Mouse ears and shut up you stupid buttface liar.

    It was a harsh situation. Even after the film came out in theaters, I couldn’t convince my friends that I had seen it. This proved to be a turning point in the credibility of young TC Lofton, as whenever I would make a claim from there on out, those same friends would echo: “Yeah, but he lied about seeing Home Alone 2, so he’s lying. Bull Hockey.” (a popular term in Wayne Township at the time) I had seen it, but nobody believed me. It was rough. The movies destroyed my young life.

    All was forgiven when they re-released Star Wars, though.

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