The pale image leads me to the early childhood memory of the movie theater, I frequented in a weekly ritual in which the entire city participated. One cinema, one movie, and a long line of spectators with the desire to set foot in it as soon as possible. The obstacle in the way was the ticket controller at the entrance, uniformed, authority. I envied him so much. He could watch any movie, for free and multiple times. My first ambition and answer to the question “What would you like to be when you grow up?”
The merry chitchat of the full hall quickly subsided with the lights going out. The film news began the program with a music that draws attention and exudes seriousness. Television was not yet present in our lives, so it was “a window into the world.” But wait, not before we saw and heard where Tito went on vacation, or how many bears he shot at the hunting resort Karadjordjevo. The featured movie was a black and white film, but more and more in color, on a wide screen, cinemascope.
In those pre-adolescent years, I admired westerns and filmed fairy tales (before Disney came to Yugoslavia). It was a time of heroes such as Hercules, Davey Crockett, Tarzan, Prince Valiant and others. But I watched every movie genre that was shown, historical spectacles, biographical, children’s, science fiction, adventurous, biblical, romantic, and others.
This world of moving pictures influenced the development of curiosity, which was further directed by reading books, school, and other activities. The exuberant imagination of the child’s psyche also led to the game of cowboys and Indians, reading comic books, reconstructing film motifs using improvised toys, and daydreaming about America. It started then, by collecting pictures of Kirk Douglas, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Richard Widmark, and many others. But what I was most striving for was to “enter” the story that took place on the movie screen, so striking, close and afar, tempting me with its reality and ambience, more than any other art form.
Moving to Pancevo and the vicinity of Belgrade have expanded the repertoire and selection many times over. There were still crowds for tickets, depending on what was shown. I became a real movie buff. Although at that time the presence of television became a significant competition for cinemas, I remained a loyal visitor, the trusted audience, now even more serious, with a specially purchased notebook where I recorded every movie I watched. I could continue this text by listing the films, directors, actors, who influenced my sensibility, with which I identified with, and visited places and periods unfettered by the laws of physics. But I will stop.
I will not talk about the cultural and artistic significance of Yugoslav and world cinema, the “black wave” movies of the 1960s, film censorship, the significance of the international film festival in Belgrade, the “Czech school” of talented movie directors in the mid-1970s. I will only mention the personal significance of the “film city” on the Tamis river, which hosted Carl Ponti and Sofia Loren, as well as many cult films shot in Pancevo in the 1980s. When I arrived in America in the late 1980s, I entered for the first time the multiplex movie theater and encountered the Hollywood film machinery. Of course, around that time, video stores changed everything. Watching films in a home environment on a TV screen predominated. Nowadays, streaming has become the most popular way to watch any movie at any time. One can say “You’ve come a long way, baby” to emphasize the advance in technology of movie making and watching, but at the same time we are in danger of losing the magic of the darkened movie theater that attracted me as I grew up.
I’ll explain the wondrous intimacy of the movie theater taking as an example the 100-year-old historic building in Fargo, where the Fargo Theater is housed. It is located in the center of the city and renovated 22 years ago with the return of the former splendor and elegance of an old lady who deserves respect and proper behavior. The facade attracts with its brightness and enormity. This architectural experience is enough to make you open its doors, the kind of portal that transports you to a world away from everyday life, the world of moving pictures. The interior is flooded with blue and pink art-deco style lights complemented by curved lights, the so-called “light fountains” and a thick red curtain that hides the movie screen. The original Wurlitzer organ from 1926 is still in good condition. Upon entering, you are greeted by organ playing that characterized the time of silent movies and now resonates like a heartbeat with an impressive sound contributing to a magical atmosphere. When the music stops, it is a sign that a projection will follow, and the organ and musician slowly disappear from the view into the darkness of the basement guided by a pneumatic mechanism. The lights go out and the projector turns on. We are ready to immerse ourselves in a new world, in communion with others, with whom we share an aesthetic experience, undisturbed and focused, in silence, in the darkness disturbed by the ray of light that gradually spreads from the depths of the hall to the movie screen, the exclusivity of our field of vision.
In her own way, my daughter Simone described her thinking on the topic:
“Going to smaller movie theaters like Avon and Cable Car in Providence allowed me to see more independent films, and often more artistically creative films than those that I would see at a major cinema. At a place like Avon, a theater that has been in operation for nearly a century, you can still feel the weight of cinema history in its halls. Its largely unchanged decor, furnishings, and seating reminds me of the golden age of cinema. It is reminiscent of a time when movies were a novelty, a rare luxury worth dressing up for to attend. At Avon, people still clap after the showing, which I think is a wonderful appreciation of the filmmakers. Watching independent films, where the personality of the writer and/or director could shine through more distinctly, allowed me to relate to and imagine myself within the creative process of filmmaking on a more personal level. Nowadays, I fully enjoy and embrace what can be considered the golden age of television, though nothing can quite compete with enjoying a classic cinema experience. Being immersed in a dark room with no distractions, a large screen, surround sound, and the captivated energy of strangers around you is incomparable. With the lived reality of COVID, plus major shifts in the movie business, it is rarer and more difficult to have the opportunity to watch great films in a theater. The way we tell and experience stories is evolving, and for me that comes with balancing my nostalgic longing for the past with my excitement and anticipation of more modern forms of entertainment.”
After this description, the associative memory drags me back to Pancevo, Sunday mornings, a walk to the cinema, matinees, with my daughter Iva. A time of togetherness, candies, children roar in anticipation of the cartoons, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and company, Popeye, Tom and Jerry, who elicit unbridled cheerful sounds produced by children in response to what was seen and experienced. Happiness on the daughter’s face could be seen “from the airplane”. Her hand squeezes me harder, and her excitement conveys the joy transmitted from the movie screen. And my heart is filled. An event etched in the memory store is still expressed with a smile on my face and nostalgia for the passage of times.
I go to another time and watch a homemade video of my younger daughter, two years old, staring intently at the TV screen, at the movie Pocahontas, animated, with music that captures attention with its melody and words. And from there, we go to a video store, a movie theater, and then she jumped to a college in California. Film studies, work at the Paradigm Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, and the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Then, moving to Maine, more film jobs, and now in the process of writing the screenplay for the admission to the graduate school in New York City. A career of a professional dedicated to film.
My brother, a film lover and collector, with a keen eye for quality, a companion from the early days of childhood, a family passion, with parents, and then two of us, from Pancevo to Belgrade, and across the ocean, exchanging films, impressions, recommendations, and descriptions. Sometimes even reviews like this one:
“I just watched the movie Serious Man. It differs from other Coen brothers’ films that I have watched. I don’t remember a single film showing Jewish customs like in this movie. Although it is only a framework, the story is universal, to find answers to life’s questions, to solve problems with oneself, family, work. The story of Job is one of the most compelling stories I have read in the Old Testament and in Jung’s books. Did you recognize that this was the story of Job?”
Writing on this topic is intentionally viewed almost exclusively through a personal prism. That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of both the pros and cons that film as a mass medium product carries with it. But I wanted to emphasize my unique experience and its relevance for me and my family.