Returning to the cinema, releases COVID

Ever wanted to have your own private screening of a favorite movie? We didn’t ask for this wish, but this week it came true for my wife and I as we returned to movie theaters after nearly three years. We shared a theater of 60 people with two other women. My wife was very happy to be free from the distractions and airborne particles of 56 other potential COVID carriers.

I was delighted that my wife had agreed to join me in the new Diane Keaton film, “Mack and Rita” and we chose the 2:05 AM slot last Monday. This would be our quiet, post-Covid return to the world of cinema. Despite the availability of streaming during COVID, we never got into it for the past two years. Going to the cinema became a pleasant memory.

I wondered what we had missed over the past two years and came across a news report that 72 movies had been postponed due to the pandemic. Some looked familiar and had been released during 2021 and this year. Among them were “Kingsman”; “No Time to Die” (the last James Bond film); “In the Heights” (a successful Broadway show now on film); “Top Gun” (recently released); and “My One and Only Ivan” (from a book we sell for middle readers at the bookstore.) Many of the other films were graphic novels or comics made into movies, such as “Avitar” and ” Batman.”

When we arrived, the theater parking lot looked pretty packed, probably with patrons from the 11am movie screenings, so that was encouraging. But once inside the lobby, there were no people hanging around. The experience became very surreal.

The lobby we remembered packed with people for Saturday night movie outings, before the pandemic, was ominously quiet. Except for a table and four chairs, there was no comfortable furniture.

Granted, this was an early morning, but I felt more like I’d walked into the lobby of a funeral chapel than a movie theater. Although several movies were playing, the only other patrons we saw seemed to be a group of toddlers on a daycare outing. They walked in very quietly, went straight to the concession stand and waited for popcorn, candy or drinks. Otherwise, no one would show up.

After the mini troopers left for their movie, I went to the concession stand and ordered some medium buttered popcorn, but they only offered small and large, so I took the plunge. After all, who knew when we’d be back, so why not make a big one with plenty of butter? Acting like a total slob, I dove into the bag of popcorn and quickly decorated my new pair of shorts with more butter than was in the bag. But I was already in popcorn heaven.

Once inside the theater, my wife wiped down the seats and tray tables with disinfectant and we waited to see who would join us. No one came until just before the previews started. Then, silently, two ladies appeared and took the seats at the end of our row. And despite our polite silence, we became a comfortable foursome.

Out of six previews, two really interested us. Since both will only be in the theater this fall, we decided to go back.

And “Mack and Rita” was great. Diane Keaton, as always, was in her element and her eclectic costumes, her signature in all her films, were the cornerstone of the film.

Our return to the cinema was the highlight of our week. While I can’t guarantee when my wife will want to go to another movie, seeing “Mack and Rita” was a great first step. While I don’t have any advice for other reluctant post-Covid moviegoers, I encourage you to give movies another chance. We will stick with the afternoon matinee and continue to wait for more almost private screenings.

Steven Gaynes is a writer from Fairfield, and his “In the Suburbs” appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected]

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