I saw myself at the movies the other night. I was just going into the BAM Theater in downtown Brooklyn when I turned around and there I was.
It didn’t look like me at all. I had glasses and a beard, and I was carrying a bag of popcorn. I was also taller and younger with a full head of hair. But it was me all right.
I didn’t need the special effects skills of Industrial Light & Magic to be one person in two bodies that night. All I had to do was take a long look.
This guy I was looking at was another person, but we were so alike we could have been clones. We were both alone on a Friday night and we were going to the movies. I don’t know this guy’s story at all, but in a way, I think I do.
Movies are my favorite form of entertainment. I love seeing them, talking about them, and I’ve tried writing them, and since I’m going to the theater by myself on a Friday night, you can tell how successful I’ve been in that particular area.
Tonight’s feature was a special Italian film selection called “Class Outing” and the main character is a lonely middle-aged character. Now I’m seeing myself on screen as well as the audience.
I fell in love with the craft of movies when I was about 13 after watching the PBS series “The Men Who Made the Movies.” The series featured the stories of some the greatest filmmakers, people like Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Raul Walsh, and William Wellmen.
These are people who gave us some treasures like “Vertigo,” “The Oxbow Incident” and “The Big Sleep.” These are the people who made film an art long before there were film schools.
Once I was hooked, I started going to the art houses in Manhattan—or “retrospective cinemas” as a college film instructor put it--all the time to see the old classics. I remember the Elgin Cinema, which had a cat roaming the theater. There was the Carnegie Hall Cinema and sometimes I’d go uptown to the Thalia, although that was rare.
I was so crazy I’d much map my weekend life out through the movie timetables. Some people couldn’t understand how I could go to the movies by myself, but it never bothered me…until recently.
It slowly crept into my mind just how lonely I really was, and how, while I may actually be enjoying and learning the art of film by all this movie-going, I was missing out on life, the real life that was waiting for me when the movie ended and the lights came on.
The movies were my escape and as I’ve tried to improve my social life, meet more people, talk to breathing life forms, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to go to the movies alone. When those lights come on, I feel like a criminal caught by some social alarm system: Loser! Loser! Loser!
So I cut down on my solo movie trips. I’ve joined some online social groups, where people get together and do things—go to museums, concerts, or just dinner and talk.
Now that I’m out of work, I find myself backsliding into the dependable darkness of the theater. I don’t want to tell people my story, see the sympathy in their eyes when I tell them I’m out of work. I just want to go to the movies.
The Seventies band the Spinners had a song that began with the warning, “Don’t ever be a lonely poor little fool like me.” It was a warning to all within hearing distance not to end up alone.
If I had thought of that song a little sooner I would have gone up to the younger version of myself tonight and told him the same thing. Get out there and live. The movies will always be here, pal. But you won’t.