It looks like this might mean curtains for movie theaters.

Our current coronavirus-induced stay-at-home culture?


The VCR.

Once America realized the chief value of owning a VCR was not recording shows from television to be viewed whenever we wanted, but renting or purchasing VHS tapes and turning our living rooms into movie theaters, everyone predicted "going to the movies " would surely be going the way of going to nickelodeons. I know I did.

Although they were available in the late '70s, we didn't get our first VCR until our daughter was about a year old. That was 1984. Once we did, we were hooked. Having a child, and then a second one, made getting out to see a movie impossible. But who cared? We could see all the movies we wanted right at home, once their run in the theaters ran its course. A small price to pay, we thought. And our feet wouldn't be stuck to the floor.

Then there was the vast backlog of movies we may have seen as kids and wanted to share with our own, or perhaps never had seen. I'd walk into Wyoming Valley Video in the Midway Shopping Center and ask owner Foster Ritchie for advice and he never let me down. Foster was a movie aficionado.

"I know," he'd say, "something for you and the wife and something for the kids." One evening he suggested "It Happened One Night." He said I probably never heard of it, but in 1934 it won all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. That had never before happened, he added. For the kids, it was "Short Circuit," a cute film about a human-like robot whom its inventors named "Number 5" but who insisted on being called "Johnny 5." The kids called him "5 Alive." Those two movies just about secured Foster's sainthood in my eyes.

It was not long, however, before I sensed the downside of renting or owning movies. We developed a nasty habit of killing them. Our first victim was Disney's "Sleeping Beauty." We knew the kids would love it. And they did. So much so, that as soon as it ended, they asked to see it again. And again. And again. And by Monday when our weekend rental was up, I practically threw the damn thing back at poor Foster.

We hated ourselves, but not enough to amend our ways. We killed every Disney movie we got our hands on. By the time we finished off "The Lion King," close to 10 years later, if any of us even hummed "Hakuna Matata," we ran the risk of getting a punch in the mouth.

I longed for the days when Disney movies were special. "Snow White" would be shelved for 20 years. Then we'd hear it was being released for a limited run in theaters. The lines were around the block, mostly parents anxious to share their childhood joy with their own little ones. And no one minded. It was — nod to the Disney empire intended — magical.

The damage we did to ourselves by building a library of VHS movies that we never again wanted to see soon propelled us back to the movie theater, or more accurately the movie theater experience. And we quickly re-fell in love with it. The popcorn, the massive boxes of Dots and Milk Duds and Raisinets (which my little boy called "Raisin Nuts"), the whole shebang made for a lot more fun than yawning through the third-straight showing of "The Fox and the Hound" in our family room.

And judging by the crowds, we weren't the only ones.

When all was said and done, going to the movies proved to be an experience Americans weren't ready to surrender.

To borrow from Mark Twain, rumors of the death of movie theaters were greatly exaggerated.

Were they ever. Theaters lived on while Blockbusters were shuttered.

And now, here we go again.

Some 40 years after we all bought our first VCRs, we find ourselves hearing reports that movie theaters will not survive this nationwide lockdown. A week ago I read that AMC, the largest movie theater company in the world with 1,000 locations and 11,000 screens, would be filing for bankruptcy. There aren't any AMCs around here, but still I was crushed. Then, hold your horses, I read this morning. AMC may have found a way to live on.

Movie theaters survived a challenge once before. And they just might again.

Here's hoping they do.

"Raisin Nuts" don't taste the same at home.


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