Commentary: Remembering the old days, Entertainment choices before Reaganomics
February 26, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Does anyone here remember the early and mid-70s'
I'm sure there are a few folks out there, like myself, who still recall the way things were prior to the digital age; when DVDs had not yet been invented and VCRs, although in existence, had not yet hit consumer markets.
What I remember most was it was the era of Watergate; when 8-track tape players were cool, Elvis and Bruce Lee were kings and little was known about Chuck Norris.
It was a time when going to the movie theater was a rare treat and watching movies on network TV was a major event. People just didn't get to the movies as often then, so when you went, you made a night of it.
For starters, this was long before there were pre-bought/pre-sold movie tickets. It was an archaic and chaotic time-at least that's what those might think of a time when you had to actually stand in line for hours (sometimes in bell bottom jeans) to buy tickets. For wildly popular movies, like "Jaws", crowds were sometimes turned away because theaters had reached their seating capacity.
If you were lucky, and the line wasn't too long, you would get into the theater just in time to catch the coming attractions. If unlucky, you might miss the first 10 minutes of the film. But the good thing was that the theater staff would let you stay seated after the movie was over to catch the parts you missed when the next showing started. Today, you would get kicked out of the theater or forced to pay admission again.
Movies back then were about $1.75 to $2.50 for an evening showing--compare that to the $6.50 price some matinee showings are demanding now and the $8.50 for evening showings.
Popular movies, like "Star Wars", when first released would play at the theater for a month or two and then you might not see them again for years. That is, until the movie would be re-released.
In those days you could always opt to buy an 8-millimeter or 16mm movie projector and buy movies for $65 a pop (for a color copy and about $40 for black and white) to get a glimpse of your favorite recent releases, but the movies were silent and they only ran 12 to 15 minutes in length-a very abbreviated and scaled down version of the movie.
Television had a much different aura as well. This was long before everyone had access to cable movie networks like HBO (which was started in 1972 and didn't go big on a nationwide scale until 1979). It was a time when you couldn't rent a movie and cable, if you want to call it that, only had 12 channels.
So when movies came on network TV for the first time, it was a huge, huge deal. It was a family affair, mom would pop the corn and dad would gather the family together around a large wood-encased TV, probably made out of some kind of hard oak and once placed in your living room stayed where it was until you moved or the house burned down.
It was a major event, there again, because you didn't have the luxury of getting to pick what movies you watched or the choice of renting a movie. You were at the mercy of the TV networks or local UHF (Go ahead, "Google" it) stations. You always knew you were in for something special when the network used the guy who voiced the Love Boat commercials to introduce the film.
"Tonight, an ABC exclusive movie event, Roger Moore stars as James Bond in 'Live and Let Die'!"
Exclusive. It always was exclusive. But nothing was like the anticipation of getting to see a movie on TV, especially if it had been years since it had its first run in the theater.
In those days, people used to argue on how many years it would take to see "Jaws" on TV. Today it's only a matter of months until movies are released to DVD. People sometimes waited for years to see a movie on TV, but nowadays you can actually own a movie-no one could have imagined owning a movie in those days.
The big three networks (yes three, there was no Fox network then) made big, big money from sponsors, because millions and millions of households tuned in to CBS, NBC, and ABC to see premieres of movies that had not played in theaters for years.
When "Jaws" was first released in the theater in 1975, it ran for nearly three months and then left the theaters. It wasn't until four years later, in 1979, that the movie that equated swimming with entry into the food chain was re-released at the theater. The following year, "Jaws" debuted on network television.
But by the late 70s and early 80s something was looming on the horizon that would forever change the way people watched movies on their televisions-the birth of the home theater which gave viewers new freedom in the guise of Beta and VHS tapes and laser disc players, allowing them to watch movies complete and unedited whenever they chose to.
It took a few years for video cassette recorder prices to drop from around $1,000 to $300. Most American households owned VCRs by 1986. It was then that the golden age of first-run network TV movie premieres became deader than disco.
In the late 1980s, TV networks were finding that ratings significantly dropped when they premiered theatrical movies; by the time it hit television, most folks had already seen the movie on their VCR. Unlike the 70s, when movie premieres on the big three networks garnered viewer numbers in the tens of millions, by the late 80s and early 90s, the numbers fell to just a few million.
Although those of us who are 40 or older still remember when going to the movies was saved for special occasions and when TV networks really were a big deal, I question if now we have it better or worse'
We didn't stay indoors watching TV every day or playing video games. There was no time-we had trees to climb, frogs to catch, games to play and mostly, our imaginations to entertain us.
When not yelling at kids to stay off his lawn or lamenting the loss of his hair, Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp enjoys researching WWII history, reading and spending time with this wife and son.