The memory flickers

Desperation and a month of rainy weekends recently drove us to a Sunday afternoon movie. It was the first matinee I'd been to in years, but it had all the old familiar sound effects: high-pitched battles for front-row seats, empty bottles clattering down the aisles, loud smacking noises and giggles during the love scenes, popcorn bags blown up and burst to approving applause. I remember now why I don't go to matinees.

My reluctance probably dates back to elementary school days when my friends and I had a standing date every Saturday to meet at the local theater for the 10 a.m. show and then head to the park for lunch and roller skating. After sitting through several dreary movies and too many boxes of stale Jujubes, I began looking for a way out. I was even considering ballet classes when my mother unexpectedly came to my rescue by adding monster movies and cowboy and Indian epics to the list of films I wasn't allowed to see. I fumed about her narrow-mindedness to my friends but I was secretly delighted that I didn't have to spend any more Saturday mornings in the dark, watching giant ants eat cities or cringing as beautiful palomino horses fell off cliffs. For the next three years I missed almost every show that came to town, and instead put in two extra hours at the skating rink each Saturday practicing my turns and spins. To this day I have a mean figure-eight-on-wheels to show for it.

By the time we graduated to junior high school, we of course had outgrown the neighborhood theater, and come Saturday morning we'd pool our allowances for the week and board the bus for lunch and a movie matinee downtown. I went along for the lunches at a Chinese restaurant in the theater district, where we could eat with chopsticks and listen to white-jacketed waiters whisper to one another in exotic dialects.

After the fortune cookies, however, I'd depart on some important, hastily recalled errand, which often took me several blocks down the street to the zoo. The frisky zebras and great horned wildebeests that roamed the uncaged habitats there were a welcome relief from the trained poodles and animated bears Hollywood had to offer.

Thanks to my mother and the wildebeests, I managed to escape the dark and sticky recesses of Saturday matinees for years. And thanks to summer camp I learned that there were plenty of alternatives to the late show, too.

For a number of summers my older cousin and I were the only girls at the boys camp our family ran, and so had to prove our mettle at every turn. We may not have been crack shots on the rifle range, but when it came to Friday night sports we were unsurpassed.

After supper each Friday hands would shoot up from the majority of campers who wanted to go into town for the movies, while a select few of us would yawn and complain about laundry we had to do. As soon as the station wagons had left for the show, however, those who'd chosen to stay behind would close ranks for the evening's pranks. Most nights we carted off beds to the middle of the archery field or ran pajamas up the flagpole. One particularly inventive evening we chopped down a dense grove of pine trees and rearranged them in the middle of the dirt lane that led from the main road to the camp, completely obliterating the turnoff for those who had to find it in the dark after the late show.

Following my camping days, high school and college had plenty of distractions to offer, and it wasn't until I was teaching overseas that my interest in movies was rekindled. I owed it all to the government censors.

In the Asian capital where I lived, foreign films were closely scrutinized for signs of decadence and potentially unhealthy influences on the young movie going public. We expected scenes having elements of sex or violence to be automatically screened out, but it was intriguing to go to the movies to see what else the censors might find objectionable.

While political relations with the Soviet Union were at a particularly low ebb, for example, all references to Russia were deleted from movies. This happened while ''Dr. Zhivago'' was making its debut, and the version we saw at a downtown theater on opening night must have been the shortest on record - about 45 minutes total, including previews and advertisements.

During another curious period, musicals came into disfavor and songs were routinely erased from most films. Without its glorious mountaintop opening, without the children's ''Do Re Mi'' choruses, without the haunting family rendition of ''Edelweiss'' at the close, there wasn't much left to hold ''The Sound of Music'' together.

Since those exciting days of handwritten subtitles - my days of rekindled interest - I've had to look for entertainment in other, more esoteric areas of filmmaking, and I must say Hollywood's been doing its best to keep me coming back. I'm making up for lost time. In special effects and makeup especially, I've discovered new realms of wonder. Any industry that can give us childlike extraterrestrials who beep and gurgle over chocolate-covered peanut butter candies gets my price of admission any day - or rather, any evening. I'm still working up to matinees.

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