Saddle Sores at the Cinema

Maybe it’s living a life with cellphones stuck in their ears, but teenagers are forever forgetting that other people can hear them when they’re talking. Hauling my Lincoln Land students from one performance to another I often get an earful coming from the back seat of my car. On a recent evening I heard the teen critics behind me comparing the various movie theatres in the area. They didn’t care a thing about which cinemas offered the best choice of movies. Instead, their main reason for choosing a film was the quality of the theatre seat. I’m not kidding. A couple of them refused to attend certain theatres because they didn’t like the quality of padding in their seats.

Jacksonville has but two movie theatres and both are recently renovated to multiplex size giving the viewer a choice of films. My kids stare at me in wonder when I tell them used to have a choice of two movies in town. . . whatever was playing at the Illinois and whatever was showing at the Times. And we weren’t even able to resort to Netflix. One of my students asked, “Which ones had the best seats back then?” They assumed that I used to ride my horse to the theatre and tie her up to the popcorn stand. I told them that I had no idea. All seats were about the same. The little assemblage in the back of my car could hardly believe that we never considered the plushness of our movie seats.

One young blond fellow said that he never attended a certain Jacksonville movie house because their seats didn’t recline like the other theatre’s chairs. I asked him why he had to lie down to watch a movie. He stared at me and said, “You mean you sit up to watch a movie at home?” I told him that I did and that I also sat up to eat, stood to shower, and often lay prone at bedtime. I had several positions to choose from and picked the one that seemed most appropriate for the situation. The boy had no idea what I was talking about and so went on to extoll the virtues of one theatre’s seating over another.

It reminded me of a play that we recently presented in Roodhouse for the town’s birthday bash. In order to get material for the show I had interviewed several of the older residents and they talked about the old Roodhouse movie theatre where the kids would have to sit in the back on wooden benches while the adults watched the show from folding chairs in the front. One Roodhous-ian told me that, “The trick was to sneak up to the really good seats when the lights went out.” These “really good seats” were made of metal. I fear that the young man in the back of my car that night wouldn’t have fared well through a Gene Autry double feature with his bony butt resting upon a wooden plank.

I can remember sitting through movies in the old movie palace in Perry, Illinois, where our seating consisted of those wooden-slatted folding chairs often favored by funeral homes. They were rickety, a bit noisy, and you had to sit still because the slats didn’t quite come together and often as not you’d leave the theatre with a pinched cheek. We’d sometimes wise up and stick empty popcorn sacks into the cracks. The really little kids would sit up front on the floor and their butts came out less pinched but more flattened. We had no overly padded reclining seats even in our homes, and there was something about riding the range with Roy Rogers that made a few saddle sores entirely appropriate.

So I stuck my head into the back seat and asked if there were any other criteria other than seat padding that made them favor one movie theatre over another. “Not enough butter on the popcorn,” got two votes, and one girl complained, “At that one place you’ve got to walk all the down to the end of the hall to find the right theatre.” All the way down? I’ve been to this movie theatre on several occasions and can attest that about ten yards is the eternity that was wearing this girl out. At the risk of appearing even more of fossil than I’d already become I didn’t mention to the tired young lady that I used to have to walk six blocks to see a movie.

The backseat conversation then turned to the newest breed of movie theatres where real live waiters serve you food during the show. One of my riders said that they were installing one of these in a nearby town and that she planned to attend the following week. I asked her what movie was showing and she said, “What’s the difference?”

Oh. Silly me.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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