By David Huberman
To me there’s nothing more comforting than entering a dark air-conditioned theater, clutching a box of high-calorie popcorn swimming in fake butter, finding a seat in the back and mindlessly watching celluloid. It could be Triple-X, Kung-Fu, Western, old-timey musicals, sci-fi, film noir, Grade B schlock, old, silent, foreign with subtitles, classics, critic’s choice, or even homemade. It doesn’t matter as long as it takes my attention away from present reality. If a film goes the distance and takes me to the outer limits of my imagination, the filmmaker has done their job.
The Bronx of the golden 1960’s, there were the movie palaces. Big, elegant, art deco auditoriums with beautiful vaulted ceilings and huge crystal chandeliers. I remember very distinctly walking over to 161st and Grand Concourse, having lunch at the old cafeteria near Yankee Stadium, then going to the Luxor Theater and seeing ‘Dr. No’ with Sean Connery being “Bond, James Bond.” If I didn’t like what was playing at the Luxor, there was always the Earle or the Kent nearby. I remember playing hooky from school, sneaking off to the Kent Cinema with school chum Barry Bernstein, to see ‘The Professionals’ with Burt Lancaster, or looking in amazement at ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ I can still remember the day another friend who was older than I, who used to protect me from the neighborhood bullies, announced there was a new movie at the Luxor Cinema just as good as the ‘Bond’ films, but with an Asian hero who knew karate and Kung-Fu.
Bruce Lee had come a long way from playing sidekick Kato in ‘The Green Hornet’ on TV to starring in the big-budget feature film, ‘Enter the Dragon.’ It was he who had put Kung-Fu films on the American movie-making map. Other great films that stand out in my mind from those times were ‘Shaft,’ ‘Dirty Harry,’ ‘The Good, the Bad and The Ugly,’ ‘Superfly,’ ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and the Peter Gunn movie, ‘Gunn’ – especially the last scene, where the beautiful evil woman turns out to be a pre-op transsexual.
Not all my early Bronx cinema memories were good. One time I was sitting alone watching a ‘spaghetti western’ called ‘A Stranger in Town,’ when an older, husky, straggly haired man wearing the stereo-typical long raggedy coat sat down next to me. Before I knew it, his knee kept bumping into mine. Fear crept into me. I ran out of the Kent theatre (- a ‘knee jerk’ reaction -) missing the movie. But I got sweet revenge at the Luxor while waiting to see ‘The Summer of ’42.’ My husky friend with the ‘knee problem’ was sitting in the last row, and being very aware of his presence, I was standing up in the aisle eating my buttered popcorn and sipping a Coke, deciding where to sit, hoping the big pervert would leave me alone. The theater was almost empty except for me and him and a few drunks sleeping it off. Two cops entered the theatre. At first I thought justice would be served, but as it turned out, they were just there to goof off and hang out with the young women working the concession stand. The creep also noticed the cops and slouched down in his seat. With the cops there, I felt safe that the molester wouldn’t try any of his sick routines, so I decided to do something daring. I went over to where he was sitting, which was the last row, stood behind him, and spilled my paper cup full of ice and cold soda down his neck! Then I spat right on his head. All he did was slouch down more on his seat and not a word was spoken. I didn’t stick around to watch him clean up. I used the back exit to leave and got depressed after seeing that little red word on the wall as I was returning to the real world. Maybe it symbolized leaving my mother’s womb all over again or it could be that I just enjoy fantasy more than reality. I went back the next day to catch the film. Jennifer O’Neil knocked me out with her surreal beauty. I’d like to say that I never saw the pervert again, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I ran into him a few more times, but he always kept his distance.
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