The big show: Remembering when a movie was an event

The Oscar telecast coming up on Sunday serves to remind me that in the long-ago days of my youth, going to the movies was an event.

In the 1960s and ’70s, if you lived in the central Upper Peninsula and did not catch a film in the theaters, you had to hope that it either wound up being at the drive-in theater at some point or ended up being shown on television.

And at my family home, that television option was limited in itself. Cable didn’t arrive in our part of Negaunee Township until I was in college, so broadcast TV was for many years just WLUC. Then WNMU and WJMN came along, offering a whopping three-channel choice.

Which was actually kind of exciting to me back then but didn’t really allow one that many more chances to watch that movie you missed in the theaters.

This era was before home video players or recorders. If you said “Netflix” to someone, they’d probably think you were talking about a tennis or fishing technique.

Going to the movies was a pretty big deal, especially if you were under 16, meaning you couldn’t legally drive, and lived miles from a theater. Taking one’s bike that far at night wasn’t a possibility.

Finding a ride to “the show” was often interesting. Nagging one’s parents was always a risky proposition, especially if dad had a bad day at work. Cajoling older siblings was worth a shot, but usually resulted in disappointment. Negotiating a deal like “Susie’s dad will bring us if you pick us up” would work on occasion with my dad.

Using juicy information about an older sibling as blackmail paid off in movie trips every now and again at my house, but I won’t reveal the “ammunition” I used. It was 40-some years ago and my parents are gone, but I am still not a rat fink. So your secret’s still safe with me, Alex, Eric or Chris (not even ready to admit who I blackmailed).

One of the highlights of my summers back then was getting to spend a week or two staying with my Aunt Lois and Uncle Snook and spending time with their four kids. We had a lot of fun with the bonus being they lived close enough to downtown Ishpeming that we could walk to a theater.

We just had to remember to not walk too close to the tall shrubbery by the Cliffs building on the way home or SOMETHING WOULD GET YOU.

All of which means, being able to see a movie in a theater was a big deal back then.

Now, with movies available on demand through a variety of services, from a plethora of television channels and by rental, film viewing has gone from a thrill to a “meh” kind of experience.

And that’s a shame because movies can still be amazing entertainment. From “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Field of Dreams” to “Magic Mike,” a film on the big screen can be a thrill, for a variety of reasons.

Watching a movie on a long winter’s night can transport you away from the snow and cold to a whole different world.

That’s easy to forget with the accessibility of film nowadays.

Which is why Sunday night, I’ll try to watch the Academy Award broadcast with the same enthusiasm I had for movies when I was a youth. And while I haven’t seen most of the nominated pictures quite yet, I will remember to be grateful that through the many advancements since my teen years, I can see them with relative ease.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is