Monday, December 06, 2004

Movie Theaters in Monrovia

I've forgotten much of Monrovia. I remember bits and peices--the beggars in front of the old post office, for instance.

The Rivoli had street parking, boys with candy and cigarettes for sale in trays outside, a concession stand inside (I never bought there), dark seats, the President's box, and movies we'd heard about six months before.

There were sometimes older boys outside who would offer to watch your car for a fee. . .

The President's box was supposed to be reserved for President Tubman and his guests, though of course we never saw him here. The seats were bigger and better cushioned in that central box, walled in with a front ledge.. I went in several times, but didn't stick around--I saw few enough movies to risk getting thrown out. Some bolder souls did try to watch from the sacred premises, without ill effect. Apparently nobody was deeply offended . . . I didn't learn until later that a lot of the "We love President Tubman" chorus was insincere. (I didn't talk politics with people.)

Sometimes someone would buy a tube of M&M's from the concession stand, or (ever so rarely) a Toblerone bar. I coveted those (still do), but not enough to borrow money to buy one. One night I sweltered while waiting for a friend hesitating in front of a persistent candy boy. I kept saying "They're cheaper inside," goading the candy boy into shouting "They are not!" But perhaps I wasn't quite unjustified in my estimate: unaffordable inside equals unaffordable outside. 75 cents was a big deal for me then.

I don't recall ever going to the Roxy--perhaps once. I'm not sure why--perhaps my parents saw things there that a child might not notice. Maybe they didn't like the selection (though I didn't see any difference in kind from the Rivoli). In later years I hear it deteriorated badly, both in the physical plant and in the selection offered. The Relda drew the better customers away.

When the Relda was built it actually had a parking lot, and a mottled green statue of a naked woman outside. The selection was like the Rivoli's: popular US movies about 6 months after their US release. For some reason we didn't go to the movies with the most interesting previews, but I can't complain that the ones we saw were dull.

One such was a biopic of some old English king who apparently wanted to be a saint, but wound up in a lot of battles anyway. I remember talking with missionary who drove us, wondering why on earth the king didn't want to have sex with his wife (or anybody else--he seemed to want to be a married monk). It didn't reassure me of the basic sanity of the world to be told that the king's attitude wasn't all that uncommon.

I still remember those interminable Benson and Hedges commercials. They seemed to be 10 minutes long, but were probably only 2. I remember looking around the theater, and seeing almost all black faces; and looking back at the ads with all rich white faces and wondering "Why?" (The ads had no effect--I don't smoke.)

I'm told that these days one-room "movie theaters" are popular, with a TV and VCR or DVD player as the centerpeice; playing martial arts movies or less noble fare.

Correction: "The Roxy . . . specialized in karate and Indian movies."

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