In the year 2000, the city of Brea, CA built a giant 20-screen movie theater on the abandoned cul-de-sac of Birch Street. Along with this theater they opened a Baskin Robbins and constructed several fountains. The plaza also came with plenty of cops on bicycles and areas to pick up and drop off patrons under the age of 16.
As tweens, we flocked like sheep to the well-lit and bar-free promenade of Birch Street. It was the coolest place to be when you couldn’t drive. People would meet, hang out at Fatburger, flirt, and then go into the movies to make out. A year earlier, we were performing these activities at Disneyland. Birch Street was closer, didn’t require a pass, and there were no rides to be kicked off of when going to second base.
When I entered eighth grade in the year 2000, I was allowed to go to Birch Street to see movies, be obnoxious, and hang out with the opposite sex. So many scandals went down in the hours before our parents picked us up and carpooled us home. Ashley left Zack high and dry after brushing his wiener with her elbow in the middle of seeing Love and Basketball, only to sluttily join Taylor in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, where they held hands. I played spin the bottle in the parking lot when I wasn’t able to get in to Final Destination.
It was all very innocent; there weren’t any drugs or sex involved. I would later find out that those things come with cars. It was a crossing over, a departure from my life in elementary school. To me, this is when my life started, and coincidentally, when the decade began.
Going to the movies continued to be a tipping point for each confusing event in my growing life. In high school, one of my first dates was to go see The Ring with a boy who was terrified of horror movies. He clenched the seat arms with a ferocity that intrigued me, but was so embarrassed to close his eyes that he kept looking down and playing on his phone, which, at the time, didn’t even have Tetris software. I offered to make out with him, but he didn’t think it would make the situation any less scary.
Later in the decade, I went to see Gigli with one of my girlfriends on a very boring and very hot summer day. You remember Gigli. It was the era of J-Lo and Ben Affleck, Bennifer as I recall. I don’t remember it being a particularly bad film, but critics would call it the worst movie of all time until Catwoman came out a few years later.
A few days before my Gigli adventure, my gracious father had added text messaging to my phone plan, but I had to pay 10 cents a text, to him. In the middle of the movie just as Jennifer Lopez’s psycho lesbian girlfriend slits her wrists, my phone lit up to show me my very first text. It was my current boyfriend, telling me he wanted to break up. “We shud break up” was written in pixilated block letters against an eye-melting lime green screen. Of course I wanted to know why he wanted to separate, or if he actually meant “book up (a trip to Hawaii maybe?)”, but I didn’t think it was worth 10 cents and the embarrassment of handing a dime to my dad just to ask the boyfriend such a question when he’d be forced to give me an answer that was under 50 characters. I decided my best bet was to think about it later, when I could have the clarity of going over to his house and throwing things at him.
In turn, I hyper-focused on the movie. I think I saw things in that movie that no one else did. I also think I was one of the first people to be broken up with over text message.
In college, movies were a way of getting off campus and sharing inside jokes. My roommate and I still scream “JUDY DENCH” to each other for no other reason other than that we really liked Notes on a Scandal. Casey, Katharine and I actually paid money to see 50 Cent’s autobiopic “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” We returned to the dorms that night to find out that half of the male residents on our floor had been kicked out of housing for marijuana use – Marijuana which we would have used with them had we not been watching 50 Cent toss the salad of the movie’s heroine.
I have had two near-death experiences in my life, and both have been centered around the movie Moulin Rouge. I was listening to the movie’s soundtrack on my Ipod when a plane I was on decided to stop running and I was deep in conversation about John Leguizamo’s ability to play a midget when I crashed a Toyota Matrix full of my girlfriends. I own a copy of the DVD and watch it often, though I rarely talk about it.
When I remember Christmases and Thanksgivings, I remember the movies we went to see after we opened presents or before we ate dinner. Some of them were good (Spiderman) some of them were bad (Spiderman 3), but all were seen with my family and in all of them my dad fell asleep.
When flying to and from California during breaks I would watch movies and try to relate them with the confusion I always felt in leaving or going home, which is very hard to do when you’re watching “Norbit.”
It was always when I was sitting in movie theaters that catastrophic events took place. While Hurricane Katrina was terrorizing the gulf coast, I was wrapped in a bouncy cocoon of purple armchair, darkness, and pumped oxygen while watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Daria and I were watching a hotel-room ordered viewing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Benazir Bhutto was gunned down. While studying abroad in India, I was attending a viewing of Bachanee ae Haseeno with my Punjabi host family while Hurricane Ike rampaged through my extended family’s homes in Texas. It wasn’t until the movie’s intermission when we were having beers at the movie theater’s bar (I know) did I see my childhood summers getting washed away on the big screen TV located above the shelf of hookahs.
I have vivid memories of shamefully walking out of Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes’s “Ghostrider” to find out that Anna Nicole Smith died, and less embarrassingly, walking out of “The Hangover” to find out Michael Jackson was dead. I have been delivered more news by pimply Regal Cinema ticket takers than by Walter Cronkite. And it was a pimply ticket taker who told me he died, too.
Whenever I clean out my wallet I’m reminded of the decade’s friendships, enemies, and multi-year sagas that were represented in one trip to the movies. I saw Volver with someone whom I was in love with, I saw Mean Girls with my best friend, and I saw Rambo by myself. I can never seem to get rid of those ticket stubs. They sit in my wallet aging like wine.
If I were to compile a CNN-style list of “Best of” moments and milestones of my past decade, I would barely remember the details of any historical event or life altering experience, but vividly remember the movie I saw before or after the event took place. I am only able to categorize these events based on movies that I went to see, whom I saw them with, and what I snuck in the theater to snack on.
You can say it’s because I watch a lot of movies that I am able to track the decade in release dates, but it’s more than that. I can tell you what movie made me feel better when I was fighting with my parents or dealing with a death in the family. With all of the history that took place in the last ten years, movies were a way for me to escape the fact that I was growing up very, very fast.
This past decade is without a doubt the “Decade I Grew Up In.” I was cognizant of every historical event, aware of my thoughts and actions, and I have the right to say “Back in the 00s.” I find it very sobering that we are now saying goodbye to the decade that I spent my formative years, and barely a few days after 2010 begins I will start my first full time job, marking a strong move towards adulthood.
I will likely continue to watch movies and talk about them like they are just as important as elections or the discovery of a new species, and for me, they are. Movies keep things in perspective and provide a road map to all the crazy, confusing shit that goes down every single day of the year.
At Birch Street, you saw a movie, and then the drama ensued. Never during. As a body glitter-smothered tween, I didn’t realize that this would be exactly how my life would play out for the next ten years.
Early on in my decade on a cloudy morning in September I sat eating Special K at the wee hour of 6 am, waiting for Jason Schulz (neighbor and football star) to pick me up and take me to my third day of high school. As expected, my father walked into the living room in his underwear, and I bussed my bowl to the sink. He turned on the TV just in time for us to see the second plane hit the twin towers.
That night no one spoke in my house. After Matt and I watched a re-run of TRL, I lightly shoved our VHS copy of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion into the VCR, because I just didn’t know what else to do.
I’ve met New Yorkers who have told me my reaction to the news of 9/11 is “so typical” of a Californian, because it combines ignorance and addiction to movies, but I don’t think I should be guilty. When you look back at the last ten years of your life, there are bound to be things you aren’t proud of. Hell, I am NOT proud of seeing Gigli, but I did and now I hate text messages. As with all of those CNN-style “Best of the Decade” lists and slideshows, we look at our collections of memories, not really agreeing or disagreeing, simply remembering what was.