b Papa Dog's Blog: Baby Dog's First Night at the Movies

Papa Dog's Blog

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Baby Dog's First Night at the Movies

For ages – at least for the ages since we’ve had kids – the Pirates have been urging us to join them at the Parkway for Baby Brigade night. Every Monday night, the 6:30 show at each of the two screens at the Parkway is open for parents with children under one year of age. To be honest, this has always struck me as a strange kind of living hell. I love my baby and I love the movies, but the two were never meant to mix. I can have an interrupted viewing experience any night at home with the DVD player. If I go to the theatre, I want to sit my ass down and see the damn movie without distraction. Movie-going is the closest thing I have to a religion, and as dear as Baby Dog is to my heart, I don’t want her drowning out the padre in the middle of the services. Moreover, this would be in a room full of other squalling infants who are carrying on none of my genetic destiny? I should do this voluntarily? I take it we’ve never been introduced.

It was a moot point for a long time because I work on Mondays and could never get back to Oakland in time for the show. Today was the last day of my holidays, though, so that excuse was no longer operative. It seemed churlish to decline yet again when we had no other plans or obligations, so we said the hell with it and joined the Pirate family for a screening of Ray.

The Parkway is unique in the Bay Area, but you may have a similar institution in your town. There was a place much like it in New Orleans called Movie Pitchers, now sadly long gone. “Picture pub and pizza” is the Parkway’s descriptive slogan. The snack bar features not just popcorn and sody-pop but also pizza, salads, nachos, garden burgers, quesadillas, hummus, babaganoush, beer, wine, and lots of other stuff. (Movie Pitchers had a full bar and po’-boys, but that was New Orleans.) This is all good because we wouldn’t have time for dinner going to a 6 p.m. movie.

The seating is atypical, too (and was, in the case of Movie Pitchers). Instead of movie theatre chairs there are couches in the front and nightclub-type tables in the back. The idea, I suppose, is to make it seem more like a movie in your own home – which cranky old me defines as part of the problem with modern-day movie-going, the plague of dimwits under the impression that there’s no difference between seeing a movie at a theatre and seeing it in one’s own living room, but we’ll leave that go for now. The couches are comfy and they’re just the thing if you happen to have a baby along.

We ended up in the front left couch, which turned out to be ideal. Nobody in front of us and plenty of room to spread out our stuff. I didn’t realise the added bonus until the movie started. See, Baby Dog has seen bits and pieces of movies on TV in the last six months, but this was my first chance to show her what the experience is really supposed to be like…and I don’t think either of us realised that was exactly what was going to happen.

Here’s Papa Dog’s philosophy of the movies: if they aren’t larger than you are, you’re not doing it right. Watching a video at home is okay…it has its place…but even on a state-of-the-art home theatre screen, you aren’t seeing the movie the way it’s meant to be seen. When done properly, the experience of seeing a movie is literally immersive. For a short period of time (107 minutes, optimal, but let’s not get into that now), you are surrounded by an artificially constructed world. It didn’t hit me until I had Baby Dog on my lap in the Boppy and realised she was really watching the movie. She didn’t have any idea what was going on in it, of course, and no clue who Ray Charles was – but she was transfixed by the images, and owing to her small size and our position up front by the screen, she was surely more thoroughly immersed in that picture than I ever remember being. At six months old, she was already having the purely cinematic experience I hoped I would one day be able to share with her.

She didn’t watch the whole time. She got fussy here and there and had to be fed. Sometimes she was gazing instead at me, playing with my beard or my shirt or my fingers…none of which seemed an unwelcome distraction. Ray turned out to be a good first movie for her because although it’s overlong and dramatically unfocused and schmaltzy as hell, it has a killer soundtrack. Every time a song started up, her head would swivel back to the screen. Oh yeah – that had been a worry, too. We hadn’t been to the Parkway in years, in large part because their sound system sucked so badly. We got tired of being unable to decipher muddy dialogue. Happily, they’ve gotten new speakers which were equal to the demands of a movie where the music is essential – and they had them cranked up so loudly that the periodic crying of one or another of the twenty-odd babies in attendance was almost unnoticeable.

So, yeah, maybe fatherhood’s making me soft, but I was never so taken out of the movie that I got annoyed. Kind of the opposite. I think I may have reached a new high point of paternal joy when Baby Dog turned away from the screen, looked up at me wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and reached a hand up at me, like she was trying to say, “Isn’t this great?”


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