Popcorn for One

This past Saturday night, I did something new and wonderful. My husband spent the day with an old buddy of his and my children both attended an event Saturday night, so I found myself with some time on my hands at the end of a long, stressful week.

I thought about using the time to get some more long, stressful work done, but then I remembered that Beauty and the Beast was showing at the movie theater nearby and that I kind of wanted to see it, and no one else in my family did.

So, I bought a ticket and went to the movies by myself for the first time ever. Maybe it’s strange that a nearly forty-year-old American 21st century woman had never had that experience, and maybe you go to the movies by yourself all the time, but this was a first for me.

I bought some popcorn that I didn’t share with anyone. And when the person sitting beside me had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the movie, it wasn’t my problem.  In fact, once the lights went down and the movie started, I didn’t even notice the people next to me, because not one of them whispered to me, spilled his drink on me, or buried his eyes in my shoulder at the scary bits.

Just one, please. With the perfect amount of butter.

I never entertained the fleeting thought that I should have chosen a different film because my movie-going neighbor clearly wasn’t enjoying this one. I just watched as the story of Belle and her Beast overwhelmed my senses and the stress of the week melted away in the dark auditorium.

And maybe that’s how it should be. After all, movie watching hasn’t always been the group activity it is today when movie-goers tend to grab their families, their sweethearts, or their rowdy group of friends, split a giant tub of popcorn, and sit back to enjoy the show.

When, on May 20, 1891, Thomas Edison first unveiled a working prototype of his laboratory’s Kinetocope, about 150 women gathered round to enjoy the experience, one at a time. The women were attending a convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, and among them was Mina Edison, wife to the famous inventor.

Edison Laboratory’s Kinetoscope, what a movie theater looked like in 1891. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The device these ladies got to see was a large box with a small peephole in the top so that one person could peer inside and see a picture that moved. Edison (and more so his assistants, William Dickson and team) wasn’t the only one making progress toward moving pictures at the time, but when the ladies got a chance to look into the box and see William Dickson waving his hat at them, it was certainly a wholly new experience for them.

And it happened to the right group. Because the National Federation of Women’s Clubs had been developed to support women’s organizations engaged in improving lives through volunteerism. These were some hard working ladies, tackling some of the biggest civic issues of the day including women’s suffrage and child welfare. They had likely come to the conference exhausted, in need of encouragement and empowerment, and also rest and refreshment.

Though the moving picture they saw lasted only a few seconds, I have to assume they enjoyed their moment of solitude and focused entertainment, when in the midst of all these many people, each lady got a turn to see Dickson’s picture greet only her.

The experience caught on. Edison’s team also patented the Kinetographic Camera and by autumn of 1892, the movie viewing system had been fitted with a nickel slot and was headed into production. The first public Kinetoscope viewing parlor opened in New York in April of 1894, and soon the machines were in several major cities and in traveling exhibits throughout the United States. Folks lined up with their nickels, often paying a whole quarter to spend a few minutes jumping down a line of movie boxes to view a series of very short films.

Personally I’d find that a little frustrating and I’m glad that film soon moved into a bigger venue that could accommodate a larger audience. If not for that, we’d never have come to enjoy the hilarity of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or gotten to listen to rustle of hundreds of newspapers unfolding at the boring part of Rocky Horror Picture Show, or squirm in discomfort when an infected someone sneezes in the crowded movie theater during Outbreak. And we’d never miss a pivotal scene in order to accompany a kid to the bathroom.

Don’t get me wrong here. I still enjoy going to the movies with my family and friends. I think I even prefer it most of the time, but this is definitely an experience I will repeat when I get the chance. The movie was good. It’s a familiar story (my friend Pat recently wrote this fascinating post showing the Beast through the years), but it was well done with talented actors, strong voices, and plenty of Disney magic performed just for me. Most importantly, I did not leave in the middle to go walk with anyone to the bathroom. And my popcorn was just the way I like it.

14 thoughts on “Popcorn for One

  1. Going to a movie all by myself (especially the earliest time on a weekday possible), is wonderful, and as close to a private showing as I’m ever likely to get.

    I finally went to see this film last weekend, and really enjoyed it. Toward the end, things became very intense, so of course, I blubbered. (Another good reason for me to see a movie alone.)

  2. Every once in a while I go alone. I does a soul good to spend quality solo time. I’ve also gone to a concert or two (small venues) by myself. It’s a rainy week here in Montreal, and I plan on taking myself out for a lunch date and boutique hopping in Pointe Claire Village over the weekend. So looking forward to it!

  3. I should do more of the single gigs. My sister, who has been single most of her life, is comfortable dining out alone and doing all manner of things solo. The last movie I saw, it was only me and hubby in the theater. I admit I felt a tad uneasy when he left for the restroom. But I am a naturally paranoid person, and expecting to have my throat slashed from behind by some movie lurking maniac in the dark lessened my enjoyment of the alone time.

    I do go on retreat every year alone, but I am relieved when I get there and see other people. The six hour drive is doable if I have my tunes in the player.

    But I love recording my shows and DVDs and watching them late into the night while hubs is sleeping.

    I’m glad you discovered the fun of taking moves on your own terms. Perhaps we could meet there, sit far apart, and join up afterwards for coffee and discussion. Or not.

    PS Methinks Edison’s movie could have done with a screenwriter.

  4. Sarah, another offering of your low-key hilarity. Excellent post!

    Never gone to the flick alone before? If you’d been a stuttering fourteen-thru-eighteen-year-old, you woulda had lots of experience. But good for you.

    Forget the slashers. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning.

    Hey, I’m excited about your book! Way to go. I tried to sign up for your alert but it said somebody else was already using my email address. I’m expecting to be notified about your doings, anyhoo. If you need marketing advice, I can give you 37 ways how not to do, well, whatever.

    I’ll provide the popcorn–separate tub for you–should you and fam decide to blitz the West Coast. Have fun!

    1. Thanks, Sam! I’ll send you an update. It won’t be this summer, but the family is wanting to plan a trip to the West Coast before too long. Whenever it’s overcast here, my youngest sighs and says how much it reminds him of Oregon.

  5. abhiray59

    Sometimes it feels good to be all by one self. It gives a sense of freedom. I gives a thrill of something different and unexpected.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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