The Golden Age of the Silver Screen may indeed be a thing of the past, but dinner and a movie is practically a dating cliché.
How going to a movie became a dating staple is vexing.
Think about it, when you are dating someone, especially someone new, you want to get to know that person. Sitting side by side with a relative stranger in silence and darkness with 200 other people is hardly a good way to get to know someone. You cannot very well carry on a conversation in the movie theater.
And, if you just so happen to be a popcorn-chomper, your date may think you are a complete slob when you jam a fist full of the buttered stuff in your mouth — and end up getting it all over your shirt instead. (OK, maybe that's just me.)
Believe it or not, a movie date is not as simple as it seems. The venue hazards are obvious: getting your feet stuck to the floor, sitting behind a giant who obscures the view, craning your neck because you sat way up front or needing binoculars because you sat too far back. But perhaps the most dangerous element to the date is the actual choice of the film.
Choosing a movie is rife with potential dangers for a relationship. A good while back, I took a girl to see "Fargo." For those of you unfamiliar with this pseudo-noir, the main character plots to kill his wife. Several people get killed, including one of the hitmen who was chopped up in a wood-chipper. Too much blood is never good for a date early on in a relationship.
Seeing a film like that, I suppose, was better than "Taxi Driver" — a great, but dark, violent and disturbing film. "Taxi Driver," incidentally, had a scene in which the socially inept Travis (Robert Dinero) takes a date to see a movie at a theater on New York's 42nd Street. This was the 1970s version of that very famous — and at the time, completely frightening — street in a pre-Disney-esque Times Square!
Your Pick or Mine?
I learned of the hazards of movie choices when I took my ex-girlfriend to see an international foreign classic on our second date. I thought she would be impressed with my interest in independent, classic and foreign films, so we went to a rare screening of the French film, "The Battle of Algiers," by Gillo Pontecorvo. I had wanted to see this acclaimed historical film for years, especially after hearing a talk-show host on NPR raving about it for months.
French was one of four languages she spoke fluently. However, I later learned that she disliked black-and-white films, and abhorred the violent and cinema vérité elements contained within this one. In short, she hated it. Plus, she disliked the tight, stuffy and overcrowded artsy theater showing the movie.
Way over at the other end of the entertainment spectrum are "chick flicks." These tend to be formulaic, emotional dramas or romances with hokey themes. Women love 'em, hence the name. Guys waiting in the ticket line to see a chick flick often wear the same hazy glaze in their eyes. The only reason most guys would venture to one is because of the prospects of the relationship.
I've taken dates to chick flicks — there, I admit it! I'm not proud, but I'm not ashamed either. I also once took a date to see a Jean-Claude Van Damme karate movie. (I am definitely not proud of that.) I don't even like karate movies, but she chose the movie.
Attempting to be a nice guy by choosing a chick flick shows that the guy is working hard to impress the girl. How many times do we have to see Meryl Streep cry, Renée Zellweger pout, Julia Roberts stress out or Meg Ryan bounce with perkiness?
Movie dates obviously change as a relationship evolves. Eventually, movie choice — at least in a healthy relationship — tends to become an alternating event: one for her, the next for him.
Aside from entertainment, the movie date provides couples with a common experience. Popular culture is such a huge part of our lives that sharing a moment by seeing a movie together becomes woven into our sense of being. When you flip past a rerun of a movie on cable television, you cannot help but remember the first time you saw that film and with whom.
Dating a Place — and Person!
Seeing a movie with someone becomes like carbon dating later on in life.
I remember seeing "ET" with my parents, brother and grandmother at the Rialto when I was a kid, just as I remember seeing "Pulp Fiction" at the Cedar-Lee with a woman I went out with three times when I was in my early 20s in Cleveland.
Carbon dating's not the same as dating, but the movies you see on a date reveal just as much.
At the very least — much like carbon dating — movie dating (and placing) can be a useful tool to help determine the age of your viewing partner.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.