How to Watch

23 Jun

An anonymous (aren’t they all?) Netizen inquires as to The Breakfast Club and related observational methodology.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m not sure when this Breakfast Club came out, but I’m fairly sure that your local theatre holds the answer. While I may be what some consider “out of the loop” as to today’s technology, I can assure you that there is no finer place to be than a darkened movie theater, preferably watching something in black and white.

Like most of us growing up during the latter stages of the Great Depression, we often found ourselves hoarding pennies and nickels and sneaking off to the matinée to watch men in bad hairpieces pursue women with bad accents. Often an evil German or Asian was involved, but sometimes it was just the white hats versus the black hats in a battle royale over water rights or conjugal visitation.

The movie theater was the greatest place on earth in those days. The screens measured nearly 125 feet across and stood 40 feet tall. Unlike these cracker jack multiplexes, our theater only showed one movie at a time, often for years in a row. My younger brother and I watched Alan Ladd in “Shane” no fewer than 334 times over the course of three years.

We got to the point where not only had we memorized the dialog, but we could pick out each continuity error, like the early scene where Ladd’s shot glass switched from hand to hand no fewer than four times. Or a pivotal later scene that is marred by four seconds of Shane (Ladd) dressed head-to-toe in white, completely subverting the mythology of the character.

This doesn’t even mention the regrettable error in the final scene, where the climax is undercut by Van Heflin’s accent, which goes from Western American to Scottish to Klingon in a three-minute span. And let’s not even bring up the sudden appearance of a laser pistol in a baddie’s hand during the barroom brawl.

I’ve headed far away from my point and most likely taken away a great deal of your precious time. My answer is: with your eyes, at your local theater. If they’re anything like I remember them, Breakfast Club should still be playing.


Clifton L. Tanager

22 Responses to “How to Watch”

  1. elizabeth3hersh June 23, 2010 at 6:23 am #


    The only movie I have ever wanted to see more than once was Sex, Lies and Videotape and I believe that was in the same era as the Breakfast Club. The Hilton Las Vegas (located conveniently across the street from me) just opened a small intimate indie film theatre called the Giordano. There are 60-seats arranged in four tier rows and it is reminiscent of an old-tyme theatre. The Giordano showcases four indie films and features unlimited popcorn and all day admission (if you bring concealed beverages, you really have a deal). I agree that the movie theater is the greatest show on Earth. I rarely partake in these kinds of outings anymore though as pause, rewind and captions are not available. These are features I would very much appreciate in everyday life. There is nothing I would like more than to hit ‘pause’ throughout the day to take a breather/potty break and compose myself or activate the rewind button to something said earlier (“see, I TOLD you to take your fish oil capsules, TWICE, dammit!”) and captions to pick up words muttered under the breath by surly teenagers. There is something to be said about merging the old with the new, Clifton. I, too, have headed far away from my point and most likely taken away a great deal of your time as well. We are both probably ready for that potty break.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

      Elizabeth –

      I’m not familiar with the movie you’re referring to, other than the Videotape part, of which I’ve still got several. I should probably go get the DVDs but I like the soothing sound of the tape rewinding (in its own rewinder) while I pack my pipe and doze off to sleep.

      I’m usually awakened moments later by the inordinately loud click of the rewinding mechanism coming to a sudden stop or the heady, poisonous scent of a couch fire.

      I do like your idea of life operating like a VCR, as the fast forward would get you through awkward events (like 3rd marriages, public intoxication, adolescence) and the Record would allow you to make new memories whenever needed, erasing over the ones you’d rather forget (4th marriages, public intoxication AND public nudity, adolescence).

      I’d also be curious as to what those surly teenagers are saying, but most likely I would have purchased the wrong “Life Videotape” and would be squinting at Cantonese writing made worse by the compression of letterboxing.

      Thanks for the great comment, Elizabeth and the timely urination reminder. Without your urging as to my urges, that couch fire would still be noxiously roaring.

  2. davehambo June 23, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    Dear Mr Clifton, a fine piece of rememberance therapy! I have fond recall of saturday morning childrens show time at the cinema (talking picture house) around 1964 , not of the films but the dark atmosphere of expectation as the lights dimmed down and the adventure set off…

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

      Dave –

      Those were the days, Dave. Movie theatres packed with children as far as the eye could see (unless the lights had gone down, at which point it was children as far as the ear could hear and the nose could usually smell).

      Parents trusted their kids to make the right decisions and sent them to the local cinema, where they could watch classics like “Black Beauty” or “Midnight Cowboy,” while being raised by the ushers and their steady supply of popcorn and backhands.

      Thank you for the visit and comment, Dave. It’s always a pleasure strolling down a relatively acronym-free memory lane with you.

  3. thecodger June 23, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Mr. Tanager, I’m glad you remember the golden age of the cinema…there aren’t many of us left that do. I miss watching stars like the original Jennifer Jones (not that new age talk show host, although I enjoyed her TV program as well). At the very least, we should be thankful that a young person has taken an interest in a classic like The Breakfast Club. I thought that it was some of Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard’s best work.

    The Codger

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      Codger –

      As I was stating to Dave up above, it was a great time to be a movie fan, with only one film showing on a screen of ridiculous proportions. I too miss those classic stars, like Wilford Brimley and countless others whose names I’ve misremembered, made up or completely forgotten. Also, Henry Fonda. Not so much his daughter. Or that motorcycle film he did with Jack Lemmon. That had too much free-flowing hair and spirit.

      Thanks for bringing it all back, Codger. We truly were lucky to be alive then. If only we could be half as alive now.

  4. Dan McGinley June 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    Mr. Tanager, you bring back precious memories, especially of sneaking in to see “The Valachi Papers”, an “R” rated mobster film with Charles Bronson, and with Valerie Perrine showing serious cleavage. “Harold and Maude” was shown literally for years at the Westgate Theater in Minneapolis, until the entire cast (remember Ruth Gordon?) actually came down to see it. Remember when you could hear the film snick-snicking through that massive projector? Ah yes . . . good times indeed. On a different note, I used to run a “Breakfast Club” at nearby Woodstock Academy, minding Saturday detention kids for hours, and actually having fun doing it, discussing subjects that ranged from philosophy to politics to boosting cars with electronic ignition systems. Ahem. Great post, my good man. Fine piece of writing.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 23, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

      Dan –

      I’m pretty sure the prevalence of “R” rated films spelled the end of the historic singleplex. No longer could it be used as a safe alternative to actual parenting, not with Charles Bronson shooting face after face or various starlets “showing the goods” to the hero as a reward for his splendid and timely face-shootings.

      It’s also true that you could hear the film running through the projector, occasionally snapping or burning and blinding the entire audience with the unfiltered projection light, searing our collective retinas, which hadn’t seen actual daylight in nearly three weeks.

      I’m glad to see you’ve “reached out” to the local youths, Dan. They need all the direction they can get, whether it’s being steered towards a useless degree in philosophy or being shown the quickest route to a night of joyriding.

      If you were the one letting them know which method causes the least amount of steering column damage, god bless you. My vehicle was recovered after a weekend on the town, but fortunately a skilled set of hands was involved, leaving me with a still operable steering column and made my keys, which I often forgot, completely optional.

      • Dan McGinley June 24, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

        Ah! Sounds like the work of “Swifty” McDonald. Yes, my retinas are still recovering. You are one gifted humorist.

  5. thestuffinbetween June 24, 2010 at 2:29 am #


    I LOL’d outloud at your having watched Shane 334 times over the course of three years. I remember seeing a few movies three times but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie four times in a theater. I know what you mean about the inaccuracies, though. When you see a movie that many times, you begin noticing the thread count on the linen and end up thinking what a bunch of nitwits they are (not the linen, the film crew) instead of putting them on pedestals (well, you can put the linen on pedestals, but I meant the film crew again), which is a good thing, IMHO.

    Thank you for encouraging us to get out to our local theaters instead of squirreling ourselves away with our electronic devices, Clifton! That was another wonderful piece of advice.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 24, 2010 at 6:56 am #

      Stuff –

      Good old “Shane.” I wouldn’t have seen it that many times if it hadn’t been the only game in town for three years straight. Our theatre had apparently decided to keep the film, rather than return it to the distributors, which caused a rather lengthy “blackout” in the release schedule. After that, all films sent to our theatre were accompanied by very stern notes and the occasional armed guard.

      But it is true that repeated viewings tend to head toward diminishing returns rather quickly. Of course, there are those who like it that way, hence the popularity of midnight cult film screenings. Props tend to be involved, which makes the continuity errors bearable, and in some cases, cause for celebration and inappropriate behavior/clothing.

      Thanks for the wonderful comment, Stuff.

  6. bschooled June 24, 2010 at 6:04 am #

    Bravo, Clifton. Just when I think your advice couldn’t possibly be any more valuable, you come up with a recommendation leading me to believe I was wrong. (Really, I hate it when that happens.)

    I only wish I would’ve known you back when I first watched the Breakfast Club, down at the local drive-in. Unfortunately, because I didn’t know any better at the time, I ended up watching the entire movie with the back of my uncomfortably-crouched head, while my ex-boyfriend sat smugly in the driver’s seat (literally), giving the occasional update and repeatedly saying I should color my hair like Molly Ringwald.

    Needless to say, shortly after losing 20 pounds and taking a self-esteem course, I finally ended the relationship.

    But I digress.

    Thank-you for continuing to share your highly-respected counsel with us, Clifton. Because of you, I plan to rent a VHS copy of “Shane” on Friday (sadly, there’s no theatre around here…yet), and spend the entire weekend watching it. With my EYES.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 24, 2010 at 7:02 am #

      Bschooled –

      I also only wish I’d known you back when you were uncomfortably attending movies that you heard rather than saw. And as if that wasn’t enough, you had to put up with comparisons to Molly Ringwald, who was possibly quite the catch in those days, especially if you were a thick-headed wrestler or a juvenile delinquent.

      I’m not sure what that says about Molly (or indeed, yourself) but I’m glad you were able to extricate yourself from that relationship and its uncomfortable positions, although it couldn’t have been easy with all the accidental horn honkings and lack of driver side legroom.

      I hope you enjoy your weekend with the Breakfast Club. They certainly looked like they somewhat enjoyed theirs (and grew up a little, too). And by all means, use your eyes. They’re what make movies worth watching.

  7. Scott Oglesby June 25, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    I’m surprised at some of these questions that you are forced to answer Clifton. I was apparently under the misconception that the general interneting public was of a higher intellectual stock than this. Next thing you know, YouTube comments will start to deteriorate into incoherent gibberish.

    While I found your answer to Sir or Madam to be rather obvious (although it must have been exceedingly helpful to the unwashed masses) it was your incredibly insightful critique of Shane that truly moved me. Of course this may have been partially due to your 334 viewings, but I think not. I believe that you, sir, have a knack for both guiding the blindingly stupid and for movie reviewing. If only there were a way to consistently combine the two like that Reese’s fellow was able to do with peanut butter and chocolate, you would be rich beyond however rich you are right now.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 27, 2010 at 8:01 am #

      Scott –

      I’m often surprised by the lack of intelligence in the common man these days as well, although the common man is most likely a 14-year-old boy with too much internet on his hands (or at least, one hand). I’ve only checked in with YouTube to catch some secondhand footage of shows I used to think I liked. The comments soon set me straight with a combination of capital letters, racial slurs and insinuations that I was “playing for the other team.”

      Thanks for the compliments, Scott. I would have thought that the answer was rather obvious, but I guess I don’t understand the subtleties of the digital age. I think you’re right, though. If I could combine my luddism with movie reviews and stupid people, I could definitely be richer than I am now, if only in spirit.

      Thank you for the visit, Scott.

  8. tannerleah June 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Dear Sir, I also have great memories of visiting my local theater. Like you, I also watched my favorite movies over and over. I suppose my personal favorite was Debbie Does Dallas. I didn’t really think it would be possible for her to do the entire city but, sure enough, she was able to handle it.

    I also miss the smell of chlorine in the air and the number of gentlemen in long coats. Oddly, they all seemed to have some sort of itch in their trousers as they were always aggressively scratching their nether regions.

    Anyway, lovely place you have here and thanks for the memories. TL

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 27, 2010 at 8:06 am #

      Mr. Tannerleah –

      I’m not familiar with that film in particular, but that may be because I only viewed it a handful of times. Usually it takes at least 10 views before I can retain any sort of useful memories and viewings 11-?? tend to turn me against the film completely.

      It must be the contempt that familiarity breeds so well, like unknown fungi in an under-chlorined and over-attended theater. I would wager that long-coated scratching was due to the above-mentioned fungi. You just can’t use enough bleach these days. If your vision is starting to blur and your ears are ringing, you probably just need to add another 4-5 oz to whatever it is you’re cleaning with.

      Thank you for the evocative comment and just for stopping by, TL. Always wonderful to see you.

  9. Fundamental Jelly June 28, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    I miss those days Mr. Tanager when there were double features and intermissions. I actually preferred these flicks to my parent’s goofy attempts at raising us. Thanks for the flashback.

    • Clifton L. Tanager June 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

      FJ –

      I miss those days too. Now every movie lasts as long as a double-feature, what with the slide show “Calvacade O’ Advertising” preceding it and the interminable previews for other movies in which every plot twist is trotted out for your approval.

      As for the parents? I think they preferred us whiling away the day at the theatre rather than at home, annoying them ceaselessly with our requests to go to the movies.


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