PAUL MOLITOR captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere last summer as he attempted to break Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. In the end, of course, the young Milwaukee Brewer's effort was halted well short of Joltin' Joe's legendary standard.
Still, this 39-game mark impressed me, and so it was with a nod toward Molitor that I decided to establish a moviegoing equivalent. I vowed to attend one screening a day for 39 consecutive days -- to become the "Movie Molitor."
Some ground rules were needed. First, VCR and cable movies were out. Second, no film could be repeated within the streak. Finally, other activities such as parties, dates and trips could not be postponed or avoided to keep the streak going.
My pursuit of the Movie Molitor title began on Sunday, Aug. 30 and was completed on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Some representative days:
Day 1 : "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" at the P&G New Carrollton. Featuring the biggest screen in Maryland and seating for a thousand people, this has long been one of my favorite theatres. Sadly, my quest's first will be the theater's last. The building has been sold and will be reopened as a toy store. These majestic movie halls are a dying breed.
Day 3 : "Predator" at the P&G Riverdale. I'd like to wholeheartedly endorse sub-first-run theatres and their 99-cent admission price, but these bargains (like nearly everything else in life) are but one side of a big tradeoff. On the one hand, merely holding off a couple of months (sometimes less) to see current releases can reduce costs 80 to 85 percent. The downside, though, is considerable.
For one thing, there's no way to accurately predict which shows will make it to the sub-first-run houses. Very popular films that figure to draw repeat viewers are good candidates, but beyond that it's sheer guesswork. The repeat business is itself a source of trouble: When a substantial portion of an audience has already seen the flick, some find good sport in calling out upcoming dialogue. Incessant talking, in fact, is commonplace in such houses; the less charged for the product, the more ill-mannered the crowd.
In addition, some parents use the sub-first-run theatres as a relatively cheap babysitting service. This evening, for example, I'm at a 9:40 showing (on a school night) of a very violent, R-rated picture. Children not only make up a large (maybe 30 percent) portion of this audience, but many have been dropped off by mothers and fathers who hang around only long enough to pay for the tickets and to give theater employes "parental consent" for their kids to be there. Predictably, when the action drags, a few children start running up and down the aisles, giggling all the while. Thus are cut-rate admissions more of a bargain for some than for others.
The final price paid for waiting to see a film is the ever-deteriorating quality of the print. Frequent break-ups and jump cuts can shatter the viewer's all-important state of suspended disbelief and leave him in a state of extended confusion.
Day 5 : "Tracks in the Snow" at the Biograph. It's always a pleasure to visit this theater, which features the area's best concessions (good variety and reasonable prices) and (along with the Key and the AFI at the Kennedy Center) the most innovative programming and cinematically sophisticated patrons. The Dutch film on the bill is as good as anything I'll see during my streak. As is often the case at the Biograph, the audience sits attentively through the entire closing credits -- foreign tongue notwithstanding.
Day 6 : "The Big Easy" at the Circle Tenley. I get off work hours earlier than usual, a godsend that will keep my streak alive. It's Friday and my date has warned me that a trip to the cinema will not be on our agenda: "I don't want to be a part of this Movie Molitor madness." No film buff, she.
My glee at how things have fallen into place is tempered by the sign at the Tenley informing me that I will be charged $6 for this 3 p.m. screening. I don't mind paying top dollar for an exclusive engagement of a picture targeted for a limited audience, but otherwise the $6 movie ticket strikes me as outrageous in the face of the VCR alternative. Knowing that the profit margin at most theatres is spelled o-v-e-r-p-r-i-c-e-d f-o-o-d a-n-d d-r-i-n-k-s, I refuse to patronize the concession stand at any house that has already put me six bills in the hole.
Day 9 : "Withnail and I" at the Key. Washington is considered the United States' second-best market for foreign films (behind New York). Georgetown's Key theater is a big reason why. At any given time, three or four imports are likely to be playing here and only here. This British entry is a small gem and the funniest movie I will see on the streak.
Day 15 : "The Living Daylights" at Roth's Silver Spring West, and Day 16: "La Bamba" at the Flower 4 Cinemas. In both cases, I use the Washington area's football fever to my advantage. I take in the latest James Bond installment just as the Redskins open their season and the Richie Valens bio-pic during the long-awaited Bears-Giants Monday night matchup. A total of 12 patrons (and that's counting me twice) attend these screenings of two very popular films. I have, of course, scheduled things so that my streak will end just as the baseball playoffs get underway.
Day 17 : "Dirty Dancing" at the Showcase Beltway. It's "dollar day" and every seat is filled. It's great to be part of a large, enthusiastic group on occasion, but this is not one of those times. The two people to my left talk -- not whisper -- nonstop throughout the movie. Viewers near these clods attempt to shush them, but with no success. I normally would change my seat, but I am now trapped by the capacity crowd.
Day 27 : "The Rosary Murders" at the K-B Paris. The streak is in jeopardy today. I'll be heading beachward for the weekend immediately after work and probably can't reach Ocean City in time for the 9:30 (latest) shows. I decide to stretch out my lunch hour a bit. I leave the office at 1:15, hop on the subway and take my seat in the theater at 1:25. The film starts on time at 1:30, ends at 3:18, and I'm back at my desk by 3:30. No work has piled up in my absence, so I will not have to explain the Movie Molitor to my boss.
Day 29 : "The Principal" at the Sun and Surf Cinemas in Ocean City. There are 18 features showing at the town's 17 theatres and I've already seen all but this one, which will end up as the streak's weakest component.
The pressure of the streak is starting to take its toll. I'm beginning to appreciate what Molitor must have gone through. What I'm doing requires no skill but it does take perseverance, and I feel the pressure of having to "produce" on a daily basis. On several days, I have been in the mood for almost anything but a visit to the cinema. Thus far I have not had to face the kind of media barrage that Molitor had to endure, but who knows what will happen when I return to the big city?
Day 33 : "The Big Town" at the Circle Avalon. I'm playing hurt. I have a severe cold, and I'm concerned that my persistent cough will bother my fellow moviegoers. I needn't have worried. Amazingly, I am an audience of one at this, a half-price discount showing in a huge theater. I cough with a clear conscience.
Day 39 : "Prick Up Your Ears" at Hoff. How appropriate that my streak should wind up at the University of Maryland, where I fell in love with movies in the first place. I let out a whoop of relief as I emerge from the theater's outer lobby. The pickings were very slim indeed toward streak's end.
Becoming the Movie Molitor was not as expensive as I had feared. The 39 admissions added up to $97.94, or about $2.50 per viewing. At that, I wasn't as cost efficient as I might have been. In the final week, for example, had I switched the Sunday and Monday films and gone a bit earlier on the weekend day, I would have paid $3.50 for the two shows instead of $10.50. Moviegoing can be a buyer's market for the careful shopper.
And so it's time to get on with the non-celluloid part of my life, such as it is. I briefly toyed with the idea of extending the streak, but the title of "Movie DiMaggio" seems at once more daunting and less pleasing to the ear than the one that is mine already.
Tim Pollins is an editor and writer and lives in Takoma Park.