Growing up, there wasn’t much to do in our little town of Orland, California. Without the benefit of electronics, we had to make do with the little things, like skipping rocks and climbing trees. We talked to each other and walked around a lot. I remember walking all over town with my childhood buddy Kevin. We bought candy at the grocery store. We swam in the public pool. That was summer.
For culture, we had the Orland Theater.
Ah, the Orland Theater. It was a dark and dingy place, like one of those caves in an Indiana Jones movie, full of bugs and skeletons. The floor was gooey, like fly paper---carelessly tied shoes were often left behind. The seats were small and horribly uncomfortable, guaranteed to numb your ass before the feature was over. Many a first date ended badly when some poor sap, soda in hand, would jump up quickly as the credits rolled, realizing too late that he had no feeling in his lower extremities. We were kids, so the public humiliation of somebody other than yourself for once was often more entertaining than the movie.
On any given week, the Orland Theater would entertain us with such culturally significant movies as “Deathwish” or “Hair” or “King Kong.” But the real height of theatrical refinement for us teen age smart asses was the venerable kung fu movie. I’m not talking about one of those decently choreographed Bruce Lee epics. We’re talking low budget martial arts, baby, complete with baggy clothes, bad acting and poor dubbing….and that was just the ticket guy.
All kung fu movies comprise the basic hero story: hero has girl, hero loses girl, hero gets ass kicked, hero kicks ass, hero gets girl back. There is a lot of grimacing and inappropriate chortling. Nunchakus are pulled indiscriminately. Skulls are cracked. Teeth are gnashed. The beauty of all this was, if for some reason the sound went out, as it often did, theater patrons could insert the proper dialog to keep the story going. Since kung fu movies seemed to be on some sort of a time delay for dialog anyway, the quality of the experience was not diminished at all. For instance, say the sound disappears in the middle of an intense scene involving the hero and the villain and about 100 incredibly inept evil henchmen. With our help, the story would proceed thusly:
HERO (grimacing): I like what you’ve done with your hair.
VILLAIN (chortling): You are too kind.
HERO: How did you pull it off?
VILLAIN (stroking his goatee): Bad wiring and V05, mostly.
HERO (gnashing teeth): Now, about my girlfriend…
VILLAIN (laughing hysterically): Ah, so it’s like that! You must die!
HERO: No, YOU must die!
Mayhem ensues. Weapons are wielded. Noggins are thumped. Every onscreen blow is accompanied by a hearty “OW!” bellowed from somewhere in the darkened theater, as well as audience supplied sound effects. Henchmen drop like flies. Eventually, we are left where we started, with the hero and the villain indulging in a little casual conversation, except this time the villain is on his back with blood bubbling on his lips and some sort of odd bladed weapon sticking out of his abdomen. The hero, looking a bit disheveled but otherwise okay, starts things off.
HERO: I see you got the point.
“OW!” somebody hollers from the peanut gallery.
VILLAIN: Ten thousand comedians out of work and I get you. (He coughs, blood froths. He expires).
Fade to black, roll credits, and as usual, the sound came back just as the lights came up.
And thus ended another hot summer night at the Orland Theater. It wasn't art, but we knew what we liked.