VIRUS DIARY: A film writer goes back to the movies

VIRUS DIARY: A film writer goes back to the movies

DORMONT, Pa. (AP) – “The Goonies” wouldn’t have been my first choice, but options were limited.

It had been 96 days since I had been in a movie theater. That may not be very special for most, but as a film writer it was downright bizarre. Not even maternity leave took me that long. And I missed it.

In Los Angeles, the situation was still quite hit and miss. But I recently escaped to my parents’ house outside of Pittsburgh with my six-month-old. Cinemas could be opened here.

However, many were still blind, waiting for the green light from corporate overlords or some reassurances that may never come. Maybe they were just waiting for new movies.

Still, there was one venue with actual showtimes: a 95-year-old single-screen theater in a small town, just a few miles outside the center. Dormont’s Hollywood Theater, a local institution known for the violent screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (immortalized in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) had a performance of “The Goonies” at 5pm and a 7:45 pm hours of indie horror “The Wretched” for a week every day.

The math was simple: the baby at home excluded the later show. And so the 1985 adventure of Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg became my first theater experience after the quarantine on that Tuesday in June.

It was a particularly clear and hot day in Southwestern Pennsylvania – the kind of weather that would normally attract crowds in the air-conditioning with respite from the silver screen. But on this day it was just me, my brother and sister in the lobby where two masked employees were behind the concession stand.

I asked if it had been busy.

“No,” said someone. “That’s what happens when there are no new movies.”

On the other side of the lobby was a poster for “Wonder Woman 1984” with Gal Gadot surrounded by an explosion of colors that formed Jagged Ws. But all I could see was “June 5, 2020”. It was a date that had been plotted well in advance when it seemed reasonable to plan things like movie releases. It had already come and gone.

Every other row was taped inside. I was very surprised to see two other people there already. They had put out chairs in the back. I nodded, but it’s hard to give friendly social signals behind a mask.

Everything else felt strangely normal, which in itself was unnerving. If you let yourself forget about the global pandemic for a moment, you might be able to convince yourself that you have just been renovated in a theater. But the fantasy of normality is fleeting.

We positioned ourselves at the front and withdrew for the time being. Given the risk of even being in a theater and the fact that “The Goonies” was free to watch at home, we decided ahead of time that leaving early was an option, if not an inevitability.

When the lights went out, a trailer played for ‘Black Widow’, due to be released in May. Then one for “Wonder Woman 1984.” Here it just said “Summer”.

I never considered the possibility that ads for a few superhero movies could evoke feelings of melancholy and melancholy, but here were two great movies that featured female protagonists and female directors that seemed to represent these lost months.

I’m not sure when we’ll ever feel carefree or even comfortable in a movie theater again. But it was exciting and emotional to be on the big screen again. No matter how beautiful your television is, there is no such thing. After all, “The Goonies” was the perfect movie. We even stayed through the credits.


Virus Diary, an incidental feature, shows the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at

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