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Putting on the Ritz

By Mike Ruffin Since moving to Yatesville a couple of years ago, we’d gone to the movies in Macon, Griffin, and McDonough. We’d never visited the Ritz Theater in Thomaston. That changed last week. We drove over to watch the new Guardians of the Galaxy film. The movie is a lot of fun. I recommend it. The Ritz is great. It’s a single-screen, downtown movie house. The picture and sound quality is fine. A ticket costs $6. The concessions are reasonably priced. As folks would have said back in the Ritz’s heyday, it’s neat. As I sat in Thomaston’s Ritz Theater, my mind wandered off to sit for a spell in the Ritz Theater in my hometown. Some of us spent many a pleasant hour there back in the day. The first movie I ever saw at the Barnesville Ritz ‘“ actually, the first movie I ever saw at any theatre ‘“ was the 1965 James Bond adventure Thunderball. I was with my cousins Rhonda and Denise. I can still see the climactic underwater battle (although that’s at least partly because I’ve watched the movie several more times since then). I was seven years old at the time. One of the most memorable movie watching experiences I had at the Ritz was seeing Beach Red. The 1967 film was directed by Cornel Wilde, who also starred in it. It’s about a Marine invasion of a Japanese held Pacific island during World War II. The beach landing scene, which some regard as one of the most realistic ever filmed, is said to have influenced the one in Saving Private Ryan. The fascinating aspect of the movie was its effort to depict the hopes and fears of the combatants on both sides. The last movie I saw at the Barnesville Ritz was The Green Berets (1968). It was also the first movie that I saw with my parents, which may be one of the reasons it was the last one I saw there. My folks liked to tell me (I don’t know why) that the last movie they had gone to the theater to see was The Ten Commandments (1956). I assume they saw it at the Ritz. I imagine they broke their 12-year movie fast for two reasons: (1) their nephew and my cousin Charles was a Green Beret (he was wounded in Vietnam) and (2) they were probably glad that John Wayne had developed a movie that took a pro-American involvement in Vietnam stance to counter the growing anti-war movement in the country. I’m not saying they thought the war was a great idea; it’s just that they were the sort of folks who were nervous about the upheaval of the 1960s. There’s really no other explanation for the fact that they voted for George Wallace for president in 1968. Mentioning George Wallace tempts me to say a few words about the danger in putting a culturally, historically, morally, and intellectually challenged demagogue in charge of the whole country, but I won’t, since we didn’t. That time. Instead, I want to advocate for the value of the small. I’ve been to those huge theaters with their 24 screens and miles of neon lights. They have their place. Choice is good, although it’s not unusual for the 16-screen theater located right around the corner from my office not to be showing even one film I want to see. But there’s something comforting about going to a small theater. It feels like home. And, while you’re not likely to know everybody there, you could. You could say the same kinds of things aboutsmall towns, small churches, and small schools. What I said about big theaters applies to big cities, big churches, and big schools: they have their place. But I hope those of us who live, worship, and study in smaller places appreciate the wonders and blessings of our small, close communities. It’s nice to know and to be known. By the way, they show outdoor movies where the Barnesville Ritz used to be the second Friday of June, July and August. I think that’s neat. Mike Ruffin has lived in Louisville KY, Nashville TN, and Barnesville, Macon, Adel, Augusta, and Fitzgerald GA. He now lives about a mile outside of Yatesville. He believes that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, but The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is his favorite.

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