“Ethnography, our enduring gift to the world, a gift that sometimes enables readers to understand the wisdom of others, which, in turn, can open their being to an increasingly complex and interconnected world.”
So here lies a conversation I had with my Babushka, she is currently 67, and here is her story about her going to the movies back in the 1960s (she also told me this all in Russian, so here’s the translated English version for you).
This was a very fascinating story for me to hear, any story or the moment my Grandmother entails me with about her younger life always is, I was able to retract her wisdom, and this was a very nostalgic memory that she held dear to her young adulthood.
“I remember planning in advance, anytime I knew I’d be going to the Cinema. For me, this was a very euphoric feeling, a moment where I would get excited at even just the thought of going to the cinemas. I would constantly think about what could I wear, what shoes to put on, my mind would always be pre-planning and deciding on how good can I look on Sunday, and this was before I was married, let’s say when I was around your age, a teenager, a young woman, 19-year-old me.
Back in the 60s, I grew up my whole younger life in a little village in Moldova, and only our post office or local businesses had telephones, but not at home, that wasn’t normal then. We usually sent telegrams if we ever wanted to communicate to other towns or villages.
So this meant I would see my friends at work, or school and we would all make plans to go to the movies on Sunday. Sunday was THE day to go and watch a movie with all your friends, and so that was usually the day all of us girls would go out and have good time.
I always took a very long time trying to pick out an outfit, going to the cinema was when I could dress up, put my hair up in many different ways, impress some people, it was a very big deal. I still even remember the exact perfume I wore back then, it wasn’t the most expensive bottle or cheapest, but I loved the scent and I can still remember the specific bottle, it was called “Red Moscow”.
Going to the cinema wasn’t an everyday ordinary experience, this was a special occasion, this was a time where all the girls in my village could be elegant and beautiful. This was also occasionally a moment where all the girls would also gossip and talk about each other’s outfits and discuss who was the worst or best-dressed, it was very competitive. And to be a little cheeky, I always wore the best outfits and my parents thought so too, and usually, all the boys would stare at me and wave or smile. I really impressed some fellas back then I’ll tell you that.
After the movies, all the teenagers would always go dancing, it was a very fun and outgoing time, my and my friends couldn’t wait for every Sunday to come around the corner. We would always meet outside the cinema and pre-plan a few days before if we wanted to go. The times of the movie would always be displayed on posters scattered around my village, and the girls and myself would always decide a few days prior if we were going or not.
I remember watching an Indian Bollywood movie, back in those days, we would go up to the cash register and buy a ticket, it would usually cost about 20cents for a ticket. And then everyone would buy snacks near the movies, usually sunflower seeds, because back then popcorn didn’t even exist in my country, and everyone would go away chewing and munching on their packet of seeds and enjoy the movie.
The cinema was usually a hall with a screen closed behind curtains, and it was a big widescreen, inside of what we called our ‘home of culture’ in my village, really just a community or local centre.
Colour television had been created then, and so we enjoyed the movies with our friends, and basically the cinema was always full of youngsters from my village. During the film no one would ever talk or interrupt the film, and if someone was to make a noise and mess around everyone would usually shut them up, or kick them out, because this was a time was where everyone was alert and interested in the film and the film only.
Everything back then was very innocent, simple and child-like and I just remember everyone appreciated everything, especially every Sunday, which was dedicated to dressing up and having a night out going to the cinema and dancing.
After the conversation with my Grandma, It became very insightful to me, as the reason people went to the cinema has dramatically shifted since the 60s, from a formal matter to an every day casual activity, with limited decision making. Nowadays the cinema is something anyone can do, at any time, anywhere, it’s flexible. Ethnography allowed me a holistic insight, as the views and actions of my Grandma in the 60s have very much changed in this current decade. I was able to observe a fascinating element about the Cinema, and unfortunately, I wish the nature of ‘going to the cinema’ was very much of what my Grandma experienced in her teenage years, compared to cinema culture now.
Stoller Paul, 2007, ‘Ethnography/Memoir/Imagination/Story’, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, West Chester University, Vol. 32, Issue 2, pp 178–191, viewed 25 August 2019,