Final Nights at The Frida
by Maxfield Ney
Every time I clean Theater Two at The Frida Cinema, sweeping popcorn and Mike & Ikes into the dustpan, the plaques on the back of the firm plush chairs catch my eye. The plaques commemorate a fundraiser to buy new chairs for the theater. A unique gem, the Frida Cinema is Orange County’s only non-profit art house theater. Their unique programming focuses on indie, classic and cult films.
If you bought a chair, you got your name and the title of your favorite movie on the plaque. I always find myself searching for my dad's name printed in the worn brass letters, with his favorite movie, In the Mood for Love, the devastatingly romantic Wong Kar-wai drama, and the year
it came out: 2000. I saw that movie for the first time in 2021, the dreamy, slow shots playing for what seemed like an eternity. Although the movie did end eventually, we argued about it, since I didn’t get the movie. I still don’t. That tarnished the experience for both of us,
unfortunately. At the time I thought, “Who cares?” I knew we’d see hundreds more movies and create hundreds more memories together. But now I wonder, will we?
I’ve been watching movies at The Frida since I was nine years old, and I’ve been a volunteer there for the past three years. Recently, as I sat behind the red concessions counter wearing the required translucent food handling gloves all smeared with popcorn butter, the sweet, citrusy smell of Sprite cutting through the air, my manager
approached me and asked how my college campus visits were going. This situation has happened multiple times in the past few months since I’ve been visiting various colleges across the country. I always tell him how great it was as he clacks away at the company computer, peacefully listening to my banter. “That's really cool,” he says, then puts on a sort of sad smile and tells me to start popping a new batch of popcorn. I open the bag and let the kernels slide out of the packet, followed by an amorphous blob of butter. As I wonder which college I will ultimately choose my thoughts invariably get interrupted as customers start to file in and I have to work the cash
register. “Hi there, how are you today?” I repeat again and again to each and every person. As I finish up with one customer, handing them their half-Sprite, half-HI-C (light ice), my dad pops up in front of the counter. He asks
me to grab some licorice and a Coke Zero once I complete my shift, then runs off to snag us seats for the movie Mad God. My dad and I often see a movie after my four-hour shift on Friday nights. During the school year it's usually the only time I can go. I’ve probably gone through this interaction at least fifty times. I can easily picture the fairy lights strung up in the lobby, the mural covering the wall depicting a hundred different colorful characters from the staff’s most beloved movies. The little statue of the baby from Eraserhead resting by the napkins looking over the backs of all the customers. I grab the red licorice from its place next to the forever untouched black licorice, I grab a Coke Zero, a recent addition to the soda dispensers, and head into that mystical realm called Theater Two.
The movie starts at 10:30 pm and almost instantly my dad falls asleep while reclining in his chair, the package of red vines sitting unfinished in his lap. Normally this would annoy me, but I didn’t mind this time, so long as we get to spend this time together. Mad God is a stop-motion movie that took thirty years to make, an animated experimental adult horror film, and here it is playing for a few dozen hardcore cinephiles in a tiny theater in downtown Santa Ana. All of that artful labor and time spent really making something brilliant and now it's done. I wonder if the director misses all those hours of tireless work.
I sit there watching a lone adventurer explore the hidden secrets of a dystopian city, pretending to “smoke” my red vine with both ends chewed off. All of a sudden, I feel old and wistful. It occurs to me how little time I have left here at The Frida. If I leave for college, I’ll no longer be able to wander into the projection room, staring down through the glass window at the crowd watching Tarkovksy’s
classic Solaris or, more recently, the Oscar winning hit, Drive My Car, by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. If I leave, I won’t get to spend any more hours in the dark storage room pulling out miniature marquee letters and eating ice straight from the freezer. If I leave this place, which, honestly, is spiritual for me, I won't get
to go into the cramped stall in the bathroom and see my favorite sticker stuck to the stall wall that says, “It's not Monday, it's Capitalism.” Mostly I will miss watching countless new and classic, avant-garde, and international movies there with my dad. No matter what’s happened that day, whether we agree about the movie or how we feel about each other at that moment, all that matters is that there's a movie playing that we can see together.
Maxfield Ney is a junior at the Orange County School of the Arts in the Acting
Conservatory. He was born and raised in Orange County, California. A budding cinephile, he volunteers at The Frida Cinema in downtown Santa Ana. He enjoys backpacking, theater and seeing live bands and is a major history buff.