What goes on in the balcony stays in the balcony

You know what I miss? I miss setting off firecrackers every July with my dad and almost starting our garage on fire back when I grew up in Parkvale. I miss bottles of Tingle pop for 12 cents. I miss only having to dial four digits when making a local call. I miss balconies in movie theatres.

You know what I miss? I miss setting off firecrackers every July with my dad and almost starting our garage on fire back when I grew up in Parkvale. I miss bottles of Tingle pop for 12 cents. I miss only having to dial four digits when making a local call.

I miss balconies in movie theatres.

Back in the day, somewhere between the Ice Age when giant icebergs roamed the earth and the Jurassic Period when giant dinosaurs ate all the icebergs, the best movie theatres had balconies.

For non-baby boomers who may not be familiar with the Prehistoric Balcony Era, this meant that there was one great big screen and you could sit in the main floor area or go up the stairs at either side of the theatre (two at a time) and sit in a place of mayhem, mystery and magic called ‘the balcony.’

The balcony was an excellent place to view a movie from or, when you were a teenager, to take a date and not view a movie from, if you get my drift.

And there was something exceedingly special about sitting way up by the projector booth, the huge reels of film visible through the window slowly turning strips of plastic pictures into magical stories, the projectors, two of them, each the size of a Volkswagen bus, right there whirring away in the background, shooting beams of miraculous light that carried those stories right up to the big screen in front of you.

And — bonus — you could look over the edge at the expansive seats below, and if you were eight years old you could drop pieces of popcorn onto people’s heads. Until you were caught by the usher who was only about three years older than you.

Or so I’m told.

True story: the Paramount Theatre downtown was just such a Balcony Era theatre. It was situated where the Remand Centre is now (coincidence?) and it was the only movie theatre in town with a balcony. You could go to a Saturday afternoon matinee, which showed several short movie ‘serials’ and a bunch of cartoons before the main feature, instead of Scotia Bank and Mazda commercials, and you could get a bag of popcorn and a horseshoe sucker all for, like, 25 cents.

The perennial favourite, particularly for the Balcony Boys was the horseshoe sucker. It was just like it sounds — a sucker shaped like a horseshoe, mounted on a stick. This thing was lifesize — about four inches tall and two inches thick and weighed about as much as a real horseshoe. That rock-solid chunk of sweet red translucent candy would take a normal kid at least three full days of constant licking to conquer. A true classic in the movie confection genre.

Why was the horseshoe sucker so inextricably linked to the phenomenon of the balcony? Well, the conundrum was, what’s a boy to do with an unfinished hunk of sticky sucker when you’re sick of it halfway through the feature movie?

Astute readers will know where this is going. And where the horseshoe sucker is going. . . . Yep. Straight over the balcony.

It’s a wonder how someone below wasn’t seriously injured by the half-licked remains flying horseshoe suckers. For some reason, perhaps owing to that old saw ‘boys will be boys,’ many Balcony Boys found it gut-busting hilarious to wing horseshoe suckers over the balcony.

They’d wait until they were plum tired of that slab of crimson candy-on-a-stick, and at a particularly quiet, tense or scary part of the movie, they’d hurl that sucker through the cavernous darkness, sending candy careening over the balcony railing, and then … three … two … one …. crash! It would smash into a million pieces below, exploding like confetti out of a canon.

Or so I’m told.

Then we would, that is, they would hunker down and concentrate intensely on the movie, appearing as innocent and angelic as humanly possible as the 13-year-old ushers ran up the stairs to shine their flashlights with the red cones on the end directly in our, er … their faces.

The ushers never did anything, of course, on account of they had been Balcony Boy Sucker Huckers a few short years before and they knew the drill, and wouldn’t kick you out unless they personally got hit with one of the solid sugar projectiles.

But the balcony wasn’t only about chucking food items at innocent main-floor movie-goers. And it wasn’t only about snuggling in dark corners with a date. It was about a time when movie theatres were proud shrines of enchanted adventure on the screen, where the theatres themselves were wonderful places to be, and it wasn’t always about how many screens, movies and people you could cram into a small space in order to maximize profits.

In some big cities there are still a few grand old movie theatres around with balconies. They are worth checking out before they disappear — especially if you take a date. Unfortunately, though, they don’t sell horseshoe suckers anymore.

I can’t imagine why.

Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer. His column appears on Saturdays.

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