“One…two…THREE!” and we rose roaring from the middle of the theater and turned around to launch a volley of sleek paper airplanes at the rows of people behind us. Our soft missiles flew in all directions, some arcing long and reaching the back of the auditorium, some striking closer targets like swift arrows, some skewering upward, some failing in flight and falling. A moment or two later, a retaliatory wave soared back in our direction. I snagged one paper airplane in mid-air, dodged another and took a direct hit from one that lodged in my beard. “HA!” I heard someone laugh tauntingly.
Just another Saturday morning in early 70s Austin.
Welcome to the Saturday Morning Fun Club, where we screened films weekly during UT semesters. Much more than that, though, we turned the Texas Union Theater into a never-quite-allowed-in-the-moviehouse playground for us college students. Pretending to be adults but still kids at heart, we reverted big-time on Saturday mornings.
First, we’d watch a short: a cartoon, newsreel, or set of preview trailers. For awhile there, we were watching episodes of the classic Saturday serial, “The Adventures of Captain Marvel.”
But with spotty availability, we never managed to finish it, leaving us hanging — probably off a cliff somewhere. Fortunately, thanks to the internet and YouTube, I’ve found it again and the Secret of the Scorpion can be revealed at last as we watch Billy Batson battle and beat the bad Guys. SHAZAM, indeed!
Then, we’d have the feature film for the week. With a limited budget, our movies ran to B-film with a few classics occasionally gracing the screen. I don’t recall too many of our movies, but I do remember seeing “Double Indemnity” there one time — rather classier than most films we could get. It hardly mattered, though, as the movie was only part of the SMFC experience.
Audience participation was de rigeur for SMFC screenings. Clever quips shouted after screen actions brought laughter and applause. Ill-timed shouts or comments were shushed, and landing a good one felt like a personal coup. There were two common crowd call-outs you could easily see coming and join in. Whenever someone was sneaking up on someone else, we’d all call out, “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!” which of course, they never did. And whenever one of the leading ladies would appear, there’d be a admiration-filled, “She’s Bee-YOO-ti-full!”
Early on in my SMFC days, we screened a most marvelous movie, “The Point,” an animated show featuring songs by Harry Nilsson.
I’m still not sure how we got to see it, as it premiered as a TV movie in 1971, and only became available on home video much later — since VHS had not been invented yet! Again, YouTube serves as my temporary time machine to revisit “The Point,” with either the original Dustin Hoffman narration or the later VHS-release narration by Ringo Starr.
Once, we even managed to get the first reel of the “Wizard of Oz” — the Kansas scenes — but not the entire movie. Still not sure how that happened. But I can say that singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” along with Judy Garland and a whole theater of people feels absolutely incredible — highly recommended. Somehow, it also seemed perfectly appropriate when the black-and-white portion ended and Dorothy opened the farmhouse door, and rather than seeing Oz, we returned to the Saturday Morning Fun Club.
As the movie ended each week, and credits rolled and the lights came up, we stepped out into the blindingly bright mid-day sunshine of so-called “reality,” minds still swimming from our Saturday morning reverie and the surreality of cinema.