The marquee of Rodeo Cinema is seen in Stockyards City. (Brand Rackley)

A person’s first love is usually another person, someone you hang your hopes and dreams on. A human window into what the future could hold. Someone who teaches you the first great lessons of your life. My first love was all of these things, but it wasn’t a person. It was film. And it hasn’t faded away (at least not completely).

Though I’m told by my parents that at the age of 4 I memorized Lonesome Dove, the first film I can actually recall memorizing and reciting verbatim was Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Every day after I returned home from kindergarten, I would watch the entire movie. This went on until Batman Returns came out. Sadly, my love affair with it was short lived. It was thought to be too morbid and weird, so it was hid away on a tall shelf, far from my prying eyes and short 6-year-old grasp. But no matter. The damage was done. I was a film fanatic.

I spent the intervening years between first grade and college basically as a part-time tenant of the Rialto Theatre, a theater and video store in my hometown of Alva, Oklahoma. This proved to be my first experience as a part of a film community and is one I still cherish.

The Rialto Theatre in Alva, Oklahoma, has brought film experiences to the people of Woods County for decades. (Provided)

In college, I spent almost as much time at Blockbuster as I did in class. I’d regularly bring stacks of movies back to my apartment, sometimes measuring over two feet in height. Small financial fortunes were lost, but large filmographic fortunes were made.

My film refuge during my time in Chicago was the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, which had a wide selection of independent and mainstream films. While living in Los Angeles, Quentin Taratino‘s New Beverly Cinema was my church. Cheaply priced double features of classics presented exclusively on film kept the fire of film love burning inside me as my acting auditions tried to freeze my soul to death.

Video rentals struggle in 21st century

The theater in Alva continues to thrive. Their rental section also remains, and even now people still rent DVDs from it. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for many of its peers across our state. Drive through most small Oklahoma towns, and you won’t find a theater in sight, let alone a place to rent movies. One store still making a go of it in Madill, Oklahoma, offers a wide variety of services to attract customers.

Even Blockbuster can’t survive. Maybe it’s irony, karma or poetic justice that the mass-market video store chain, which put most of the mom-and-pop rental stores out of business, has now almost entirely succumbed to other entertainment giants like Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, Shudder, FilmStruck and other streaming services. Until recently, aside from The Last Blockbuster on Twitter, the only stores that were still in existence could be found in Oregon and Alaska. Now, only the Oregon Blockbuster remains.

So you can imagine, upon my return to Oklahoma City, how pleasantly surprised I was to find Family Video was still holding out. In fact, getting a membership there was one of the first things I did upon moving back from L.A.

Other options persist

Luckily for me and my fellow Okie cinephiles, this is but one of many options for film viewing. The OKC Film Society screens short- and feature-length films at various venues throughout the metro. The Tower Theatre also has screenings of classic and new movies. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is still playing artistic foreign and independent cinema. Tulsa’s Circle Cinema is doing the same. Soon their sister theater, Rodeo Cinema, will be fulfilling the need for thoughtful film in Stockyards City. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting wet, Riversport OKC offers the chance to see movies on the water. The king of the modern movie event screening, the Alamo Drafthouse, is making the OKC Metro a home for one their theaters in the near future as well.

Every film is a teacher

It’s easy to stream movies in your living room, on your laptop or, if you’re a completely irredeemable monster, on your smartphone. If you’re one of the many people who find online-viewing options perfectly adequate, you’re probably asking, “Why is film important? How do public screenings benefit our community, city or our state?”

Just as the header on the Circle Cinema’s newsletter states, a community’s consciousness can be raised through film. Much like every person, every film is a teacher. Some teach us how to be. Some teach us how not to be. They help us learn about ourselves. More importantly, they help us learn about others. They help us think differently together, but, to do that, the cinematic experience must be communal.

I know it’s not cheap to rent movies at a video store or go to the theater, but the costs of isolation and narcissism aren’t cheap, either. Take a break from your couch, your DVR, your Netflix and chilling (no not THAT Netflix and chilling) and go experience film with your fellow humans.