Life, frame by frame
Bill Reid digs deep into a mound of movie ticket stubs atop a table at a McDonald’s near Culver City. He randomly pulls one out for instant analysis.
“ ‘Maid in Manhattan,’ ” he announces. “I thought Jennifer Lopez did a good job with the role. It was one of the better films of that kind. You have to buy the premise of the story, you know. It was done pretty well.”
Next comes “Dancing at the Blue Iguana,” a flick he saw two years ago. “Now, this was a pretty decent movie. It didn’t go anywhere, but it had potential.”
“ ‘Sex With Strangers,’ ” he says and then chuckles. Not because he’s sheepish about the title of the 2002 film but because this one stumps him.
Who can blame the guy? After all, when you’ve seen more than 14,000 movies in the span of 70 years, there are going to be some misses along with the hits. And Reid has seen plenty of both because he sees everything, sometimes twice.
Just as the Academy Awards celebrated its 75th year, so too will Reid, who turns 75 in April. And since the age of 5, when his feet couldn’t even touch the floor at the Varsity Theater in Detroit, his hometown, he has been a movie buff.
As a kid he loved westerns. As a young man he fell for “It Happened One Night.” This year he’s kicking up his heels over “Chicago.”
He loves the movies and everything about them -- celebrities, books about film, the history of moviemaking. And he’ll see anything -- foreign, animated, sci-fi, tear-jerkers, gross-out teen flicks. Reid is known by his pals as a “man for all seasons,” which, he casually mentions, happens to be the title of a 1966 Oscar-winning film.
He has just had his usual McDonald’s breakfast of scrambled eggs, muffin and a cup of coffee. It’s his seven-days-a-week ritual -- $1.70 for senior citizens -- followed by as many as five movies in one day. He often doesn’t get back to his home in Culver City -- known, by the way, as “The Heart of Screenland” -- until well past midnight.
Every Friday, as soon as the newspaper arrives, he plots his movie viewing for the week. He writes his first picks, a list of about eight to 10, on the back of his McDonald’s receipt because he also is an avid recycler. Next to each title are the showtimes, locations and film lengths, which he clocks himself with a stopwatch because he also has a thing about time.
He’s been keeping his lists the last four years. He reaches for his wallet and pulls out this year’s little bundle so far. March 7th flutters out. Selections include “Bringing Down the House,” “Tears of the Sun,” “Laurel Canyon,” “Irreversible,” “Fidel,” “The Safety of Objects” and “Rivers and Tides.” From Long Beach to Pasadena to Beverly Hills, no theater is off-limits, though he says the Beverly Center’s theaters aren’t among his favorites because “you have TV screens at home that are bigger.”
He’s traveled as far as 60 miles to see a movie because that’s the only place it was showing. “Some of these obscure movies are very good,” he says, adding that just a couple of weeks ago he was practically the only person in a Pasadena theater for “Confessions of a Florist.”
“That film was better than those in wide release. There are a lot of good films that never get an audience.” Except for Reid.
Once he sat in a theater for nearly four hours to watch Andy Warhol’s “Sleep,” a black-and-white film about a man getting some shut-eye, which clocked in at five hours and 21 minutes. “That was it, just the camera focused on a man asleep. He’d turn over now and then. That, and breathe,” he says. Reid left after 3 1/2 hours because, well, he was starting to feel sleepy himself and besides, “I prefer movies that have character development.”
A lifelong bachelor and retired since 1973 from working managerial jobs in the automobile business here and in Detroit, Reid has time to enjoy the movies he loves. He schedules them between his volunteer work and civic activism on various committees and commissions, including supporting Culver City’s new 12-screen theater complex, set to open in May.
Reid recalls his love for film beginning when the Varsity played double features and held yo-yo and paddle-ball contests on stage. “I started going to Saturday matinees in 1933 with all the neighborhood kids. We paid a dime; and the adults, a quarter,” he says. “You had a newsreel back then, followed by a cartoon and serial that usually was always a western and ended with a cliffhanger so that you had to return next week to see another cliffhanger. And then on Sunday two new movies came out.”
Tired of working in the automobile industry, he moved to Los Angeles in 1959, at age 31. That was a year after he’d been hit by a taxi as he was crossing the street in melting snow after having just seen “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives. “By the way, that was a great movie,” he says.
In L.A. he landed work at a car dealership, which was fine by him because there certainly were more movie theaters here.
From Long Beach multiplexes to quaint Silver Lake movie theaters to the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Reid can tell you how to get there faster than MapQuest. He knows shortcuts to everywhere and can find prime, free street parking. When you’re planning to see a string of movies in one day, it’s all about logistics, he says.
“Sometimes I go to five different venues in one day. It’s all about timing and eating in between,” because Reid doesn’t believe in getting the munchies at the movies. “No food or drinking should be allowed, not even the rustle of a candy wrapper,” he says. Don’t even mention cell phones. “What a distraction,” he says. “I want to give a movie my undivided attention,” which is why he prefers to go alone these days.
He used to go with a couple of friends, also movie fanatics, but they became too chatty for him. “Movies are a form of relaxation from the stresses of the day, an escape,” he says. “Not a time to talk about stuff you already know.”
He’s an old-fashioned purist who cringes at the thought of a colorized black-and-white film and disagrees with dubbing voices in foreign movies. His VCR will never play a movie; it remains unhooked to his TV “because there’s nothing like watching a movie on the big screen.”
Reid digs into the ticket stub pile again, sifting through the ripped pieces of paper as if searching for gold. He finds a gem of a movie.
“ ‘Chicago,’ ” he says. “I saw it twice, and I’d see it again. It just takes you to another place. All these movies do. Looking at all these torn tickets right here is something else. I’ve had a lifetime of loving movies,” he says, pausing pensively and then adding: “And lots of sitting too.”
Bill Reid’s all-time top-10 favorites
1. “Gone With the Wind” (1939)
2. “Casablanca” (1942)
3. “From Here to Eternity” (1953)
4. “It Happened One Night” (1934)
5. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)
6. “Ben-Hur” (1959)
7. “On the Waterfront” (1954)
8. “Chicago” (2002)
9. “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
10. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)