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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

High on the Smell of Popcorn

I am in withdrawal. A little over a week ago I was immersed, all day, four days running in the joyful pursuit of seeing as many classic films as could be squeezed into a four-day weekend. From Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening at the TCM Classic Film Festival I lived a childhood fantasy of doing nothing but watch movies. For four days I was also immersed in the atmosphere of the theater lobby with the siren “call” of popcorn filling the air so thickly you could nearly taste it. The aroma pulled one toward the long glass fronted counter where every candy you ever craved sat like precious jewels tantalizing, promising sweet reward – and no weight gain, it doesn’t count if you eat it in the dark does it? Under bright warming lights the hotdogs lay out on their buns, browning like bathing beauties tanning on white towels – seductively making promises they surely couldn’t keep but you wouldn’t care, not if they would be yours for that moment.

The popcorn smell was part and party to the experience. It set the scene, welcoming you in the door, washing the outside world from your mind and making you ready to accept the adventure, the romance, the laughter, and the music that would come with the dimming of the lights. It’s addictive. I was high on the smell of popcorn from whiff one. Compliant. People who would grumble audibly if they have more that two ahead of them at the grocery store check out, people who charge through yellow lights (and the occasional red one), people with the usual inpatients of a two year old when the dinner’s been ordered but has not arrive, are all standing in queue, gratefully accepting a number and waiting their turn more graciously than they might at the deli or meat market.

The salty, buttery, warm, and invading popcorn smell soothes, caresses, wraps the assembled crowd, turning the stoic loquacious, frees the shy and withdrawn teasing them into being down right chatty. Even the pompous and aloof cannot resist. The scent of popcorn is humanizing, a leveler of playing fields. We are all, after all, about to share an adventure. And the aroma travels with us into the theater in giant tubs, bags steaming with that salt and butter and warmth that lured you to purchase it in the first place. Even those resisters who do not buy popcorn, those voyeurs who accept the secondhand waft as it were, are addicted.

I note that the audiences at the festival were very polite. There was little talking during the movies. Perhaps they were all busy eating popcorn. Even during the endless, and with each movie increasingly dulling, repletion of the opening logo (I thought it was clever the first two or three times) people remained soft spoken. Though some around me did suggest that they were ready for a rousing chorus of “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” and another put forth the rather brilliant idea I thought that it would be lovely if they would intersperse the round of pulsing dots etc. with some of the classic trailers. Sort of like the good old days: Showing Next Week – Coming in June, Gable’s Back and … Garson’s Got Him. They must have some, perhaps piles of them it would be fun to see.

Finally the lights would dim. Even the smell of the popcorn seemed to recede, the sound came up and we all went very quiet trying to read the credits carefully to catch all the names of our favorite character actors as well as past and present stars. I was particularly pleased with those films that repeated the credits at the end and included the name of the character they played. In “Went the Day Well” made in 1942 I spotted the name of Thora Hird, Dame Thora Hird when she died in March 2003 just before beginning her 21st season as a regular on the BBC series “Last of the Summer Wine” and a life time of film credits to her name playing every thing from Dirk Bogard's love interest to Aunties, Nannies, and Grandmothers.

Of course eventually the film would end, the screen would go dark, the house lights come up and we would as one struggle to our feet, wind our way out of the theater, and back into that air thick with the smell of popcorn still waiting to greet us. A perfume one never grows tired of, more identifiable to more people than any cologne, the aroma would lure us into the next line in happy anticipation of the next film. One we hadn’t seen in decades or one we’d never seen at all.

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