I had a childhood friend who based his preference for movies on whether the movie was in color or in black and white. When we would make plans for going to the Apollo Theatre for a Sunday matinee, he would ask, “Is it in technicolor?” Didn’t care what it was about (a John Wayne war movie like “Bataan” or a John Wayne western like “Stagecoach”).

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

In those days many theaters showed double features – two movies for the price of one admission. Plus cartoons and a newsreel. So for a quarter you could spend four hours in air conditioned comfort.

Ah, movies. They were a big part of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. Theaters that showed movies (called movie theatres) were like churches – dark, quiet, with a screen that projected images larger than life. That was the key. Larger than life. At that time a new television set featured a 12-inch screen. In a movie theater a close-up of John Wayne’s head was as big as Texas – 30 feet tall and up to 60 feet wide. Watching a movie in those dimensions is an entirely different experience than watching it on today’s smartphone.

Having Franklin Portnoy as a neighbor had its advantages. He was always available to go someplace, any place. To get on his bike and pedal to a city park, where we could get lost in the winding roads of the landscaped woods. You’d think Portnoy was not much in the brain department, but he could think as quickly as anyone and was full of surprises. I once asked him why he had this prejudice against black-and-white movies.

The closest I got for an answer was a casual flip of his hand to include the universe and saying “What’s more real?” For him it wasn’t that technicolor was real, black and white was not, but that the world wasn’t as cut and dried, as final, as it appeared in black and white.

Frankie’s father worked at night driving a taxi. I remember I must have been about 11 or 12 years old when his father died suddenly, suffering a heart attack while behind the wheel of his Yellow Cab. Weeks later Frankie came to our apartment to say goodbye. He and his mother were moving to the suburbs, as we would not long after, while the city shifted its racial patterns. It was awkward standing on the landing between the second and third floor, with my neighbor and friend who didn’t look like he was that affected by the loss of his father.

“So tell me,” he said, out of the blue, “Is it better in black and white or in technicolor?”

“Is what better?

“This. You know, life.”

“Life is not a movie,” I said.

Frankie jumped on that like a lion cub onto a baby eland.

“Sure,” he said, “but wouldn’t it be great if it was? To be Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, you’d have to be in color.”

I never saw Portnoy again.

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