WELCH — About six or seven people sat and waited outside McDowell 3 Marquee Cinemas in Welch at about 3 p.m. Friday, about 40 minutes before “The Glass Castle” was set to start.
Theater staff didn’t unlock the doors until 3:10 p.m., and the first showing of the movie, based on the memoir of a former Welch resident, didn’t start until 3:40 p.m.
“Are we going to be disappointed?” one of the women asked. “Interview me after.”
“There’s an excitement,” explained Jim Redmond, a retired coach of 35 years, who went to the 6:40 p.m. showing.
When residents thought it wasn’t going to show at the local theater, it was like losing a fish after you caught it, he said.
“It needed to be here,” he said.
Venetia Brand, who grew up in McDowell County, was at the concession stand when she saw a classmate buy a ticket.
“Susie, what year did you graduate?” she asked. “Were you up on the hill with Jeannette?”
“The Glass Castle” is based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls, who went to school in Welch, and whose father, Rex, was from Welch. Rex and his wife, Rose Mary, uprooted their family time after time before settling in Welch.
Theater staff said 76 of 191 seats were full for the 3:40 pm showing. About 120 people showed up for the 6:40 showing.
One woman said she worried maybe there’d be people with no teeth. Another said she thought maybe they’d show people with one leg longer than the other, “because we walk on the mountainside.”
Chris Murphy, who works at the Exxon down the street, had heard talk about filming in the worse parts of town.
Murphy, who is 26 and lives in Welch, wasn’t planning on seeing the movie — after his shift at Exxon, he would go to his construction job.
“I heard they made us look like a bunch of dumb hillbillies,” he said.
Delegate Ed Evans, who represents the area, wasn’t worried though.
“It could be any one of us,” he said.
He stood outside the 6:40 p.m. showing, to greet people. Mid-conversation, he paused.
“I see my whole family coming in,” he said.
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In one of the opening scenes, 3-year-old Walls suffers severe burns because her mother tells her to cook hot dogs herself.
Rex’s children tell him they haven’t eaten in three days. He takes money for food, but doesn’t return for hours.
In a later scene, he promises to quit drinking, but then begs Walls to bring him the whiskey under the sink.
Rex always told his family he would build them a “glass castle,” but never did.
But when they have no money for gifts, Rex lets his children claim stars from the sky. He agrees when Walls picks Venus.
He also pours $950 in gambling winnings on her bed, and a mink coat to pawn for the extra $50, when she needs money for college.
The scene shot in Welch — Walls working for the school newspaper, on the football field — is only a flash.
But the town comes up a lot in conversation.
Rex doesn’t want to go back to Welch, where his mother Erma lives.
When Erma dies, Walls asks her mother if she thinks he was sexually abused. Her mother tells her not to think about that. It’ll make you crazy.
And Walls and her siblings talk about how they want to leave Welch. But their parents follow them when they move to New York City.
At the beginning of the movie, she ignored her parents when she saw them digging through trash, as she passed by in a taxi.
She returns home, though, when Rex is about to die.
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“It wasn’t the place,” said Betty Kuppusami, after she watched it. “It was the people.”
Kuppusami, who is from Wyoming County, lived in McDowell County when her husband, Dr. M. Kuppusami, practiced there. They moved to Bluefield after his business flooded.
She had bought tickets online, in case it sold out.
“I love being here,” she said. “It’s like coming back home.”
Donna Deskins, who is from McDowell County but lives in North Carolina now, was the one who thought maybe they’d show people with one leg longer than the other.
“When I was 18, I run out of here as fast as I could,” she said. “As my father called it, I ran away to the land of milk and honey.”
She and her mom ran into her aunt and cousin at the theater. They were standing in the lobby after the movie, visiting.
“We didn’t know they were coming,” Deskins said.
“We could have had a family reunion almost,” her aunt, Iris Russell, of Bluefield, added.
Mary Osborne, of Princeton, was an extra during the football scene.
“We became Maroon Waves again, for the movie,” she said.
She saw a glimpse of herself on screen.
“I’m not going to sign autographs or anything,” she joked.
She went to school in Welch. She was about the same age as Lori, Walls’ sister. She lived on Hobart Street and Walls lived nearby on Little Hobart.
She saw “some run-down places” on screen.
“From her perspective, that’s what it looked like,” she said.
She was the one who thought maybe there’d be people with no teeth.
“Everyone is concerned about it,” she said. “They want a positive look on the county.”
But after watching it, she said: “I don’t see where it could hurt.”
“It showed some strength of the McDowell County people,” she said. “They can survive.”