September 01, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

The quick rundown of the week that was: screenings of Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Cave, The Edukators, Pretty Persuasion, The Baxter, Transporter 2, History of Violence and Dreamer – one better than I expected but only one really worth much of a damn. The last two, early screenings for critics headed to the Toronto International Film Festival (watch them here so you don’t have to there!) and early contenders, too, (without offering any opinion of how the films actually are) for the Oscar murmuring that becomes something like a sport this time of year. Three were evening screenings that each had two people checking messages, one making a phone call out, and one answering a phone and carrying on a conversation – too typical to be outrageous anymore, you just sort of sigh and let the cretins win.

Watching movies has become a Sartrean ordeal, why do it anymore if all most of the movies seem to do this year is suck soul? The year of the shrug.

During the exorcism movie at least, the call-answerer had the presence of mind to run up and duck down into that space between the first row and the screen to have his talk. Because, obviously, with acoustics in these meticulously-engineered amphitheaters being what they are, the front of the house is the last place your repeated “I’m watching a movie, yeah, yeah, speak up, it’s loud in here” jive will be broadcast in crystal clarity to the other five hundred people in the house. Good thinking there, champ. The film, by the way, sucks – it’s Life of David Gale with literal demons in place of Kevin Spacey’s, but I digress.

Award to worst person in the world this week goes to the heavy-ish woman in red top and skirt at The Cave screening who, after stepping on everyone’s toes in a defiant, brassy way, asked a soft-spoken woman if seats next to her were taken. They were (by her children away for some popcorn) she said, but red-top, with her hearing problem exacerbating her humanity problem, says “Speak fucking English.” After subsequently getting the cold shoulder from everyone in the section, she says to her whipped boyfriend in a voice, plenty-loud, “I have plenty of money to pay for my own movies, I don’t need to see a free movie, let’s go get something to eat.” And off she goes - light up a room and then leave them wanting more. The scary thing about calling her “common” is that she is. I console myself by imagining that she’s from Philadelphia. I don’t mention this out of outrage, I mention this to describe the average experience of an evening screening and to reiterate that it’s this kind of experience that the studios are hoping to sponsor by scheduling them at night and opening them to the public.

Then, a first for me, during the Dreamer industry-only screening, a security guard hired by the studio to remind critics to turn off their cellphones, sits in the back row to watch, receives a phone call, and has a nice long chat while the ink-stained wretches are losing their minds. I don’t know of any critics who would do that, and I don’t know of any critics who would ever want to record a movie off a screen to sell to Thailand, either, making me think that in targeting us through them as they do with nightvision scopes and metal-detecting wands, the studios may very well be overlooking the most likely group of folks trafficking in flicks that’ve fallen off the back of the proverbial truck.

Scurrilous, you say? Elementary, I say.

It’s a matter of respect for the product and the audience and if you ain’t got it, you’ve got no reservations selling a handicam’d version of a Nick Cannon film through your shareware site. Only other time I recall wanting to say something to the rent-a-cops this week is when someone with a clipboard, sitting in the audience, started taking notes with a little flashlight-pen (a colleague, more powerful than I, offered “Turn off the fucking light, jesus fucking Christ, that’s so fucking inconsiderate”) and then again when a pair of them held a top-secret conversation in normal voices behind that little rising half-wall that separates the walkway from the seats. Crystal clear, gents, as is the question of quis custodiat custodium?

A note to aspiring film critics, by the by, show up on the first day of the job with one of those light-up pens (or, better yet, your laptop – I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried) – the kind that a local film fest actually sold in the lobby as “critic’s pens” – and you’re definitely going to be ostracized and, possibly, physically assaulted. Do it and stigmatize yourself. If you disrespect films enough to shine a light in the middle of one, you should find a different profession. Actually, if you disrespect films that much, you’re just what most editors are looking for nowadays. You should, in fact, put it on your résumé. I stand corrected.

Brighter note: made the two-hour drive up to the Beaver Creek Ski Resort for the third of four films in their Summer Film series, a battered but serviceable 35mm print of Dark City. Conversation afterwards, brief but lively. Next week is
Spirited Away – this Saturday, lectures in front of Rilla’s Village of the Damned and the pinnacle of the Astaire/Rogers partnership, Top Hat. More and more, the only reason to keep going to the new releases is just to keep a toehold in trends to better serve the discussion during teaching and other speaking gigs. God knows there’s precious joy to be found in this year’s tepid mudville: outrage at low-tide, out with the passion somewhere out to sea.

A non-seq note to future programmers: if you’re planning on doing a discussion post-screening, don’t program any Alexander Payne films. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t have any undercarriage. Try to talk about them and you start regurgitating plot, comparing favorite scenes, and gushing about performance: they are what they are and that’s all you need know. Keats’ Grecian Urn, say, if you’re a fan.

So, on the horizon so long as these meds hold out, reviews of Anchor Bay’s new releases of Dario Argento’s Trauma and The Card Player, of the Director’s Cut DVD of John Waters’ Cry Baby, and, possibly, if the backlog recedes sufficiently, brief Blog-only thoughts about Kim Ki-Duk’s Bad Guy and Samaritan Girl.


The Captain said...

If you were in a cinema watching a film that you not only wanted to see but paid for and some inconsiderate prick decide to answer his phone and then have a conversation, what would you do?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

kim ki-duk is best in the world. i loved bad guy. haven't seen samaritan girl. however his last 2 films are clearly the best. 3-iron is, in my opinion, the best film to come out in last few years. you can practically see the change in his poersonality from "bad guy" where it was inarticulate rage to "3-iron" where he detcted the source of it (romantic aspiration in a cynical world).

Walter_Chaw said...

Love 3-Iron - great analysis of Kim, too. I think you've got something there - it's the romantics that take it in the funbag. And as to what I'd do if someone broke out the cell in a film I'd pay for. . . was a time I'd've sad something, but there's no shame anymore, just this entitled antagonism, and unless you're prepared to throw your weight around, there's not much point. I think if it happened now, I'd get up and demand my money back. They're hurting enough for cash, the theaters, nowadays that I wonder if it starts to cost these yahoos more to not "bounce" their auditoriums that they'll start.

I've been nursing this bright idea that multiplexes should, for one show a week, charge a premium of a dollar or two and, with that money, pay a couple of bouncers for that show that will eject all the nabobs who wander in out of the street. Seems to me that most of the miscreants wouldn't even show and, me, I'd pay the extra couple of bones just for the reassurance that if someone acts the sow, they'll be shown the street. Ain't askin' for much.

Alex Jackson said...

Well, based on About Schmidt and now Sideways, I beginning to think that Payne might be classist.

Sideways and Million Dollar Baby seemed to be a better red state/blue state pairing then the more common one of Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 mostly because you don't need to even watch Passion of the Christ or Fahrenheit 9/11 to condemn them. (Maybe that's the point).

Anyway, rather then being a pro-euthanasia tract (I can't think of anything more stupid, really grasping at straws there aren't we), Million Dollar Baby was really a harsh indictment of the welfare state arguing that it inhedes social mobility and creates a perpetual state of dependency. Maggie's family is positively cruel towards her giving buying them a home. "I wish you just would have given me the money," her mother says. "I love you, but sometimes you don't think!"

Sideways was more primitive. It wasn't satirizing wine conniseurs as much as it was celebrating them. Virginia Madsen drips class, the pinoit noir speech is genuine, and in fact the film even inspired a faddish increase in pinoit noir purchases.

The lower class is satirized in a straight-forward way. When Thomas Hayden Church elects to have sex with the fat waitress it's to show that he will fuck pretty much anything. Her husband comes home and chases Church off. Then the two degenerates have doggie style sex while watching George W. Bush on the television (as an aphrodisiac)? And there you go: the bridge between the classes reinforced.

Two different sides of the political spectrum, both with the same general message: let them eat cake.

Anonymous said...

Although movie theater manners should have always been a matter of common courtesy, theaters need to step up and do something. Not just in the way of physical removal (not a bad idea, those bouncers), but in pre-show preparation. Of course, pre-show preparation translates to "pre-show entertainment," because, apparently, people can't sit still in a blank/silent theater for ten minutes. (How second-grade trivia and quoting movies from the last eight months solves this is anyone's guess.) The problem here is that it has leaked into the requests for common courtesy.

One particularly insipid commercial (sponsored by Pepsi) that plays at my local theater features a stage show with men dressed up like various concessions. They sing the rules of common courtesy ("Don't talk in the movies, no cell phones in the show / And smoking is a no no no..." - I've seen this far too many times), and then go backstage to engage in some terribly unfunny Chicago-esque dialogue. Then they do the show again, this time in splitscreen: the other half accompanied by the written rules of the theater, which zoom upwards at a breakneck speed. What does this accomplish? This, I would say, causes a lot of the symptoms. Theaters have stopped taking courtesy seriously, and so does everyone else.

Potential solution: no flashing lights, no comedy, no entertainment to it. Stark titles, commanding voiceover: "Please do no not talk during the film. Do not operate cell phones during the film. Those who do not abide by these rules will be ejected from the theater." Not "may be ejected." "Will be ejected." This won't be a cure-all (that's where the bouncers will have to come in, right?), but I think it may be a step forward.

Of course, in the way of preview screenings, we usually don't have that luxury. Again, pre-show entertainment - if I have to sit through another one of those "wacky" radio station-sponsored pre-shows... Anyway, they might benefit from the same treatment. Don't start up the movie right away, but be very stark and demanding with those titles and voiceover. Could do wonders.

Maybe I'm naive (and, being a resident of Philadelphia, where such matters are an everyday occurrence, maybe it's just wishful thinking), but if theaters took some easy initiative here, perhaps there would be fewer problems.

-- Ian

Walter_Chaw said...

Ian - there's a great PR lady who works in Denver and before every show she demands attention and says: if you talk, if your cell phone goes off, everyone around you will point at you and you will be asked to leave. An announcement that's always made to thunderous applause. It's enough to cow most of the serial offenders although I know of one instance when an elderly gent with a constantly-ringing cell started shoving and calling the PR ladies "bitches" and the like for asking him to leave.

I wonder if this hasn't accounted at least in part to the lack of policing in the last couple of years? Doesn't take a lot of those before people stop trying to do the right thing.

Thanks for the comments, Ian.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

rosenbaum hated "samaritan girl". i haven't seen it. what did you think of it walter ?