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.