I’m afraid this week’s “Screening Room” is going to be a pretty short affair, owing to time constraints brought about by helping with this year’s Asheville Film Festival. Even with curtailing the usual amount of time I devote to this, I have a very strong suspicion that I will have forgotten what sleep is until sometime around Tuesday. And by then I may not be coherent enough to care.
However, there is a topic I’ve wanted to address for some time — one that requires little research and nothing by way of illustrative material. I think I touched on this in one of the first of these columns, but it’s a subject that actually fascinates me — and on which I’d like some feedback. I’m curious as to how people choose a movie to go see. I don’t mean doing this in the sense of something you’ve been waiting for with bated breath (“Martha, that new Gustav von Seyffertitz movie’s finally here! Get in the car!”). I’m looking for something more casual and not so planned or anticipated.
As someone who takes movies fairly seriously, I’ve always tended to be rather selective and focused in the matter. This was before I ended up in a position where I had to see damn near everything and lost the right to utter the phrase, “You couldn’t pay me to see that.” Once I’d taken money for sitting through The Santa Clause 2 that door was closed to me forever, since it has been established beyond doubt that, yes, you can pay me to see just about anything. (One of those nasty QED things.) The idea of simply “Let’s go to the movies” isn’t normally within my realm.
I noticed early on in my weekly reviewing that there does seem to be an approach to moviegoing that’s foreign to me. I remember standing in line outside the Hollywood 14 and there were two women in front of me holding (of all things) a Mountain Xpress. It was open to the movie section and one of them was reading bits of reviews to her companion. (Yes, it is an odd feeling to hear someone read your stuff like this.) I realized that even though they were in line to see a movie, they’d no idea what movie they were going to see. Since then I’ve watched people do things like this, as well as stand in front of theaters and study the posters, or even get to the box office and decide on a title from the list of what’s playing at the very last minute.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. I’m only saying it’s pretty much foreign to me.
OK, when I was a kid it was pretty much a given that I was going to the Saturday matinee double feature, no matter what was playing. Of course, then I was in a town with one theater and it had one screen. The choice was easier. In fact, it was limited to going or not going. Promoted by the theater manager as “the cheapest babysitting in town,” the approach was popular with parents—you got rid of the kids for about four hours for a quarter. Even if you gave your tiny tot money for popcorn, a drink and a candy bar, you still weren’t out more than a buck. The parents didn’t know it, but we were equally glad to be rid of them for an afternoon, too, and happily lined up around the block to see whatever. (No, I’m not really sure that it was all that much safer to drop off a seven year old back then, but it never occurred to anybody that it wasn’t.)
That, however, was an entirely different animal in terms of casual moviegoing. As an adult — even as an adolescent — I can only think of one time when I just went to a movie without knowing what I wanted to see. That was 20 years ago.
We’d just bought this cavernous house in Fort Pierce, Fla. It was a pure 1920s land boom faux-Spanish monstrosity — eight bedrooms, two baths, two fireplaces — in far worse shape than I’d realized at the point where the enterprise still seemed like a good idea. To say that it was crumbling would be an overstatement, but not by much. It was also incredibly creepy.
I had the bright idea that I’d go there and spend the evening starting to clean the place up a bit prior to moving in. Armed with a boom box and a selection of tapes, I started tackling the upstairs bedrooms. I put on some music—a bad choice of something like a Franz Liszt symphonic poem or maybe his “Dante” Symphony, followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera—and set about the task at hand. Then, while I was working, the sun went down. The house was dark and I was alone. Yes, you can see where this is going. In short order, I realized that the combination of musical choices and my solitude in this Old Dark House was creeping me out.
Turning off the music didn’t help. That left me prey to all the strange noises that old houses are wont to make. But I struggled on — until I had to pay my respects to the usual conveniences. Leaving the room I was working on, I went into the long, very dark hallway and realized I was going to have to cover the length of it — past several ominous open doors on either side. Studying the situation, I said to myself, “Intercourse this.” (Well, that’s not quite what I said, but you get the idea.) I then went down the stairs and exited into a Florida night that can best be described as sultry.
But there was a problem. I couldn’t just go home, because I had to wait for my wife to get off work—and that was hours away. What to do? Well, of course, I’d go to the movies. It didn’t matter what was playing very much, it had to be better than being in that house alone. (Plus, it would have a rest room that didn’t require passing dark doorways that were likely hiding axe-wielding madmen.) So I set out for the Sabal Palm Theaters to see something. There were six somethings to choose from and I picked Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train from the choices on the marquee. It’s not a great movie (nor is it a terrible one), but that night it was just fine with me. (Actually, the scene where Danny DeVito shows Billy Crystal his “coin collection” remains in my mind as one of the sweetest, most touching moments I’ve seen, but that’s another story.)
In any case, that is the only instance I can think of where I went to the movies without knowing what I was going to see before I got there. It’s also obviously a very specific—if somewhat silly—instance, depending wholly on the circumstances. With that in mind, I’m putting forth the question to readers—how do you choose what you’re going to see, and is it always planned or do you sometimes “just go to the movies?”