Greetings and welcome to the first weekly movie blog. The idea behind this new feature is to allow for a place where things cinematic—and cinema related—can be discussed that don’t find a ready place in the movie reviews themselves. It could encompass anything from notable titles that are coming out on DVD (don’t forget Across the Universe comes out on Tuesday!) or things that might be in the offing on TV or trends in movies (Why do so many films have Kinks songs on the soundtrack these days? Why are so many scenes in 2007 movies set in bowling alleys?) or movies on the horizon or … well, just about anything to do with the movies.
Bear with me while I get my footing (bet you thought I was gonna say “bearings”), since this is very much a work in progress. And, yes, suggestions (at least those not offering a stout piece of rope with instructions) are welcome.
I’m going to indulge myself for this first column and talk about something I’ve long wanted to discuss, but have never quite figured out where to do it. It’s a pretty simple concept: How to Go to the Movies. Now, this might seem a no-brainer — you pick a movie, you go to a theater, you buy a ticket, you watch the movie—but after years of heavier-than-average moviegoing, I realize that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Let me explain.
For starters, I’ve come to realize that the process of picking a movie is in many cases a lot more random than I would have thought. I can only recall one instance where I went to a theater without having a clue what I was going to go see beforehand (it was a case of needing to kill time), but it does indeed seem that a goodly number of folks will go to the movies just for the sake of going to the movies, and they only choose a title once they’re in line.
If that appeals to you, it doesn’t bother me, but having some general idea what your choices are is worth considering. Standing at the window asking what every movie playing is about — with a line behind you stretching into the parking lot — is just rude.
It’s also a pretty good idea to know what sort of movie you’re choosing. I saw far too many unhappy moviegoers a few years back who’d apparently gone to see The Ladykillers because it starred “that nice Tom Hanks.” Overlooking the fact that the movie was “rated R for strong language” was the cause of the distress. In short, know what you’re getting yourself into.
The next thing to consider these days is the nature of the multiplex theater. All corporate-owned theaters in town are multiplexes, and it’s a good thing, because without the multiplex concept not only would viewing choices become limited, but a lot of titles that gained local favor (I call them “Asheville movies”) —‚ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Across the Universe, etc. — would have never enjoyed lengthy runs.
But it helps to understand the nature of the multiplex, which isn’t — as I’m sure you’ve noticed — just a collection of auditoriums. Generally, the theaters are built around a handful of large theaters with smaller theaters filling out the rest. Movies are placed in the houses best considered to suit the size of the anticipated audience. In other words, don’t expect that documentary on African wasting diseases to be in one of the larger theaters.
But there’s more to the multiplex concept than that. The longer a movie plays, the further away from the big auditoriums it’s apt to move. By the end of its run — with very few exceptions — a movie is likely going to have been transferred to one of the smaller houses. As attendance drops, it’s only logical that the film in question gets “downgraded.”
This won’t matter to a lot of people — even a 25 foot wide screen provides an experience you’re not going to get at home — but if you’re adamant about seeing something on the biggest screen in the theater with the ne plus ultra in sound (the latter is becoming less of a concern with advances in technology), then don’t wait for the crowds to die down.
Crowds are another matter. If you don’t like dealing with them, then going to the most popular movie in town on a Friday or Saturday night is probably not a good plan. Similarly, think about the kind of audience a given movie is likely to draw. Going to the brand new horror movie (especially a PG-13 rated one) on opening night and expecting to find a nice, sedate crowd is a concept I view with grave misgivings and gloomy foreboding. Let’s face it, these movies are made for a teenage crowd and that crowd is quite likely to talk back to the screen, laugh at inappropriate times and comment on the action.
When Stay Alive came out, there was one poor woman — at the 7 p.m. Friday show — who kept shushing the audience and trying to get an usher to quiet them down. (Considering the quality of the movie in question, I suspect her ire must have been the result of being related to the filmmaker.) Personally, I found her more distracting than the kids, who were clearly enjoying the onscreen antics in a spirit appropriate to the movie.
And then there’s basic etiquette. Cell phones are obnoxious in theaters. Period. Nothing shatters the mood of The Exorcist like a cell phone one row over with “Dixie” as its ringtone. (Yes, it happened.) Turn the damned things off. Very few of us are so important that we can’t be out of touch with the outside world for a couple hours. Text messaging isn’t much better when you’re trying to watch a movie and the person next to you is bathed in a blue glow typing such deathless prose as “I’m watching a movie LOL.” Unnecessary jabbering of any kind is … well, unnecessary. People around you really don’t care where you’re going to dinner after the movie, though they may well wish you’d go ahead and go there.
There’s another kind of etiquette to consider, too. That’s showing some basic respect for the theaters and their staff. For starters, pick up your trash. Oh, I know Jerry Seinfeld has a whole routine built around the concept of being as messy as you can to get back at theaters for their exorbitant prices. But does this “get back” at the theaters? Nope. All you’ve done is make life a little bit worse for some minimum-wage employee, who had nothing to do with setting those prices. Moreover, the next time you find yourself having to wait to be seated, you can thank the folks who went to the previous show and left a Seinfeldian mess to clean up.
Let’s talk showtimes for a minute. If a movie is slated to start at 7:30 and you arrive on the scene at 7:40 only to find a line at the box office, it’s really not the fault of the theater that you’re likely going to be late for your film.
Now, there are people — and they know who they are — who go through this life in a perpetual state of “wanting to see the manager,” and in some cases that’s understandable, but a little common sense in this area would not be out of place. You don’t like having to sit through the ads on the beginning on movies? Join the club. (In fact, it’s even worse for those of us who review movies, because we often see the same ads 15 or more times during the space of a month.) But here’s the catch — this is not a local matter. The theater manager isn’t in control of this. It’s a corporate matter — the same as the prices charged and every other theater policy. Bitching out the manager may allow you to vent, but it accomplishes nothing. If you want to complain, the thing to do is drop a line to the theater chain’s home office.
As for the movies themselves — there’s a splendid scene in a generally forgotten minor classic of the silver screen from 1945 called It’s in the Bag. In this, a beleagured theater manager is being harassed by any angry patron over a movie — called Zombie in the Attic — being shown at his theater, whereupon he explains, “You understand, don’t you, sir, we don’t make these movies, we just show them.” Bear that in mind. Blame the writer or the director or the studio. Blame Justin Souther or myself for recommending a movie you hated, but put the blame where it belongs.
Ken Hanke writes the weekly Xpress film-review column Cranky Hanke