I had this whole tirade written up about a new Wal-Mart program that pretends to let employees redress grievances with the corporation. But I deleted it. Intentionally. It was just not the way to start off a new week, y’know? I didn’t start this blog to provide another place for me to grouse. I can grouse all I want in the privacy of my own home, with an issue of Grousing Today and a bottle of moisturizer.
No, what I want to do is talk about movies, just for a bit. I don’t want to discuss any movie in particular, but in case you’re wondering I will say that recently there has been a spate of quality at the multiplex, a rather lovely Fall for cinema. I loved Will Ferrell in “Stranger Than Fiction,” for example. I know a lot of people thought it wasn’t so great, and if you’re among them I hold your opinion in the highest regard, even if you’re a soulless automaton, devoid of humanity, intellectually and emotionally stunted.
“Casino Royale” was also fun. If you saw that and thought the girl was cute, you should know that you can see basically every pore on Eva Green’s body, for minutes at a time, repeatedly, if you rent Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.” She’s French by the way. Not a bad English accent in that Bond flick– well, I’m American, so it sounded pretty good to me. Were she to attempt a Philadelphian accent I’d be full of scoffs.
Before I get into my main spiel, let me describe my qualifications. Why you should pay attention to this. And you should, because it will Make Your Life Better. Well, actually I guess that’s why you should. But in case you’re inclined to dismiss what follows as just Some Guy’s Opinion, the next couple paragraphs will serve as my C.V. My Cinema Vitae. HA!
I go to the movies a lot. As often as I can which, were I to define “as often as I can,” would probably be a shocking frequency to a normal person like yourself. When I lived in Pennsylvania, my friend Shane and I would go to the movies nearly every Friday, with very few exceptions. We’d see whatever came out that week. If two movies came out, we’d see them both. Sometimes we’d go see a marathon of four movies in a row on a Saturday– usually art/indie movies in Philadelphia. If nothing “good” was coming out on any particular week, it didn’t matter.
We considered it our duty, our responsibility, to go to the movies on Friday. To the point where we’d actually complain about having to go see “The Notebook.” Like we couldn’t get out of it. We gathered an awful lot of experience at going to the movies. Going to a new movie theater is something I look forward to with unbecoming glee. I like seeing how they do things HERE, what little touches the big chain has added to make this theater unique, how dedicated the staff is, how good the sound is, whether the prints have any scratches, and so on and so forth. Since I arrived in Atlanta, the regularity of my visits to the house of film has sadly fallen off somewhat, but this in no way diminishes my expertise!
For not only is going to the movies one of my greatest pleasures, I actually worked at a 9-theater AMC multiplex for two years. My first day was behind the concession stand when The Lion King opened. A Saturday matinee on the cash register on the opening weekend of one of the biggest kids’ movies of all time. Trial by fire. I went on to work as an usher (cleaning theaters after the shows let out), in the box office, and as a “booth usher,” preparing the movies to project, and pushing the button to set them running.
And so, duly trained and qualified, I now present the feature attraction for this week’s Hogswallowing blog post: JB’s Rules for Attending The Movies. This is how you should be, regarding films. Notice that comma there. How you should BE, with regard to the cinema, my friends.
I’m not going to bother telling you to clean up after yourself, you freaking slob, nor am I going to yell at you about turning off your cell phone or keeping your pie hole shut while the movie is playing. You already know these things, and if you’re reading this blog the odds are that you already actually do them. Because I know my audience. Except for you. Hi! No, the Rules are beyond that elementary etiquette. This is advanced moviegoing technique, children, so pay attention.
1. Stop being such a damned snob. You liked “Mean Girls” right? Well there are other flicks out there, maybe they’re not perfect, maybe they have elements of suck, but maybe they also have heart. Maybe they had a script doctor who stuck in the funniest stuff you’ve heard in months. Take a chance, and stop pretending that watching a bad movie is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Like you don’t waste two hours a day on things immensely less worthwhile than a story on a screen? Hell, I waste two hours a day lying in bed wondering a) If I’m awake yet, b) why I’m not asleep yet, and c) whether I should just fall asleep where I’m at, or if I should get undressed and brush my teeth and all that jazz. Hey, I’m a single guy, sometimes I just don’t fuckin’ feel like it.
Now, this rule doesn’t just apply to those of you who have “Being There” in your top ten. It’s an appeal for you to step out of your box and appreciate something you’re damned sure has no redeeming value, whether that’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” or “The Island.” It just so happens that “The Island” actually DOES have no redeeming value, but is that a reason why you can’t enjoy it anyway? I say thee nay! A good movie is a good movie, and a bad movie is better than a good visit to the dermatologist. Oh stop, it is too.
2. Get there early. Ten minutes before the movie starts isn’t early. You need to be there about 40 minutes early, if you’re seeing anything on a Friday or Saturday. On the other days it depends on the movie, but still, better safe than sorry. At the Midtown Art Theater in Atlanta, you need to be there early all the time. A showing may not sell out, but if you saunter in during the previews with your five friends in tow and proceed to look up at the back rows and stare for five minutes trying to find seats all together, rather than just heading down to the front where you’re going to wind up anyway before you give up in disgust and just leave, well then I’m going to hate you. Just a little bit. And you’ll deserve it.
Get there early = get the seats you want. They’ll let you in about a half an hour before the movie starts. And 20 minutes before it starts, the terrible video commercials will begin. I do hate that part of the modern experience, especially since they’ve got the sound turned up so loud you basically have to watch “First Look.” It’s a noble suffering.
Some of us show up early in order to make damn sure we get to sit where we want. If you arrive late, don’t you dare expect me to move to let you sit all together with your idiot friends. You really don’t deserve to be accommodated if you’re going to be a shithead. How will you ever learn anything that way? Really, I may seem like I’m being a dickhead when i refuse to move from my nice cozy center seat to something three seats off-center, but it’s for your own good!
3. Look at the posters. The posters are great! There’s art there, man, and it deserves to be appreciated. Plus you get to speculate on the marketing campaigns for upcoming movies. Are they trying to hide the fact that the movie’s in Mayan? Oh yes, yes they are. Is that really Jim Carrey’s hand in that picture? No, no it’s not. Unless Jim Carrey has really nice cuticles. Holy cow, how much airbrushing can you do to Sylvester Stallone before you have to give credit to the illustrator and not the photographer? And oh my god isn’t Zooey Deschanel just the cutest thing?
4. Buy some food. I know it’s expensive! But do you like the movies? Do you like movie theaters? I do. I buy a snack every time. Even if I’ve got a pack of Starburst in my pants, or some other sneaky thing they don’t sell at the theater, I’ll at least get a drink. Concessions are how movie theaters make the bulk of their money, and if you don’t buy anything you’re just contributing to the demise of something wonderful and fragile. So pony up for that $4 bottle of water already, you freaking skinflint.
AND DON’T COMPLAIN! If you’ve been to the movies in the last twenty years, you should damn well know the snacks are expensive. It just boggles my mind that people still express surprise at being charged $9.52 for a small soda and popcorn. Not only have they been too expensive for at least two decades, but there has been a story in any given newspaper or magazine probably once every six months about how expensive the snacks are at movie theaters. There’s no excuse not to know! So buy something, and don’t freaking complain about it. Mr. Regal needs to pay the bills. It’s not a price, it’s a tithe. You probably only go to the movies once a month, and how much do you spent stuffing your craw with french fries over the same period of time? Speaking of which…
5. Go more often. Not only will you get to see more movies, and not only will it make you a better, sexier, nicer-smelling person, but you’ll gain valuable movie-going experience that you can use to avoid looking like an idiot. Looking like one because you’re acting like one, that is. For example, you’ll eventually start knowing what movie you want to go to *before* you step up to the ticket counter. And knowing what you’re seeing in advance will prevent you from wondering out loud what this “Turistas” movie is about and whether it’s violent.
Of course, I’m setting myself up for more headaches by encouraging you to learn to be a better moviegoer, because one of the perks of knowing what you’re doing at the theater is knowing that you can buy tickets at that forlorn little machine over near the wall.
6. Stay informed. Along with going more often, I want to encourage you to scan your paper to see what’s playing. It’s 2006, so there’s no god damn reason to be asking anybody what a movie is about, especially not the box office personnel. Other people are waiting in line, you dick. Three minutes with the “Arts” section of any newspaper and you’ll be as informed as you really want to be about everything available. And don’t be skipping things. Read the little minute-reviews, so you know the gist of every flick playing. Do this weekly. It’s a little thing that makes you about 5 times more informed about what’s happening in the world.
7. Get the small soda. Really, don’t be fooled into thinking the medium or large is a great value. Sure you get a lot more for a quarter or fifty cents extra, but you’re not going to drink the whole thing anyway. Do what I do– get the small, and have them fill the whole cup with ice before they put the soda in. Not only will you avoid the flat, iceless soda you normally wind up sucking down through the movie, but you won’t have all that extra soda to throw out. The small is about 32 oz. these days, and you really don’t need that much soda now do you? Even Diet Coke. Did you know aspartame (one of the ingredients in Diet Coke) is chemically very similar to wood alcohol? That’s poison by the way.
8. Sit where you want. I don’t want you sitting where I want to sit, so I’ll tell you exactly where you shouldn’t. You will have an absolutely terrible experience if you sit in the horizontal center, about 2/3 of the way back from the screen. This will make the screen on an uncomfortably level plain with your line of sight, resulting in the horrible feeling of correct alignment in your neck and back. And sitting 2/3 of the way back will cause the surround sound stereo to be creepily encompassing of your complete stereo field. Ok, I’ll go ahead and tell you that if you have two choices, front or back, you should take the front.
Going to the movies is an immersive experience, and sitting up close will enhance that. There is such as thing as TOO close, where you have to scan subtitles like a tennis match, but the last couple rows of the front section of seats are almost always empty and will result in the movie screen taking up your entire field of view, including your peripheral vision. Just let it happen, lean back, and enjoy the kabooms.
Sitting closer to the front, you’ll be sacrificing the surround effects you get when you’re further back, but you’ll be closer to the center speaker (where the dialog comes out) and to the subwoofers (where the rumbles come out). At a Bruckheimer movie it’s practically like the fourth of July! Or a rock concert! You don’t mind leaving with your ears ringing when it’s caused by the massive guitars of Clay Aiken’s backing band do you? See? Sit up front. Just don’t sit in the center, 2/3 of the way back, whatever you do.
9. Don’t get Jujyfruits. Nobody likes them, so don’t try to pretend, and don’t think you’re being amusingly “ironic.” You’re not. No girl ever made out with a guy because he bought Jujyfruits, so knock it the fuck off already.
I suspect that Jujyfruits are really just in the candy display case so that theater managers will know who the troublemakers are. If you ever see a little shiny spot on a movie screen, it’s probably because some jerkwad found himself sucking on a green Jujyfruit (the very worst kind) and decided to throw it at the screen rather than swallow the hideous thing. Nobody trusts a person who buys Jujyfruits.
10. Stay for the credits. Recently I have begun to succumb to peer pressure and have been leaving before the credits are finished. I’m ashamed of this behavior. We should all stay for the credits, until the screen turns white and the projector shuts off.
For one thing, you get to hear the best parts of the score, repeated in kind of a digest form. Sometimes this is torture, but other times it’s fun. Like at the end of Crimson Tide, when Hans Zimmer’s got this brilliant men’s chorus going and it’s just f-ing GREAT. I was actually working at a movie theater when that film was playing, and I probably sat in on the credits 20 times just to hear that score.
For another thing, people worked HARD on this movie. Even if it was terrible, awful, couldn’t have been worse, somebody sacrificed six months of their life to make what you just watched, and they got their name on it and you should stay to watch that name scroll by. Just out of respect for a craftsman.
Also, sometimes there are what they call “credit cookies” buried among the scroll. Goofy little jokes you only get to see if you pay attention. If you go often enough, you can make your OWN credit cookies, like watching for negative cutter extraordinaire Mo Henry‘s name and being shocked when somebody ELSE dared to steal some work from her. Some negative cutting work. Whatever that is. Ok, I know what it is, but it’s the sort of thing one pretends not to know in order to appear not to know too much about something they have no business knowing so much about. You expect a link? Hey, google is right over there.
The final, and probably most useful reason for staying through the credits is that it gives you a few moments to digest what you’ve just seen, before you have to negotiate leaving the theater, getting in your car, driving away, all that stuff. You can ponder for a minute. Perhaps discuss your initial impressions with your companions. Mine usually come in three flavors “Eh, it was OK,” “That was frikkin’ AWESOME,” and “What a piece of crap.”
Ok I lied. The real reason to stay through the credits is so you don’t have to wait in line to get out of the theater. If it’s crowded, you’re just going to amble out slowly with the crowd, and if you’re with people you’re going to lose them and have to find them again and regroup outside anyway. So just sit there and do all the things I just mentioned, and then leave once there’s nobody in your way. You’ll have a few seconds of initial discomfort as everyone else in your row files past you, but just stand up and scoot back and they’ll be gone before you know it.
11. Enjoy yourself. Any movie can be enjoyed if approached with the correct attitude. If you have a bad attitude, let a movie change your perspective. If you’re watching just an execrable piece of crap like Jean Claude Van Damme and Rob Schneider in “Knockoff,” try to cultivate your sense of the absurd. I had a great time at that movie. My companions, who were for some reason incapable of recognizing the insane, horrifying inept genius of the film, not so much. Who got their money’s worth?
This item really goes along with rule number one, but a) putting it here brings things full-circle and writers love that kind of crap and b) this one goes to 11. Let yourself enjoy the films that in your surface mind you feel compelled to disdain. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” for example. Let yourself have a freakout day with David Lynch. It’s weird and disturbing, yes, but if you can find something in it for you, some way to appreciate or enjoy what you’re experiencing, you will be that much better off. And if you can find a way to do that for every movie you see (it’s hardest with ones that are just OK), you’ll never think you’re wasting your time at the movies again.