Making Good Experience out of a Bad Column

The rather-too-accurately named ‘Vulture’ section of the New York magazine website posted a piece about ‘Worst moviegoing experiences’ a while back. It’s funny, snarky, sad. I’ve had my share of disappointments – dirty theaters, unhelpful staff, and most of all BAD PROJECTION AND SOUND PRECEDED BY TWENTY MINUTES OF ADVERTISING I’M PAYING TO SEE AND HAVE TO SIT THROUGH IF I WANT TO ENSURE HAVING A REMOTELY COMFORTABLE VIEWING ANGLE. But…

In Kansas City’s Tivoli cinema, in the summer of 1996, a man lifted his arms in the air during the climactic scenes of ‘Basquait’, physically enacting the awe he – and I think I – were feeling.

In the Max Linder Kinopanorama, in the summer of 1998, I sat in the middle balcony, which put me eye level with Peter O’Toole, holding a burning match til it wore down to his fingertips; when he blew it out and we cut to the desert horizon, we were only ten minutes into ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, but I gasped out loud for beauty.

In Prague, in the summer of 1997, I sat with an audience who got the jokes in ‘Everyone Says I Love You’, three seconds before I did, revealing one of the peculiar consequences of not understanding the language the subtitles are written in.

In what was then the MGM Multiplex in Belfast, on its opening afternoon, the projectionist switched off the end credits to ‘The Thin Red Line’ after a breath or two; I asked the usher to let me see the rest of the movie; she made a call, and invited me to return to my seat for a private viewing.

In Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, I saw Howard Shore conduct the Ulster Orchestra backing Ornette Coleman and a print of Cronenberg’s ‘Naked Lunch’. In the same venue a few years later, the bass of Philip Glass’ score for ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ thudded through my chest while his ensemble played alongside the film.

I saw ‘There Will Be Blood’ at the Savoy in Dublin, and noted the irony of the film’s last line (possible – but not much of a – spoiler ahoy) – an old, broken, broken, broken man saying ‘I’m finished’ – when contrasted with the sheer aliveness of the lumberjack-shirted, both-earringed, porkpie-hatted, face-besmiled Daniel Day-Lewis who bounded down the theatre steps immediately thereafter.

I staggered out of the Edinburgh Film House breathing in large gulps after the devastating final sequence of Carlos Reygadas’ ‘Japon’; and in the same building saw Emily Blunt for the first time – on screen and, after the UK premiere of ‘My Summer of Love’, standing right in front of me; and in the Queens Film Theatre in Belfast spent most of cinema’s centenary year – 1995 – discovering that watching ‘Dr Strangelove’ or ‘Aguirre The Wrath of God’ or ‘Cabaret’ or ‘The Battle of Algiers’ in a cinema compares with watching on TV much the same way as visiting the Pyramids is related to seeing a mummy or a photograph of the Rosetta Stone in a museum.

The ‘New York’ piece is mildly amusing, but appears to me mostly as the thin end of the wedge in a popular culture where snark competes with dehumanization and revenge for the monopoly on our attention. How’s about a piece on the BEST experiences any of us have had in a cinema? Thoughts, anyone?

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3 responses to “Making Good Experience out of a Bad Column

  1. Fourteen years old and gasping through most of Blade Runner, I still remember thinking “this has, for me, changed cinema forever.”

  2. Oh gracious, where to start? Seeing Kane for the first time, on a Saturday afternoon at a Film Society screening at the St. Marks School, just me and the Society’s president, and being 12 and wisecracking my way through the experience, a series of Chinese boxes that revealed wonder after wonder… Gance’s Napoleon at Radio City, orchestra conducted by Carmine Coppola… Woman in the Dunes and other remarkable films, my first Japanese movies, at a comprehensive festival at the old (gone, gone) Regency… Gone with the Wind for the first time, when I was 9. The Gang’s All Here at a dance workshop (weird, since there’s not really any dancing in the film) at the University of Utah in 1973… And of course, my first memory of going to the movies: Pinocchio, at the old Delman Theatre in Dallas, when I was 4. I remember walking across the lobby, my big brother Steve firmly holding my hand, and a general sense of excitement. Other than that, the only thing that survives is utter terror at Monstro the Whale, flipping his gargantuan tail.