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The Couchman Cometh: Once More Into the Multiplex

Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people,” at no other time does this hit me more than when it’s summer blockbuster time. My first experience this year was when we went to see Kick-Ass. Aside from the movie, the experience was so lousy that I think I remarked that it might have been worth waiting 20 years to see it at The Watching Hour instead.

It’s undeniable that where and with whom we watch movies greatly informs our opinions of them. That prospect usually makes going to the local megaplex an annoying and cringe-inducing prospect. At the risk of sounding like an old man, the problem is the teens, I don’t get why anyone would pay $10+ bucks to sit in the dark and send text messages. At Kick-Ass, there was not one moment of the movie that wasn’t accompanied in the peanut gallery by at least one cell phone light. Isn’t going to an action movie stimulating enough? I can’t imagine someone back in the day sitting in a theater and trying to write a bunch of post cards. Bah!

At any rate, I didn’t start writing this with the sole intent of bitching about youth culture, high ticket prices, higher food and beverage prices, side conversations, children, babies, Axe body spray, uncomfortable seats, people who stand up to leave 5 minutes before the end of the movie, watching 30 minutes of ads and trailers for movies I’m going to avoid like STDs or any of the other minutiae that makes me wonder why I had to see some big dumb crappy movie on opening night… I’m also not trying to be a snob. It’s true that I greatly prefer going to Starz Film Center over these other places, but that’s not just because they show good movies, and have reasonable ticket prices – they also sell beer.

The point I’m getting at is that things like that build up and I consistently find that the more annoyed I am watching a movie, the less I enjoy it regardless of what it is. On the other hand, watching a movie with a great group of people can make a movie seem better than it actually was. Watching a movie at home alone or with one other person also affects our perception in weird ways.

I love sharing movies and experiencing movies with other people. My favorite group experience in a multiplex was when I went with about half of everyone I was friends with to see the Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse on opening night. Without getting into it too much, Greeley, CO is a cultural wasteland*, the bright side to that kind of environment is that the people who care and who are into interesting things are usually very cool and outgoing people. So I think I can safely say that nearly everyone at Grindhouse that night was cool as hell and there for the experience. The crowd definitely got it and laughed at the right times, jumped at the right times, and made queasy sounds at the right times. There were only about 25 people there, but had this been a test screening, the Weinstein Company would have started counting their money.

(*I’d like to note that since I moved out of Greeley, a small art house theater has opened up that I’ve been wanting to check out.)

Without exception, all of the movie fests we’ve had over the years fill me with the same feeling of communal bliss and enjoyment. On smaller scale, I love sharing really strange movies with people. I once made my dad and brother sit through Forbidden Zone. I’m not sure why, but I think I was doing that to a lot of people around that time. I can text “Terror Toons,” to my friend, Crawford (drummer extraordinaire for the Vitamins) and I can guarantee he’ll crack up. I forced the eponymous Movie Advocate to watch Mac and Me once. I passed that gem to another friend who half-jokingly cites it as a cause for his marriage falling apart. Seriously.

Watching a movie alone can be a real treat too. Stand out memories: watching Clockwork Orange as a freshman in high school and trying to make sense of the madness I just witnessed, watching Clouzet’s Diabolique last fall and being torn between keeping it for myself or insisting that everyone I know watch it, knowing that at any time if I’m feeling down, that I can sit alone and watch The Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera and feel better about life than if I down a fistful of Zoloft.

I am reminded of two incidents where watching in a smaller setting did not translate well. Ben showed Robert Wise’s The Haunting for horror-movie fest. Now, I really love Wise, and my pick that actually preceded this, Cat People, was edited by Wise. Ben said The Haunting was really affecting and eerie when he watched it alone with his girlfriend Beth. Showing it on a Sunday afternoon didn’t work at all, unfortunately. I’m looking forward to watching this again someday.

The other movie was Zombieland, which I thought was absolute shit for myriad reasons I won’t touch on here. On paper it looked like I should like it though. I watched this at home with Miranda who had the same reaction. As near as anyone can tell it was a movie I “had to see in the theater.” The energy did not translate well.

The worst group movie experience of my life is tied between two showings:

When I went to watch The 6th Sense in a dollar theater. First off, no stadium seating. Second, this was in winter and it was really really cold in the theater, it seemed like everyone was wearing a coat, and being the late 90’s I think they were mostly the big, noisy, puffy Starters jackets. It also seemed like virtually everyone had bronchitis at the showing, everyone was coughing the whole time. My licorice was stale. And most amazingly, their print was missing a whole reel, about 20 minutes of the second act of the movie was gone! I was confused, annoyed, and the twist was even spoiled for me.

This one is tied just because I really really loved the movie and where I saw it which gives it some added points in my mind… I saw The Dark Knight in Chicago at a theater where outside you could see a lot of the buildings from the movie. On the cab ride home, we actually drove on some of the streets used in the car chase scene! That was great, and being the comic nerd I am, I’d been looking forward to this since I walked out of the theater after Batman Begins. The theater was totally packed. We had to sit way the hell in the front of the theater craning our necks up. To my right, a guy translated the movie into Spanish for a friend. In front of me, someone kept turning around and shushing the translator. Text messages all around me, people talking on their cell phones. Behind me it seemed like EVERYONE was talking and giving running commentary. My favorites: After the first 30 seconds of Joker/Heath Ledger being on screen, “Oh, he is DEFINITELY going to win the Oscar!” and “Run Batman! He gonna cut you!” Add to that general grumbling and shit talking whenever a policeman was on screen, and MST3K style jokes about everything else, and you get the picture.

I saw this movie 3 times in the theater.

The second time was in Greeley at the same place I saw Grindhouse. The commentary there was a mom trying to explain the movie to her 10 year old son. It was only at the third showing, when I paid $15 to see it in IMAX with only about 10 other people that I finally got a good showing.

Ultimately, having to endure the multiplex is the movie fans burden; just as the concert-goer endures lousy opening bands and drunken assholes, and the sports fan endures stadium smells and drunken assholes, etc. Home theater technology is making me less and less concerned about having to see everything in the theater, and it’s usually even cheaper to buy a DVD than two movie tickets. It is worth the risk sometimes, because when you do hit an awesome showing, it is really special and makes up for all the crappy showings. My personal margin of acceptability though is getting pretty slim.

What are some of your best and worst movie-going experiences? Share them in the comments section below.

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The Couchman Cometh: Once More Into the Multiplex + sport