Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Row 5, Center Seat

I go to the movies alone. Not exclusively, but more often than not.

It didn't start out that way. I was raised a movie junkie by my parents. I never understood the "I wouldn't be caught dead with my parents..." line because if it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't have gotten to go to the movies.

Then, off at college, that was pretty much my second home. In fact, as a freshman with no car and a long-distance boyfriend, I took the bus, which made for creative movie choices. Late bus + Pretty Woman = Lambada: The Forbidden Dance. (Can you say mandatory double feature? I think that is quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. I can't say for sure without rewatching it, but with an imdb.com average rating of 2.4, it's certainly close although it still manages to squeak by and miss ranking in the Bottom 100 Movies.)

As newlyweds just out of college, Rand and I went to the movies a lot. He'd been steeped in the family film ways (At my house The Oscars were like the Superbowl to other people.) and it had rubbed off (but not as much as I thought, I would find out years later.) so we usually went to the movies twice a week.

Once kids were added into the mix, however, a $5 movie x 2 became ($5 x 2) + $15 for a sitter. And that was back in 1998. Babysitting rates, like everything else, have increased. So, as my desire to continue seeing most movies stayed constant, my fickle husband's waned. We'd still go together but only for the biggies which were usually sci/fi. Rerelease of the original 3 Star Wars films, The Fellowship of the Ring. Not many, actually. Thus began our patented tag team approach. One of us would catch the 7 showing; the other the 9:30, sometimes even handing off the tickets as we swapped house/car positions. That's how we saw The Matrix the first week it came out. I remember sitting in the mostly empty theater in awe. This guy in front me and I seemed to shake our heads and mutter inaudibly in amazement at all the same points so I really didn't feel like I was watching it alone. I had a hard time containing my excitement at The Switch, so as not to give away any sense of Rand's impending life-changing movie experience! Naturally, I couldn't go to sleep before he came back because I was dying to discuss it.

Tag-teaming worked for quite a while but somewhere in the last 3-4 years, Rand's true nature has revealed itself. That's the one that is extremely choosy about what movies he wants to spend the time & money to go see in the theater. (Jen says this in a near-whisper, shocked at the sacrilege of this idea.) It's not that I don't agree there are some movies I don't care about seeing (although, admittedly, my number is much lower than his) but these are movies he wants to see, just not in the theater.

I don't get this concept. I talk to people all the time confounded by my unflagging devotion to seeing movies in the theater, when they are content to see them on cable or better yet, Netflix. (Which I love, btw! That's how we got hooked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Some day I might dedicate a post to Netflix and how it's changed my life. Or better yet, how Joss Whedon has.) The movie theater industry is in trouble due to this very fact. [The lack of movie theater goers, that is, not how Joss Whedon has changed my life. Sorry, I digress frequently and at length, I know. You know it's bad, when you find you need to use 2 types of brackets in order to have parenthetical phrases within parenthetical phrases.] But back to the topic at hand: Seeing films in the theater.

Any movie can be improved by seeing it in the theater. Okay, almost any movie. Not so for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (I realize it's 5.4 imdb.com rating is a full 3 points higher than Lambada's and given the choice of which to see again, I'm sure I'd pick Gentlemen, but in some ways this was a worse movie experience because it had the potential to be so much better. Intriguing concept, based on a comic, some good actors, period costumes. What's not to like? No plot. And it just never did anything. Completely forgettable.) If you spend good money on a really crappy movie, you feel like you wasted your money. On the other hand, it's kind of like my control group. It's the standard by which I compare all other bad movies. Well, that and Lambada.

Often, I hear someone rag on a movie, saying it was boring or didn't hold their interest or whatever. But they watched it at home. Usually while talking to their spouse, answering the phone, checking email, telling their kids to get in the shower. Even I, who is the patron saint of Don't Talk During The Movie (A scene about a hot dog commercial from You've Got Mail comes to mind.) find myself making side comments to Rand if we watch a movie at home. It's hard to be completely focused on the film at home with so many potential distractions. I see 2 problems with this scenario.

1. People don't fully appreciate many of the movies they do watch.

2. They act like they're at home watching the movie on their couch when they are at the theater. The talk aloud. They answer their cell phones. They bring their small children.

As for #1, I guess I just wish more people seemed to get something out of the movies they see the way I do. I think that's part of why I'm a DVD movie commentary watcher/listener-- you hear the makers of the movie talk about the meaning of their movie and I get that! As for #2, it just makes for a lousy movie experience for the rest of us. And I'm all about The Movie Experience.

The Movie Experience

I'm probably going to sound (if I don't already) like the Movie Nazi and I'm really not. I'm just an enthusiastic cinephile. I mean, I have my preferences, but when I do go with someone, I don't shush them incessantly or insist on sitting in my favorite spot. If you do something with other people, you obviously have to accept a certain amount of compromise in order to have a group consensus. (On the other hand, if they don't care, I'm happy to make the choice. :-) ) I went to see the new Pride & Prejudice with my neighborhood book club which was fun and as you might expect, a little chatty. And when I went with my best friend to the movies and she opened her incredibly loud, crinkly package of smuggled-in Oreos at the most quiet, romantic point of Becoming Jane, I quietly took the proffered cookie and said nothing more while I silently cringed (at the, admittedly, probably-only-loud-to-me sound since there were no more than 20 people in the theater).

To be fair, though, I do have a reputation for liking it a certain way. Some friends still think I have to be at a movie 30 minutes prior to starting or I'm not happy. I've chilled out about that, mostly because with a busy family, I've learned to cut my losses and appreciate getting out alone at all, let alone early. Besides, that was back in my college days when I had oodles of free time. Still, in the immortally high maintenance words of Sally Albright, "I just want it the way I want it."

Plus, trying to coordinate going to a movie with a girlfriend at this point in my life is no easy task. Not only do you both have to be free at the same time, but your spouses have to be available to watch the kids, or in our case, be home while the kids sleep and we go to the late movie. Then there's the negotiation process of choosing the movie since you know this may be the only one you see for awhile. Last year shortly before the Academy Awards, I was catching up seeing the last of the nominated biggies (best director, best actor, supporting actress, etc.). After going to a work meeting one evening, I was heading straight to see Hustle & Flow when a friend called wanting to meet up with me but she had no interest in seeing H & F. She didn't want to see whatever else was on my must-see list and I had already seen her top choices. We ended up seeing a German movie so obscure that I've spent the last 30 minutes searching fruitlessly on line for the title. It was an interesting story about a couple of friends (or were they brothers?) and some girl, out in the woods. Did they kidnap her? Ahhh... it's hovering just outside my memory... Wait-- they break into her dad's house, tie him up, move stuff around, end up killing him, maybe. And with her help. Then they end up in the woods, hiding out. If you know the movie I mean, please enlighten me! Anyway, point is, we saw a movie that we would probably never have chosen otherwise. My only saving grace? Since Hustle & Flow had come out the previous summer and it was re-released in January/February due to it's nomination only, it still managed to come out on DVD before the Oscars, so Rand and I watched it in time anyway. Good thing too, since it won for best original song.

These days I see about 80% of my movies by myself and I've gotten to where I almost prefer it as I don't know anyone who is of like mind. I try to go 15 minutes early to have time to chill and read my book or write in my journal (Because the stupid The Twenty is always blaring, I tune it out w/ my ipod) beforehand but I often only skate in just before the previews and am lucky to jot down the date and name of movie I'm about to see. I don't like to miss the previews. And yet they show waaaaay too much in them. They could cut out half of most preveiws and still show plenty. (Rand's solution is to close his eyes when a preview starts of a movie he really wants to see.) All it should do is whet your appetite. Make you say hey, I gotta see that. I bring a bottle of water with me and sometimes a small treat like a cookie. I don't do popcorn. Or soda. And the crucial item of my movie-watching gear? A blanket. Yep, I keep a light-weight fleece one in the car for just this reason. I used to bring a sweater but then my feet or legs would get cold if I wore sandals or a skirt and it seems silly to wear long pants, socks, closed-toed shoes, and a sweater to go to the movies when it's 95 degrees out. This way, it doesn't matter what I wear because my blanket covers all of me!

Where do I sit? Row 5, center seat if I can. The row number is variable depending on the theater. With the advent of stadium seating, there's usually 2-3 rows at the extreme front and then there's an aisle to cross to the far side of the theater. Even if you like to sit close, you do not want to sit in the first row after this because people will pass right in front of you if they get up during the movie (and you don't have a place to put your feet either.) So, my row 5 is usually the 2nd row after that gap. I know a lot of people don't like to sit this close but the beauty of it is that unless you go at a busy time, there are fewer people that sit up front and often, there's no one anywhere in front of me or even in my peripheral vision. This is a passive yet effective defense against the ubiquitous Talkers or Baby Bringers. As is going to the first showing of the day. Even on a weekend, unless you are seeing the big blockbusters, it's usually nearly deserted. I think it's because most people don't decide to go to the movies until about noon. Me, I'm all about the planning ahead for my movie. For instance, if you wait too long to see a movie, once it's been supplanted by newer, hotter films, it gets relegated to the chumpy, smaller screens at the back of the theater. In addition, if a new film is on more than one screen, one showing is in the premiere big theater while the other is in the smallest (usually the 2nd cycle of times so you have to pay attention to that when choosing your 7:05 or 7:35 showing; otherwise you'll end up seeing Live Free or Die Hard on opening night in the smallest theater imaginable.)

As the ads and light fade and the previews begin, I stow my stuff and a contented warmth fills me as I snuggle under my blanket in the chill theater, the anticipation of becoming another person, part of another world engulfing me. So, next time you see that lonely person sitting up in the front, don't pity her; maybe she is exactly where she wants to be!

1 comment:

  1. Okay --- I LOVE going to the movies -- except I didn't realize that until fairly recently. I'd put too many things on hold for all my "shoulds." You know, I "should" do this, I "should" be there for that.... Now that my kids are older I have been going to the movies again, and yes sometimes by myself. My favorite seat --- aisle, go halfway down and then a few rows even closer! I love the stories and the words and being transported to another place. Strangely as I've gotten older, I also like to come home afterwards and do a little research about the place, or the era, or making of the movie...