Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Less-Than-Ideal Film Experiences

I am "out of my head" about movies. And I hope I'm not flattering myself to add: I think I have a "head" for them. One of the reasons I think this is that I often associate incidents in my life with movies I was watching at or around the same time. And I can often remember exactly what happened while I was watching certain movies.

I will probably come up with more examples in future posts, but for now I want to share four "less-than-ideal film experiences" - irritating incidents that are inextricably connected in my memory to the movies I was watching at the time.

THE FISHER KING - For me, the tragedy of this Terry Gilliam film is that I never got to see the ending. And now I doubt that I ever will. I have followed Gilliam's directing career with some interest, but this is one movie whose memory I intensely dislike. Even though it garnered some Academy Awards and critical praise, I tend to think of it as a dark spot on an otherwise almost-pristine record.

What I saw of it, I only saw on video. My brother had rented the film on VHS one summer evening when we were both still living at home. I had worked late that night, but tried to watch the movie the next day before Ryan had to return it to the video store. I found it relentlessly depressing, full of despair and squalor and sordidness and darkness. I only just managed to keep watching it by hoping that things would look a little brighter at the end, but just when it started to feint in that direction, my brother ran into the TV room, ejected the tape from the machine, and ran off to return it to the store. Cruelly denied, I went to work that day under a cloud of gloom. That movie ruined my whole day, if not my week.

THE PAPER - I went to see this with three or four college friends on the night of somebody's 21st birthday. The birthday girl, who was recovering from injuries in a serious car accident, had a little trouble walking and an orthodontically-assisted smile. Nevertheless she had a pretty good attitude, but this was tested severely by a group of rowdy teenagers in the row of seats behind us. The little squirts kept kicking our seats, giggling, and chatting through the whole movie, and at one point they dumped a bucket of popcorn on us. We complained to the management but nothing was done. The crowning moment was when one of these snot-nosed twerps offered the birthday girl the following compliment: "Hey, brace-face: nice #%@&ing waddle!" That's class.

SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER - I had seen this early Mike Myers film (pre-Austin Powers, and I think even pre-Wayne's World) in video stores, but I had never seriously considered watching it until one night close to the end of my first year at the seminary. Then I wandered into the dorm TV lounge and found a group of more senior students watching this movie on VHS. From what I could tell, it was a moderately cute comedy about a beat poet (Myers) who suspects his wife (Nancy Travis) of being a serial killer. Meanwhile, his cop best friend (Anthony LaPaglia) cajoles his superior officer (Alan Arkin) into adopting the cliche role of an angry, hostile police captain, instead of the softie he really is.

The irritating thing was that all the guys in the TV lounge had apparently seen this movie many, many times before. Everyone but I sat there reciting every single line, in sync with the actors' dialogue. Clearly, So I Married an Axe Murderer is a cult classic. I don't think I'll be joining that cult. It only takes one instance of listening to half a dozen guys parrot every line of a screenplay to spoil a movie for me forever.

THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND - I had to go to Phoenix overnight on business once, and while I was there I visited a cineplex and tried to watch this movie. Every five minutes throughout the show, the theatre's emergency alert system kicked in, the overhead lights came on, and the soundtrack was interrupted by a recording of klaxon alarms and a voice telling us to evacuate the building. After being evacuated and let back in several times, we were finally instructed to ignore the alarms and continue watching the show, or (if we preferred) to leave and collect a coupon for a free movie ticket, in lieu of a refund. For a while, I sat there and ignored the alarms, but it made me uneasy. Besides, every second time the alarms went off, the movie soundtrack was muted until the next round of alarms. As a result, I could only hear 50% of the dialogue, which was clearly vital to comprehending the plot of the movie, as I had no idea what was going on.

I tried to tough it out, because the coupon option didn't help me much. I lived hours away and didn't anticipate ever visiting that theatre again. Finally, I went to the customer-service desk and begged for a cash refund on the grounds that I lived in Yuma and couldn't afford to drive up to Phoenix just to catch a free movie. The management said, "No problem. Our company is opening a new theatre in Yuma. You can use your coupon there."

Thanks a lot, guys. I had to wait six months for that theatre to be built, so that I could redeem a coupon to enjoy a movie I had already paid full price to see. That's no way to please your clientele!

As far as film goes, it seems I am an unforgiving jerk. I can't help it. Nothing in this world can induce me to see these films again, because of my negative memories of the circumstances in which I first watched them. The movies themselves may have been all right; but the occasions on which I saw them were not all right. As a result, these films are forever ruined for me.

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