A couple of years ago I stole from Esquire by writing my own “What I’ve Learned” essay. There’s a new issue with a long piece called “84 Things A Man Should Do Before He Dies,” so here’s another ripoff: “Theatrical Movie Experiences You Should Have Before You Entirely Succumb to VOD.” Here are four indelible movie-watching recollections — three from the late ’70s, one from ’95. The concept or suggestion is that a devoted Movie Catholic should try to experience something similar in his/her lifetime.
(1) Catch An Exciting New Film In A First-Rate, Big-City Theatre On Opening Day, and In So Doing Experience Something You’ve Never Felt Or Sensed Before. The first time this happened in my 20s (teenage or tweener experiences are too impressionable) was on the afternoon of 11.6.77 at the Zeigfeld theatre — opening day for Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’d waited in the ticket line for an hour or so in the brisk November air. I was actually knocked out several times by that film (this was more than 20 years before my Spielberg hate would begin to manifest), but the first chest-pounder happened during the opening credits. White titles on black, dead silence. And then more credits and then just a faint hint of alien-like syntho-hum on the soundtrack. As the credits ended the choral hum slowly got louder and louder, and then CRASH! An orchestral crescendo perfectly synched with the the first images of the storm-blown Sonoran desert. We can’t go home again but somehow or some way, each and every movie lover has to experience something like this. A theatrical high, couldn’t stop talking about it, saw CETK producer Michael Phillips standing in the back of the theatre and talked a him a bit.
(2) Experience A First-Rate Film In A Triple-A, First-Class Screening Facility That Prohibits Downmarket Types. Like I did, for instance, when I saw Michael Mann‘s Heat in the well-heeled confines of the Steve Ross Theatre sometime in late November of 1995. Perfect projection and state-of-the-art sound and surrounded by reverent absorption. And no bullshit distractions — no bellowing psychopathic low-lifes talking back to the screen, no crying babies, no flip-flop-wearing beefaloes talking to each other during the film, no noisy candy wrappers and not a whiff of relish-smothered hot dogs and/or cheese nachos. A serious movie lover should somehow manage to watch a film this way at least once in a while.
(3) Experience a “people vs. the projectionist” revolt. This sort of thing can never happen again, of course, because there ARE no projectionists any more except at film festivals, but I led a small rebellion inside the old Dan Talbot-run Regency Theatre (B’way and 69th? 73rd?) in ’79 or thereabouts. It was a weekend showing of North by Northwest. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint were on the train from NY to Chicago, and then the projectionist skipped a reel and suddenly Grant was in the cornfield dodging bullets from the biplane. (Or something like that.) I was up in a flash and running upstairs to the booth. I knocked sharply on the door…”Yo, hello?” (rap, rap, rap). Two more guys came up to join me, and then a third. No response from inside so another guy stepped up and knocked on the door with me. The projectionist came out, saw the angry “crowd” and freaked. He was like Marcel Bozzuffi when he was cornered by that MTA official on the subway car in The French Connection…”Get back…get back!” We told “Marcel” about his error (he obviously hand’t been watching the screen). He eventually calmed down and fixed the problem.
(4) Watch A Film So Jaw-Droppingly Bad That The Crowd Stops Watching and Turns The Showing Into Performance Art. I’ll never forget my first and only viewing of Irwin Allen‘s The Swarm at the Quad Cinema on 13th Street. It was maybe a week or two after the 7.14.78 opening. By then it had tanked and word has gotten around it was mythically awful, so a few feisty types were seated in the smallish Quad theatre. The heckling started between the one-third and halfway mark, and then it got better and better. But the film was so impossibly square and tedious and ogygen-sucking that you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the mostly middle-aged or long-of-tooth cast — Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Bradford Dillman, Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda. They were being humiliated, plain and simple. As it ended with a shot of Caine and Ross watching the killer bees burn to death at sea, I remember the guys sitting in the front going “aaauuughhhhh!,” like they been gored by a bull.