Alex writes about the modern moviegoing experience and under-caffeinated gentlemen.
As I have said many times on the podcast, my greatest fear in life is that the movie theatre will die before I do. Given that I am thirty and technology’s rapid prevalence only continues to become more rapid and prevalent, I am exceedingly confident this will happen. There will be functioning movie theatres for a long time, sure, but the movie theatre being a natural part of human existence in any meaningful capacity will die (and has potentially already happened). There is a marked difference between being in a quarter-full rep house and a room full of people watching a new picture; the former will continue to exist, the latter shall not.
Movies will not go away, as art that is consumed on a screen isn’t going anywhere, but the screen of choice has changed. Whereas characters on Seinfeld were often arguing about which film they would see on their Friday night hangouts (not to mention discussing the specific screen that is best to see Chunnel on), this would be inconceivable on a modern sitcom. Sheldon and whatever Kaley Cuoco is named would never do such a thing. The reason the movie theatre is no longer a common experience is because it isn’t as necessary as it once was; Elaine and Jerry and co. had less to do, and the sheer fact that the majority of your recent sitcom consumption has occurred via Netflix is the reason Sheldon and Penny (that’s it, right?) no longer need the movie theatre to fill their time.
So, what is the fundamental appeal of the movie theatre in 2017? The large screen is a plus, although frequently the combination of a poor 2K digital cinematic package, improperly used masking, and digital filmmaking can lead to a shitty image for those who like to sit anywhere in the first ten rows. (That said, on average, the move to digital projection has almost certainly been more of a plus than a minus.) Is it the seats? As a proponent of watching movies in a mildly uncomfortable chair, this theory holds no aqua. Is it to have a reason to leave the house? This is plausible. Is it to be around other people? Not a chance. People are the worst.
This afternoon I was in the theatre for (to my knowledge) the first public screening of Silence in Toronto. The theatre was filled with similarly curious minds, people similarly interested in the idea of a Martin Scorsese passion project, and as such the theatre was totally quiet for the duration of the 161-minute picture. When we walked out, we walked past a queue that had a surprising number of people in it for the next screening, given that said screening was still 40 minutes away from starting and it was 3pm on a weekday. I talked to nobody, but I felt among my kind.
After a brief lunch break, I bought a ticket to Fences before ducking in for a repeat viewing of La La Land’s opening number (on my favourite screen in the city). In a room that seats hundreds, it was surprisingly packed, so I hid in the back corner to best facilitate my swift exit without annoying others. The number happened, people were (obviously) enthralled, and then I bolted in time to see a confusingly placed Trans5mers spot right before Fences screened.
About thirty-five minutes into Fences, Denzel stopped being the most magnetic part of the screening. In the row behind me (albeit at the opposite end) sat an older man, who had come to the screening by himself and apparently was not fully grappled by the prolonged monologues in August Wilson’s adaptation of his own play. This old man had fallen asleep, and was snoring so loudly that he sounded like a dying Tauntan. It was clear that literally everybody in the theatre could hear him, and he was so loud that I missed some parts of the dialogue entirely.
After what felt like at least twenty minutes (but was probably in reality closer to five), somebody from the back yelled, “Kick his chair!” Judging by the loud thud of a boot on plastic I heard immediately afterward, somebody did just that. And then, of course, about twenty minutes later he started snoring again.
A minute later, I got up from my seat to try to wake the man up. I was legitimately thinking of offering to go buy him a tea or something, but as I began saying, “Excuse me…” an annoyed middle-aged man came bounding down the steps from the top of the theatre, half-shouting “We can all hear you! Maybe you should go sleep in the lobby!” It was immediately clear my services were unnecessary, so by the time this grumpmuffin was halfway through his chiding, I was back in my seat.
Now, I am not a highly sympathetic person. If you are talking near me in a movie theatre, I will tell you to be quiet, and I generally will not do so politely. That said, I also recognize that sometimes things just sort of happen. Sometimes you legitimately don’t know how loud you’re being – shout out to the two middle aged women in a Jason Bourne screening who talked to me after the movie ended – and sometimes you fall asleep. Sometimes a woman has to check her phone a couple times because she’s on call and still wants to see La La Land with her family. I get it. This man had to be in his seventies, and sometimes people who are in their seventies fall asleep involuntarily. He was alone, so there was nobody there to inform him how loud he was being; when he was woken up it was very clear he had no idea that he had disturbed anybody. It could have happened to anybody in the theatre who was inadequately caffeinated, it just so happened to be him.
And as I was thinking about all of this, the man fell asleep again. It was a brief snoring session this time, as he caught himself and left the theatre, apologizing to us as he did. I remain sympathetic, especially since a man basically yelled at him for falling asleep (which was, in the case of NapMaster5000, clearly an involuntary decision).
I enjoyed Fences. It was a good movie, and Denzel thoroughly munched any and all of the Pittsburgh scenery he could find. But in the days since the screening, I have thought more about the snoring guy than I have the film. I have seen good movies before, but this was an entirely new experience for me. It reminded me of seeing Lady in the Water in a room full of people who decided early on to treat the film like an unintentional comedy, or looking around during a screening of Toy Story 3 and seeing a bunch of people clearly thinking “Wait, is Woody going to die?” It reminded me of walking out of Contagion and seeing a person kick a door open instead of dare to get all those germs on his hand. It reminded me of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in an almost empty theatre, with the only other patron choosing to sit one seat away from me and talk about how awesome the action sequences were for the entirety of the movie. It reminded me of the elderly couple that sang along to As Time Goes By when it is used in 20th Century Women. It reminded me of hiding from somebody I didn’t particularly want to see in a screening of Annie Hall after seeing them check in to a rep house I was at on Four Square (this is clearly an old memory). It reminded me of an unspoken laughter competition between myself and another during a screening of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. It reminded me of seeing Whiplash in a theatre with 1000 people and totally forgetting I was there to shoot the Q+A as the credits started rolling. It reminded me of sitting next to an elderly woman I did not know the first time I saw Inception and looking over to her after the hallway sequence thinking, “Can you believe this shit?!!?” It also reminded me of telling somebody to stop counting their change throughout True Grit, but one can never win them all.
This will all end, because everything does. At most screenings that I go to now, I am easily on the younger side of patrons. I am no longer the lone high schooler in a packed Sunday matinee of Mystic River either; I’m fucking thirty now, and I see few that look like me in these screenings. There has been a marked change in even the past five or six years, and that marked change has not been an encouraging one.
I will miss the snoring man. He is I, and I am he.