Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 1635 - I've never walked out of a movie, but I've seen people who have.

As I'm sure you can tell, I've watched a lot of movies.  I'm nowhere near some people, because I work a ton, and try to read a lot as well.  But I have probably seen more than most.  In all that time, whenever I've gone to a theater, I've never walked out of a film.  The closest I ever came was when I saw 10 Things I Hate About You.  The mediocre Heath Ledger/Julia Stiles Shakespeare in high school flick.  I had already seen something beforehand, and decided to hop into that theater for a double feature.  (I'm a scofflaw, I know.)  The first ten minutes of that film were so excruciating, that I almost left the theater.  Instead, I stayed, and the movie got better.  It's not a classic, but I didn't feel like I wasted my time.  But I did almost leave.

So, instead of writing about something current, I thought I would spend some time writing about the times where I've been in a movie theater and seen people leave, never to return.  I've written about this topic before (briefly), but I find it fascinating, so I thought I'd revisit it.

The very first time I experienced someone walking out of a film was during Katt Shea's Streets.  The year was 1990.  Probably January or February.  Married... With Children was on Fox and to this 17 year old, Christina Applegate was the hottest woman on the planet.  And she was starring in a film where she played a prostitute being stalked by a killer cop.  There was no way I wasn't going to see that movie.  I was also savvy enough to know that I had a mere one week window to see this film, because there was no way it was going to last longer than that in the theater.  I feel that I saw it on a Wednesday or Thursday (probably Thursday).  There were two people in the theater.  Myself and an older gentleman (we'll say somewhere between 30 and 50) made the trek.  The movie started, and pretty quickly you could tell that this wasn't your normal exploitation film.  The movie had much more on its mind than simple exploitation.  It was tragic, violent, and gripping.  I was immediately able to shift gears as I was watching the film (something I'm still able to do today, thank goodness).  That guy who was in the theater with me, though?  Nope.  After about an hour, he got up and left.  I have the feeling he was hoping for something way more salacious than what he was given.  I know that's what got me in the seat.  But personally, while the movie may have it's flaws, I consider to be a true undiscovered classic. 

Then there was the college experience.  This one wasn't in a theater, it was in a classroom.  In one of my film classes, the teacher was going to show us a movie called Sweet Movie.  He prefaced it by saying that it was pretty extreme, and if anyone decided at any point that they wanted to leave, it wouldn't be held against them.  People have asked me since why he was showing it to us.  That explanation has been lost to the sands of time.  All I know is that I wish I had left.  I feel that about a half dozen students left at some point or another.  I stuck it out.  Sadly.  It was, and still is, the most disturbing film I've ever seen.  I do not recommend it.  I don't recommend searching it out.  I'm still gobsmacked by the fact that it's part of the Criterion Collection.  I know there's worse movies out there, but I also make it a point to not experience them.  I know better.  I'm all for expanding my boundaries, as it were, but on my own terms.  I even opted to revisit it at one point a few years ago, just to see if I was being a wuss (and be a glutton for punishment, apparently).  I made it through the first 20 minutes, and then I tapped out.  I blame no one for leaving that one.

Post-college Happiness happened.  There was a group of us who went to see Todd Solondz' Happiness.  I loved Welcome to the Dollhouse, his previous film, and this one was getting rave reviews.  It's possibly the bleakest film ever made.  None of us liked it.  Obviously, it made an impact, but I still don't like the movie.  And, apparently, neither did the audience.  It wasn't just one or two people who left.  It was a steady stream of people.  It was like each successive person was going, "I just sat through that scene, so I should be good.  Oh, crap!  I'm out!"  And it wasn't just any one scene that got people out of the theater, it was the movie itself.  Again, those people were smarter than we were.

By far, the most dramatic exit came during City of God.  This is an amazing film that follows a group of kids living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.  Some aspire to a better life, and some just aspire to live.  It's legitimately a great film.  In a movie filled with scenes that would bring lesser people to their knees, there is an astonishingly tense scene where a little kid (6 years old or so) is holding a gun, all ready to shoot.  There was a guy in the theater who literally jumped out of his seat and ran out.  My buddies and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and nodded in silent agreement.  No judgment, dude.  I get it.

How about The Aristocrats?  It's a documentary about the filthiest joke ever.  It's not a funny joke, but the idea is that comedians use its template to one up each other in debauchery.  My buddy Kevin and I went to see it at the Cedar Lee Theatre on a Monday night, so there was a pretty decent crowd.  Signs were posted throughout the entire theater telling patrons that The Aristocrats was Unrated, and no children under 17 were permitted.  Also, the signs seemed to tell you what you were in for.  Sometimes signs don't work.  Within the first 10 minutes or so, there was a mass exodus of people.  I feel that it was about twenty people or so who fully underestimated what they were in for, and made a mad dash for the exit.  But after that initial rush, not a single person left after that.  We were the ones who knew what we paid for.

One of the weirder walk-outs was during the film Compliance.  This is a staggering piece that would seem  fantastic if the reality it was based on wasn't so incredible.  It's about a fast food worker who's sequestered from the other employees because a guy on the phone, identifying himself as a cop, says she's been stealing from the register.  He has the manager search her, and more.  It's shocking, depressing, and jaw-dropping.  A few people left as the movie went on.  But most interestingly was the couple in front of me.  At a certain point in the movie, she got up, whispered something to her companion, and left.  He stayed and she never came back.  I had never seen anything like that before...

Until it happened to me.  The movie was A Walk Among the Tombstones, the film adaptation of Lawrence Block's novel starring Liam Neeson.  The subject matter is dark, the movie is grimy, and the buddy I went to the movie with was clearly getting uncomfortable as the movie was going on.  And just as the movie was getting to its darkest point, he got up, said, "Sorry" and left.  I didn't know what to do.  Do I follow?  Do I stay?  Was he coming back?  Was he really gone?  I stayed.  The movie, from that point on, got considerably less bleak, but he wasn't coming back.  I didn't blame him for leaving, and he didn't blame me for staying.  It was just one of those things. 

People have their own thresholds for movies.  I know people who've left a movie because they thought it was boring.  I know others who've left because they thought the movie was bereft of any merit.  I'm not really a fan of those excuses, but I understand them.  I'd just prefer to see someone get so upset or pissed at the film that they have to leave.  I want the movie to provoke them.  That makes things fun.  Out of the movies I've seen people walk out of, they're all challenging, but only two of them are ones I hated.  But the others are what I would consider "good."  As a spectator, I guess I just like seeing what's pushing people's buttons.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Day 1631 - Terry Jones and Monty Python and The Meaning of Life

When I was growing up, I never watched "R" rated movies.  This was both a personal choice and some good parenting (not that I'm knocking the parents that allowed their kids to watch "R" rated movies under their own supervision).  Through age 16 I watched a lot of movies from the '30's to present.  I got a quality film education, at least in my own eyes.  But then there came the fateful day when I borrowed a videotape from a neighbor that had both Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Robocop on it.  I'm sure I've told the story before, but it's fun enough to tell again.  Both movies blew my mind.  I'll talk about Robocop some other time.  Tonight it's all about The Meaning of Life.

But before I get into that, let me back up a few years.  From grades 1 through 4 I went to Catholic school.  Every once in a while they would show us a movie (maybe the teachers needed a break).  And it was always the same three movies: The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (pretty self-explanatory), The Devil at 4 O'Clock (Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra versus a volcano), and Oliver! (a musical version of Oliver Twist)  Being anywhere between the ages of 6 and 9 when I saw these, I thought they were all fine.  But there was something about the musical Oliver! that grabbed me.  Besides the music (which I can still hum today), I'm sure Oliver Reed's Bill Sikes and Shani Wallis' Nancy were part of the equation. 

Fast forward a couple of years.  I was at my cousin Scott's house, and he was showing me Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the very first time.  Watching that movie with someone saying every line as it was being spoken is not the optimum viewing experience.  I walked away from the experience underwhelmed.

Then I watched The Meaning of Life.

I saw it on the big screen a few years ago at the Capitol Theatre, and the guy in charge of choosing the cult movies was disappointed in the turnout.  There were not many of us there, whereas Holy Grail and Life of Brian really packed them in.  That's okay.  I'm ecstatic that I got to see my favorite Python movie on the big screen.

For those of you who have never seen The Meaning of Life, it's a series of sketches detailing the different stages of life, from birth to death.  It's filled with fantastic songs, unforgettable scenes, and maybe as much blood and gore as Robocop.  It's interspersed with odd and sometimes off-putting sequences (that interlude ranks up there as one of the strangest things I've ever seen).  And once you've seen Mr Creosote, you can never un-see him. 

Up until this point, I had never (ever) seen anything as bold and graphic as this film.  Whether it warped me for life or opened my eyes to what movies can do, I leave up to you.  But, suffice to say, after that initial viewing, I don't think I was ever the same again.

But what really makes Meaning of Life sing for me (figuratively and literally) is the insanely long and brilliantly choreographed number "Every Sperm is Sacred."  It's completely reminiscent of any one of the musical numbers in Oliver! and I immediately gravitated towards it.  And it made me laugh when I found out that director Terry Jones spent most of the movie's budget on only that scene. 

Which brings us to today.  That's when I decided to take a road trip to Michigan and go to the Motor City Comic Con.  Terry Jones would be there signing autographs for a mere 40 bucks.  I hemmed and I hawed, but ultimately it comes down to this - when am I ever going to get a chance to see him (or any other member of Monty Python) ever again?   Let alone, tell him how much I love The Meaning of Life

There was no line.  None.  I walked right up to him.  That's insane!  This man is a true comic legend, and I got to shake his hand and tell him how much his work has impacted me, and I wasn't rushed at all.  I don't understand it.  I'm happy to have made the trip.  It was worth it in every way, but the fact that I think one of the Power Rangers had a bigger line than he did makes me sad.  But then I remember his smile as he shook my hand, and a warm feeling flows over me.