Ahh, the good old days when the film would break in the movie theater. It happens way less often now with all the digital projection. However, I've had some issues with that, too. But the two stories I have today deal with the film breaking in the theater.
The first one that made an impact was Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, You know, the notorious NC-17 flick that is still considered either one of the worst movies ever made or a cult classic (or both). I went with my buddy Bob to the theater opening weekend at Great Northern. We knew, going into it, that we were potentially in for a train wreck. But we weren't fully prepared for the cinematic carnage that awaited us. It was beyond awful. Actors that I currently liked made me question my previous thoughts based on their performances in this film. Even the mere sight of naked boobs could not cheer me up, as Showgirls might be one of the least titillating movies that has ever graced the screen. And there was no escape. I never leave the theater once the movie starts, and this would be no exception.
But then, miracle of miracles, the film broke halfway through. And the group of 30 to 60 people in the theater collectively cheered! Never has a film-going crowd ever been as happy to see a movie break. There was talk that a monkey might show up later in the movie, but even the thought of a (possible) future monkey wasn't enough to make us want that movie to start again. We got our free passes for a future movie and left the theater happy in the thought that we just dodged a bullet. And, no, I still have never watched the rest of the movie. I don't need to.
The second movie that had a dramatic break in it was the Mel Gibson revenge flick, Payback. Based off the Richard Stark novel, The Hunter, Mel Gibson plays a thief who is doubled-crossed, shot a bunch of times, and left for dead. When he recovers, he works his way up the ladder of mob bosses simply looking for the money that was stolen from him. So much death and destruction could have been avoided had anyone sucked up their pride and just given him the money. But that never happens. At one point Gibson's character (Porter) has been captured and is being tortured. And his torture consists of getting his toes smashed in with a hammer. It's an incredibly tense scene made even moreso by the fact that the film broke just as the hammer was coming down for the second time. The entire audience let out a collective gasp. It was a mixture of both astonishment and relief. We had just been given a moment to catch our breath as the people in the booth worked to fix the film. When the film restarted, it took place about a minute after the hammer, so we didn't know how he got out of his predicament, but we were still in. After the film was over, my buddies and I discussed the break, and we all agreed that if the film had to break, it broke at the exact right time.
Having something go wrong with the film is one of the worst things that can happen at a theater. But sometimes, just sometimes, it enhances the experience.