I finally saw Walk the Line the other night, and while I enjoyed the film and think that Joaquin and Reese and everybody else will win Oscars and I might even go out and get me some Johnny Cash, this review is all about the movie-going experience. It just totally sucks nowadays.
That’s right. I never thought I’d say it, but going to the movies has become a real chore. Me, who loves all the previews and buttery popcorn. Me, who can’t wait for the movie to come out on DVD and Must. See. It. Right. Now. I’m just so tired of dealing with all the other people who insist on going to the same movie at the same theater at the same time as me. Those who insist on sitting near me, and driving me bonkers. Totally ruining the movies for me.
Let’s rewind a bit to Friday night, when my husband and I made our second attempt at seeing Walk the Line. (Our first try was the day after Thanksgiving, and the 3p.m. show was sold out – guffaw, I said. How dare all these people see a movie when they should be out shopping for $27 laptops.) We successfully bought our tickets and headed into the semi-crowded theater, having bypassed the concession counter this time ‘round because we came straight from Thai food and were just too full.
This was probably my first mistake of the night, not getting any popcorn. Me and popcorn go together like, well, popcorn and hot butter flavoring. Sometimes popcorn can make even the worst movie experience not so bad. Never mind having to spend $12 on a small bucket of the stuff and a small soda. I usually gladly pay it, though, because I just love the movies and all that entails going to the theater.
At any rate, we didn’t get any popcorn. We walked into the theater, which was about half full. Quickly found our seats, not too close nor too far way from the screen. Only minimal head blockage (this was not a stadium seating theater, though it was a large movie theater chain). I quickly assessed my nearest neighbors – to my right an older couple in which the woman had very large Texas-style hair (probably a Johnny Cash fan), to my left a middle-aged African American man and his friend, and directly in front of me two women probably in their early thirties. A fairly diverse audience, I thought to myself.
And then I smelled something. I know that sometimes, movie theaters don’t always smell like roses, what with all the stale popcorn and sticky floors. But this was the smell of a dirty bathroom. I whispered to my husband that it stunk like a toilet. He looked around and shrugged his shoulders. And then the barrage of previews, er correction, commercials and promotions started playing. I sunk into my seat and tried to forget about the stench.
About midway into the previews (which, by the way, I think we’ve now seen the Brokeback Mountain preview about 12 times, and every time, I turn to my husband and ask him if we can go see the “gay cowboy” movie, just to see him react), I was distracted by a latecomer in the row in front of me. The woman had to squeeze by an older gentleman sitting by himself at the end of the row. She apologized while he LOUDLY said, “That’s OK, baby, there’s a seat right here, there ya go” in a Southern drawl. At first, I was like, what a nice older man. But then he continued to LOUDLY talk to her (she was by herself at this point, frantically looking toward the back for her other party to arrive), offering her his popcorn and drink.
Her friend finally arrived, just as the opening credits were rolling. She squeezed by the older man and was similarly greeted by him. She sat down and whispered something to her friend. By now, the movie was into the first scene – Arkansas, 1944, two young brothers, JR and Jack, listening to little June Carter singing on the radio. The older man turned to the two women and LOUDLY relayed this exact scenario, in case they missed it themselves. They giggled a little, trying to politely ignore the now-intrusive older man who was sitting right next to them.
I, of course, being the self-proclaimed people-watcher, er correction, voyeur that I am, couldn’t help but watch the scene unfolding in front of me. I managed to keep one eye on the movie and one eye on the interesting trifecta of too-loud talking old man plus two now-annoyed women. My husband managed to keep both of his eyes on the screen the whole time, because he can easily ignore the random goings-on in public places. I, on the other hand, cannot.
I continued to watch the two women and noticed that both of them were covering their noses. Maybe they smelled the icky bathroom stink, too. And then it hit me. The loud-talking older man, who also liked to shout out “sing it, Johnny” at the screen during performance scenes, was emanating the bathroom-esque odor. But the more I smelled him, the more I realized it was actually a combination of unflushed toilet, moth balls and alcohol. This wasn’t a nice older man! This was a dirty, stinky drunkard!
I watched him take swigs of an amber-colored liquid out of a used water bottle. He frequently nodded off during the movie. Every 20 minutes or so, he’d lean forward and proclaim that he was looking for his hat. The poor women tried their hardest to ignore the man and just watch the movie.
Because the movie? It was damn good, and entertaining, too. Even for me, who can’t really get into the country-western music genre. But the stench was simply overwhelming. And finally, they got up and moved a few seats away from him. A couple sitting in the nearby side rows also moved a few rows away. At one point, an usher came by and asked the drunk to move his stuff out of the aisle (he had a backpack, probably filled with Jack Daniels). I was certain that management was going to come by and ask him to leave, though it never happened.
It’s amazing that I even remembered the movie, because I was so distracted by the stinky old man. Miraculously, my husband had been completely oblivious to what had just happened. As the final credits were rolling, I asked him if he had been bothered by the smell, and then I discreetly pointed out the culprit. He said that he had heard the man talking, but he didn’t realize that the man was so stinky. He shrugged his shoulders again. I was incredulous that he hadn’t been more affected.
And thus began our in-depth discussion about the movie-going experience … it’s no wonder that box office numbers are down year after year. People don’t want to go a movie theater where they forced to sit next to stinky strangers when they can watch a DVD on their surround-sound, high-definition plasma screens at home. Where they can eat microwave popcorn for a fraction of the cost. Where they can curl up on the couch with loved ones and pause the movie whenever they feel like it. In their underwear, if they like.
Of course, these movie-watching types, the ones who wait for the DVD, miss out on seeing great films the way they were meant to be enjoyed – on the BIG screen. But the truth is, the romance of going to the movies is gone. How can I fully engage with the actors and the dialogue and the story on the screen when I am constantly pulled away from it by ringing cell phones, loud-talking people, crinkly candy wrappers, and in this case, a stinky old drunk?
Perhaps if I had just gotten some popcorn, I wouldn’t have noticed the stench. Probably not. But maybe.
As we exited the theater, there was a police officer with a flashlight waiting by the door. I whispered to my husband that maybe he was there to arrest the drunk man?! We could only hope.
If only I could arrange for private screenings, I’d be set. But seeing as that’ll never happen, unless my aspirations of becoming a paid movie critic somehow become a reality, I guess I’m stuck with the drunks. Because I still love the movies!
This commentary can also be found at Quarter Life Crisis.