The Joy of Watching Movies Alone

August 24, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Last month I went to a crowded sneak preview of “Star Trek Beyond.” As I took my seat, the young woman next to me asked, “Did you two get separated?” When I told her that I was alone, she was wildly impressed. “I’ve always wanted to do that but I’ve never had the guts,” she said. I was baffled: after all, this was a popcorn movie, not a week-long Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. “I almost always go to movies alone,” I said. “You should try it; it’s great.”

There was a time when watching films was my job. I generally saw 130 per year, at least half of them in theaters. During this period, I lost all perspective about normal–i.e., recreational–moviegoing. Not only did I no longer regard films as entertainment but I also had no idea what constituted an average person’s intake. Was one movie a week considered a normal number? I didn’t know, because I averaged three a week in theaters and more on video.

Mostly I watched alone, but I never felt alone: my attentions were fully on the screen, rather than on those sitting next to me. Which brings me to back to the woman who was afraid to see movies alone: how much companionship is there in watching movies? Sure, you can hold hands, but you can’t talk. And the experience is far from shared, as anyone whose opinion of a movie has differed a friend’s can attest.

Last night I went to a screening of a terrible new movie that I can’t name because there’s a press embargo on it until next week. I happened to have a friend with me, who fortunately felt much the way I did about it. Still, I couldn’t help worrying about her reaction to what was on the screen, as well as to my flinching from the gunfire and smirking at the script. At some point I realized there were two movies playing at once: the real one and the one in my row. That’s fine for mindless entertainment, but good movies require a level of concentration that’s hard to achieve when you’re wondering if your companion wants to walk out. That’s why I usually watch alone.

“Salinger”: Not the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life

September 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

Reading and hearing the reviews of Shane Salerno’s misbegotten documentary “Salinger” has been more of a revelation than anything contained in the film. It’s not often you hear critics retching in print, but they do over “Salinger,” and it’s amazing to see. Here’s a roundup of reactions:

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: “…less a work of cinema than a byproduct of its own publicity campaign.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “…make sure you bring a barf bag when you watch this doc’s tacky re-enactments, hear its cheeseball score and endure literary posturings so florid they’d embarrass Baz Luhrmann of The Great Gatsby.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “[Th mystery of J.D. Salinger] is certainly hardy enough to withstand the voyeuristic onslaught of this self-aggrandizing, lurid documentary, which leaves the viewer feeling that we’ve been given a tour of Salinger’s septic tank in hip waders….”

Julia Turner, Slate Culture Gabfest: “The single worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Turner’s remark was particularly striking, not because I think she’s exaggerating but because she obviously hasn’t been to enough film festivals. Festivals specialize in assaultive movies, and it’s not unheard of for viewers to faint or vomit during screenings. More commonly they walk out. Fortunately, the Palais des Festivals, the main theater of the Cannes Film Festival, offers an effective revenge on badly received films and their directors. Whenever someone leaves early, the unusually tight springs on the seat make a loud pop. A mass exodus sounds like gunfire.

I’ve walked out of a lot of bad films at festivals, but the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life is one I saw in a studio screening room in the late 90s. To protect the hapless director, I won’t mention its name but the film was shot on an island and involved a crime of some kind. (I’m foggy on the plot not because it was a long time ago, but because I didn’t understand it at the time.) As I recall, there was a lot of driving and an exploding car on a bridge. After the explosion the film abruptly stopped–not because it was over, but because the producers had run out of money and couldn’t afford an ending. I wanted to laugh but the director was sitting an arm’s length away, still hoping that the necessary funds would be forthcoming. They weren’t, and the film was never released. I don’t know what happened to the director, who had mortgaged his house to finance the project, but last I heard some of the footage was sold for stock.

Compared with this, “Salinger” is not half bad, though it certainly doesn’t deserve its high-octane release. It occurs to me that if the documentary makes money, Salerno might be encouraged to make another feverish literary tell-all, in which case Thomas Pynchon should lawyer up immediately.

Thomas Pynchon

Watch out, Thomas Pynchon

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