Today’s subject was supposed to be my nightmare movie theatre experience – the time when going to the movies went all wrong and was a big disaster. Well, I don’t have an experience like that, not really, but I do have some weird theatre experiences, some a bit akin to nightmares, that I thought I’d share.
Plus I do have a truly nightmarish experience that sort of fits this category, even though I was neither in a movie theatre nor watching a movie.
(Incidentally, this is #13 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
So we’ll try to do the actual movie theatre stories in chronological order, with the non-theatre one at the end…
Duck Soup, Blue Velvet, A Clockwork Orange – Viewed at Bard College, 1989
Yup, you read that correctly: one of the Marx Brothers’ best comedies was lined up with David Lynch’s suburban nightmare and Stanley Kubrick’s ultraviolent fantasy in one triple feature. And stranger still, the whole thing started in the evening–I can’t remember when, maybe it was at 9:00 pm? 10:00 pm? In any case, it was in the wee hours of the morning that my friend and I emerged from A Clockwork Orange, a film which is as close to a nightmare as any I have seen. This was back in the day when I thought it was somehow a reflection of maturity in my cinema appreciation to stay and watch the entirety of something, no matter how unpleasant or unpalatable. Suffice it to say I think I’ve grown up a bit since then. In any case, this was one of my strangest film viewing experiences, and had to be followed up by several hours of debriefing with my traumatized friend after the ordeal was over.
A Handmaid’s Tale – Viewed in Kingston, NY (probably–someplace near Bard College, anyway) in 1990
I watched this movie while I was at college with three friends, all girls. One was a particularly good friend, the other two I knew less well. I’ve never read the Margaret Atwood book that it’s based on but the film is a disaster. Aside from its difficult content (a hyper-conservative world where the few women who aren’t infertile are co-opted to be “handmaids”, sexual substitutes who bear children on behalf of rich and powerful families—the “handmaid” concept comes from Hagar’s relationship with Sarah in the Bible), the movie is awkward, badly paced, and emotionally strained. But of course the story is also seen by some as a bit of a feminist manifesto, and so I felt pretty awkward on the ride home. I flat out hated the film, but I don’t think it was because I was (and am) male–I think it’s just a bad movie. But it seemed some of my friends didn’t feel that way, and they tentatively spoke up of its positive qualities, but still were actually struggling to articulate them. I just tried to keep my mouth as shut, for fear of appearing reactionary. I was probably being oversensitive—again I hopefully have matured a lot since college—but it was a cinema-going experience that was a little like a nightmare.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Viewed at the Picadilly theatre in Perth, 2009
I’ve written about this one before, here. I saw this film with my grown nephew on his visit to Perth. We arrived late on a Friday afternoon screening, and were surprised to see the normally quiet theatre (we miss you, Picadilly!) completely jam-packed. And not just full, but full almost entirely of guys. Loud guys–almost no girls!–who made big noises whenever Megan Fox struck a particularly provocative pose, or when the US aircraft in the film got blown up. It was really confusing and kind of surreal. Eventually, I figured out that the theatre was jam-packed full of US Naval seamen who were docked near Perth, obviously out for their evening on the town. Then it all made sense, but up until that point, I was really wondering what sort of impression I was giving to my nephew of Australia!
Inception – Viewed in a mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2010
This one was nightmarish on a different level. If you know this film, you know it’s about people entering into each other’s dreams for various purposes, a fairly dangerous pursuit it turns out. Often the dreams turn out to be bizarre pastiches of reality, where the rules of physics and normal law don’t apply. Well, when my friends and I went and saw the film, the mall was still open, but by the time it was over, the place was closed. That meant that we were now wandering around the mall, but with most of the lights out, going up and down escalators trying to find our way out. A nightmarish pastiche of reality, one might say.
And now, the last story, which does involve someone watching a movie and was the most truly nightmarish of them all, but didn’t involve a theatre or me actually watching anything. …
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – Not viewed in an apartment in New York or New Jersey, around 1994
So I’ve written about this one before as well, but the short version is this: several friends from college and I were working as the crew on a low budget movie. It was a pretty bad movie about some former cop going on a revenge spree when his idiot brother gets involved with some crooks, leading to some violence in which the main guy’s wife losing their baby and maybe the brother dies, I can’t remember. Anyway, we were filming this thing overnight every night for two consecutive weekends. Anyway, after shooting into the morning one day, we were all exhausted but there wasn’t really enough turn-around time for me or the others to get home and get some sleep before needing to be back to work that evening. Fortunately, a guy who was the movie’s blood make-up artist generously offered to let us crash at his apartment, which was a lot closer. I don’t remember his real name, but I do recall his nickname, but I won’t use it on the oft-chance that he or someone who knows him is reading this.
Anyway, his place was pretty small, so we were all sleeping in one room, which was fully plastered with pornography. I was a Christian back then as well so I definitely felt pretty uncomfortable. There were five of us all together. Two guys took a fold out sofa, another guy took something else (I can’t remember), and I tried to seep on a love-seat. Tried, I say, because this two-seater sofa had really high arms, so I couldn’t quite stretch out or anything.
Our host, for his part, didn’t go to sleep immediately. Instead, he broke out some cans of Budweiser and pulled his chair close to his TV set and put on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part II to watch. I avoided looking at the TV screen as much as possible but I couldn’t help to hear the thing—screams and chainsaws and dramatic music and so on all blaring loudly in the background. While I did my best to drift off, our host watched the film and drank beer after beer, and eventually passed out himself when he get onto his second movie (I don’t remember what it was, but it was a quieter affair than the main attraction). Suffice it to say, he did not join us on time when we got up and went back to work a few hours later.
Now, I’ve got nothing but respect and appreciation for this man, for opening his home up to four guys he barely knew. If he’s out there, than I want him to know that. However, the actual experience of trying to sleep at his place and not partake in the movie he was watching (or any of the imagery on his walls) was a bit more challenging.