Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's not a vacation without a movie

Call me crazy, but one of the things I like to do most when I'm out of town is see a movie.

I understand this is not normal. And just to show you how not normal I understand it to be, I'm including the poster of a movie I saw while spending a scant four days in Paris. That's right, I'm in the city of lights, surrounded by culture and history, and all I want to do is hear what Christian Bale sounds like in French. (Actually, we went to see the version original -- pronounce that with a French accent -- which had Bale's words and French subtitles.) My now-wife, then-girlfriend wasn't going to come, but then it started raining. It turned out to be the perfect thing to do, as our feet were totally destroyed from several days of museums and famous cemeteries.

This is the extreme example of a thing I like to do all the time. No, I don't like to sacrifice the meat and potatoes of a trip to see a movie I could see at home just as easily three days later, but I do love to squeeze one in. The circumstances might be similar to those above: it's raining, you're too exhausted to do anything else, or it's too late at night to do anything else anyway.

This last was my reasoning behind seeing Confessions of a Shopaholic in Yuma, Arizona this past weekend. We'd driven five hours that day, Yuma proved to be mostly strip malls rather than the charming Old West town we thought it would be (actually, all we really knew was that trains used to go there), and it was 10:30 on a Saturday night, so hell yeah I signed myself up. My wife passed -- it was all she could do to keep her eyes open through dinner. I kind of felt the same, but that wasn't going to rob me of a golden opportunity for a Vacation Movie. Heck, the theater was right down the street -- I didn't even have to seek it out.

So what's the fascination? The inside of a theater pretty much looks the same wherever you are, doesn't it?

Yes it does, and that actually gets at part of my reasoning. Seeing movies, by necessity, has a certain sameness to it. You usually go to one of a half-dozen theaters that are conveniently located to your house. You also tend to seek out the same kinds of seats, assuming they're available -- some people like it closer, so the screen fills up their whole field of vision, and some people like it farther back. You often even order the same snacks, and most people tend to go to the same kinds of movies. In a way, it's like you're trying to recreate the same experience over and over again.

Why not switch up the geography?

The fact is, I remember a movie a bit better if I see it out of town. You get different ads before the movie. Sometimes, the ads are even in different languages. And the world looks different when you exit. Maybe it's even similar to how Will Smith's character describes his reasons for having sex in Six Degrees of Separation. Paraphrasing: "When you're happy, you try to make it better by having sex." Maybe I try to make the happiness of being on vacation better by something else I love -- going to the movies.

Just to prove to you that seeing a movie on the road is more memorable, here's a selection of movies -- recalled purely from memory -- whose viewings I remember better because I saw them in a circumstance outside the norm:

The Black Hole (1979, Gary Nelson). Yes, this phenomenon stretches a long time back for me. It was Christmas Day, and we were in Bryan, Texas, where my grandmother lived. But we weren't celebrating Christmas, because we'd had it the day before -- my uncle had to fly back early for work. That left moviegoing for Christmas Day. (And may have started a tradition in that sense as well).

Breakin' (1984, Joel Silberg). In Columbia, South America, visiting a friend whose family had returned home to Columbia the year before. If this weren't exotic enough, we actually saw this at the drive-in, my first-ever such experience.

Jewel of the Nile (1985, Lewis Teague). Texas again, but I don't remember the circumstances of our visit this time.

Ghost (1990, Jerry Zucker). Watched this in a small-town theater in upstate New York while on a road trip looking at colleges with my mom.

She's So Lovely (1997, Nick Cassavetes). Saw this in an Atlanta mall while in town for my cousin's wedding.

Saving Private Ryan (1998, Steven Spielberg). On a rare day not totally consumed by driving, saw this with two friends in Park City, Utah, while on a three-and-a-half week baseball road trip that saw us visit 14 major league parks.

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999, Michael Hoffman). Saw this in New Orleans when in town for the wedding of a college friend. This one I regret a little -- I probably missed out on some good socializing time, and the movie itself wasn't good enough to justify it (even if that isn't really the point).

Pitch Black (2000, David Twohy). Saw this in the Atlanta mall mentioned previously with my dad and sister while visiting my aunt, uncle, cousins and grandmother.

Pay It Forward (2000, Mimi Leder). So as not to pay any more money forward to the casinos, I ducked into the movies to kill two hours on an extra day in Las Vegas. An already-long four-day business trip had been extended because the person who booked our tickets booked them for the wrong day, meaning we missed our red-eye home by 24 hours. I was getting killed at the tables. Found it kind of funny to watch this movie, which is set in Las Vegas, while in Las Vegas.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Chris Columbus). Saw this in the same Atlanta mall, yet again, when I arrived for Thanksgiving a day earlier than the rest of my family, and my aunt and uncle were trying to figure out something to do with me.

Robots (2005, Chris Wedge). Another Vegas business trip, this time only 24 hours, and this time much more successful. Met a friend who lived there for an afternoon matinee.

Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan). Paris. As discussed.

War of the Worlds (2005, Steven Spielberg). Business trip to Secaucus, New Jersey, of all places.

Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright). Saw in a mall in downtown Melbourne, Australia. This was actually an advanced screening, as the movie wasn't due out until a week or two later.

Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle). Saw immediately afterward in the same mall, when we realized the director (only two years from becoming an Oscar winner) would be present for a Q & A. Not only that, but the movie wouldn't be released for several months. This ended up being extraordinarily memorable for a number of reasons -- not only did actress Rose Byrne (who was in the movie) sit in the row in front of us, but they showed the reels out of order, and eventually had to stop after about five reels when they realized the damage was irreversible in the time they had. So we had the weird experience of a Q & A with Danny Boyle when we did not even see the entire film.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007, Mike Nichols). Actual viewing was in 2008, near West Palm Beach, Florida, on a business trip.

Atonement (2007, Joe Wright). Just a few days after Charlie Wilson's War, but this time in Chicago, with a friend, before the second half of the business trip commenced.

I could go on, but I'd just be wasting yours and my time. I think you get the point.

So if you haven't tried it, why not give it a shot on your next vacation? Don't miss out on the Louvre or the Sistine Chapel or the Grand Canyon or scuba diving. But when you're near that theater, and it's late at night, and a movie you kinda want to see is starting, ask yourself what you'll remember more: those extra two hours of sleep, or the exhilaration of a familiar activity in a foreign land?

As for Confessions of a Shopaholic? Yes, I'll remember it too. It was how I spent part of a Saturday night, exhausted from road-tripping, in Yuma, Arizona. And even though the movie itself wasn't that good, I wouldn't trade the experience.


Don Handsome said...

I'm a huge fan of the travel movie as well. My two most memorable travel movies were both in the same theater in Piccadilly Circus in London - on separate visits, four years apart - where I saw Trainspotting (with a very lively and carousing audience a day or so after its London Première) and The Filth and The Fury. The Trainspotting experience was baffling because English was virtually unintelligible (I swear it was redubbed in parts for its American release) and the crowd was SO rowdy. While my friend and I were trying desperately just to understand the film, the crowd was reacting with loud enthusiasm that bordered on chanting a couple times. This was the first time I had seen a film overseas, and seeing THIS film, in THIS location was surreal but very memorable and lovely experience (I had to go see it again when it opened in the States. I missed the crowd shenanigans, but loved the movie). For the Filth and the Fury I went back to the same theater a few years later. This flick was memorable for the circumstances that I was in when I saw it…I went to a late-night (12:45 AM, I think) show as a respite during a long night of walking around avoiding getting a room before a 6:30 AM flight to Dublin (incidentally, I did the same overnight walkabout thing for the return from Dublin to London, seeing a forgettable When the Sky Falls in a more memorable movie palace).

I think that the dark side to the film-on-the-road phenomenon is that I'm more likely to make poor movie choices just to see a film on the road. I've seen plenty of awful films that I wouldn't be otherwise drawn to just because I was on vacation and needed to tailor my viewing choice to the touring schedule. Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four 2, The Number 23, Hannibal Rising, and The Wicker Man are recent examples of this phenomenon, but I would estimate that my ratio of good to bad movies on the road is 1:4. You're right that they are more memorable when you change geography, but do I really want to remember Hannibal Rising? No I don't.

Vancetastic said...

Don, I agree about the poor choices made under duress of selecting a vacation movie. That was something I actually thought of mentioning but didn't. (I'm too long-winded anyway). In the cases of A Midsummer Night's Dream, She's So Lovely, Pitch Black and Pay It Forward, those all fell into the category of "best available." It's no surprise I have negative feelings about all of them.

Would have loved to experience Trainspotting that way, but definitely on a second viewing. Speaking of "theme viewings," I've got a post on that coming up next ...