Sunday, May 29, 2011

Squeezed out by a sellout

Way #42 to botch an illegal theatrical double feature: The second movie is sold out.

Actually, "botch" is not the right word for it -- some quick thinking actually saved me some potential embarrassment at the theater tonight.

See, I went to see a 7:45 showing of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (more on that in a moment), and the ending lined up perfectly with the beginning of a 10:15 showing of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. I'd lucked in to an advantageous positioning of the screening rooms, the kind necessary to pull it off -- once you pass the ticket taker, you have access to five different theaters, two of which were playing my movies.

The thing I didn't anticipate, but should have, was that the 10:15 showing of Midnight in Paris might sell out. I knew the theater had been crawling with people all day and that a lot of earlier shows had sold out, but the 10:15? It seemed at least reasonable that it would escape that fate.

So I got texted permission from my wife (no peeps from the baby) and headed in to the theater. By walking confidently I passed the three ushers at the front without any of them asking me if they could show me to my seat. The theater was probably 3/4 full and it was about 10:14. So I went as far back as I could and chose a reasonable seat.

I hadn't been sitting for more than 30 seconds when I realized that although I hadn't needed the ushers to show me to my seat (probably because I didn't have one), many others were not so confident in their own ability to follow a straightforward system of row letters and seat numbers. If the person who had my seat was the next one into the theater, the usher would point them to the correct seat and immediately see that I was in it. At which point an incident might arise where my ticket needed to be produced. A ticket I didn't have.

I quickly jumped into the aisle and pretended to be very involved in my cell phone. My intention was to wait it out until they dimmed the lights and reassess my situation. Actually, I did text my wife to thank her for allowing me to catch the second movie. But before I even finished the text, I changed its wording to tell her I was coming home after all. An usher came in to greet us over the microphone (standard practice in this theater) and told us that although it might not look like it right now, this show was sold out. Okay, that seems pretty straightforward -- time for me to leave. Which I did.

I don't know that I could have really watched a whole second movie after The Tree of Life sapped the life out of me. I spent the first hour of that movie enthralled by the experience of watching it, and the final 78 minutes checking my watch.

I've worked my way around to giving a grudging respect to Malick's poetic abstractions. I love Badlands (though I'm not sure if that counts as a Malick film the way we know it today) and I despised The Thin Red Line, though I did appreciate it better when I watched it again for my Second Chances series last year. In the meantime I also saw The New World, and was swept away by the beautiful cinematography, which carried me through the more Malick-y parts (of which there were of course very many). After tonight, Days of Heaven is his one film that has still eluded me.

And so I knew full well what to expect when coming in. I expected a beautiful-looking film with lots of character voiceover -- not to be confused with narration, because there's nothing about this VO that's expository in the slightest. I expected a dreamy quality to all the action and a non-sequential narrative. And I expected (though this is kind of covered by "beautiful-looking") some of the best cinematography you can find on screen today. I expected what some of the audience was obviously not expecting, as some of our audience walked out. (I couldn't tell how many, because some of them were undoubtedly going to the bathroom -- but any time I saw two people go out together, I doubted it was a bathroom break.)

And yet I still wanted something more concrete from Malick, even though I knew I shouldn't expect it. I hoped it would all lead to a more satisfying payoff than what I got -- even though again I knew I shouldn't expect it. The movie does have a payoff, for sure -- there's definitely Malick's version of a climax. But that climax didn't bring it all home for me.

And yes, I had trouble staying awake. I had a busy day after a night of sleep interrupted by baby feedings, so my inability to focus for the entire time was not exactly a surprise, especially in this film. I'd come prepared with Girl Scout mint cookies, Altoids and a five-hour energy drink, but none ultimately did the trick. I was especially disappointed in the five-hour energy drink, though this should come as no surprise because it's never worked for me in the past. I keep thinking that next time will be the time it gives me the jolt I need to make it through the end of a movie I started too late at night (7:45 may have been too late for this movie), but the swigs I took of it tonight actually seemed to make me more sleepy. I'd take a swig and close my eyes for one of those jolt-awake naps less than 15 seconds later. They should call it "10-second energy drink" instead.

I prioritized The Tree of Life over a myriad of other viewing options primarily because of its recent win at Cannes. However, the Cannes winners have always exemplified the iconoclastic spirit of that festival -- I sometimes think that Cannes gives out prizes only to films that they know will divide audiences, just to be contrarian. List of Cannes winners that fit this description in another post.

So if you like Malick, this film is defintiely for you. If you don't or are not sure ... well, are you willing to pay theatrical prices to see a bevy of astonishingly beautiful images on the big screen, even if that's all you end up taking away from it?

That's for you to decide.


Simon said...

You're near one of the theatres that's playing it? You lucky bastard.

On the other hand, if you wound up too tired for a double-feature, Tree of Life looks like something you'd want to see in theatres more than Midnight in Paris. So, yay, all worked out.

Vancetastic said...

Good way of looking at it. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about which movies really need to be seen in the theater and which don't. Large-scale epics like The Tree of Life certainly qualify, and dialogue-heavy Woody Allen pieces (even those set in times past with art direction that is probably quite good) don't.

Yeah, there are benefits to living in Los Angeles. I like to use these benefits from time to time to lord it over the rest of the film blogosphere. ;-)