Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coitus interruptus

Ever have someone walk in on you during a sexual act, either with a partner or by yourself? And it's like an immediate splash of cold water on what you had going?

That happened metaphorically last night during my viewing of Shame, which was interrupted by a fire alarm.

Anyone ever had that happen before? It was a first for me.

It was right near the end of one of director Steve McQueen's numerous long takes, when Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is on his date with Marianne (Nicole Beharie) at a Manhattan restaurant. It's a great take that lasts nearly ten minutes of screen time, including up to a half-dozen interruptions by the waiter. And for half a second I thought "A brilliant way to cut the tension, McQueen! A fire alarm goes off in the restaurant!"

Only the fire alarm wasn't going off in the restaurant, it was going off in our movie theater. Followed immediately by a pre-recorded voice asking people to exit the theater and head for the nearest staircase.

What a tease!

My mind immediately began calculating the repercussions of this event. Would they start the movie back up after it was resolved? If not, would I get a pass to come to another movie for free? If so, how long would I have to wait in line for that pass? And even though I was very much enjoying this film, would I want to use a second one of my limited number of opportunities to get to theater to watch this movie again from the beginning -- especially during Oscar season, when there are so many films that demand my attention?

Never mind the fact that there could actually be something wrong -- a fire, or a bomb threat, or some kind of legitimate danger in the theater.

So all the occupants of all the 12? 13? screening rooms filed out into the cold, quickly filling up the sidewalk next to a busy street. (Yes, it does sometimes get cold at night in Los Angeles in December.) Not only was it us theatergoers, but there were also people from the adjoining restaurant and from Barnes & Noble, both of which make up one end of LA's Westside Pavilion, along with the theater.

Pretty soon a staffperson from the theater was telling us that it had been verified as a false alarm, but they still had to wait for the fire department to arrive to shut off the alarm. And a couple minutes later, two fire trucks swooped in, alarms blazing.

Meanwhile, I texted a few people and updated my Facebook status with what had happened. But that wasn't the only thing I was doing. I was also starting to panic.

See, if I had just had to wait it out, that would be one thing. But I had a complicating factor: I had what was rapidly becoming an intestinal emergency.

An hour earlier, I'd worried that my enjoyment of Shame would be tainted by something quite different than a fire alarm. Namely, just moments before the movie was about to start, I felt that gurgle in my stomach that told me that a bowel movement wasn't far off. How far off, at this point, was uncertain. So instead of just taking care of business and entering the movie late (or maybe even at the tail end of the trailers if I was lucky), I just entered the theater and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, you'd be surprised at how becoming engrossed in a well-made movie can take your mind off a thing like an intestinal emergency. In fact, I have this theory that your body can cooperate with you under the right circumstances, and prevent you from having to take a crap when it isn't logistically feasible. The example I've always used as my evidence was that I've never had to go #2 in the middle of a date -- never even had to squelch the need. But on numerous occasions, as soon as I'm out of that situation, my body has immediately forced me to take care of the business it was tactfully putting on hold.

So there was nary a gurgle during the entire first hour of Shame. But once I was out in the street in a stressful situation of uncertain duration, the need came back with a vengeance. And pretty soon I realized I might have to roll the dice.

There was no way back into the building to use those restrooms. But there was a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf across busy Pico Boulevard. I've always considered a coffee shop to be the ideal place to use the bathroom without being an actual patron. There's enough hubbub going on that no one notices you going straight to the bathroom, and even if they do, and even if they did confront you, you could just say you were taking care of business prior to ordering.

However, going this route would mean I wouldn't be able to monitor what was going on across the street. What if they let everyone back in, got everyone organized and had already restarted the movie while I was still waiting in line for the single bathroom in the coffee shop?

On the other hand, how much longer could I deny my biological mandate before I'd have a real disaster on my hands?

I had just started to look for an opening in traffic when the fire alarm came croaking to an end. I looked around and saw people filing back into the building. This new piece of information seemed to shift my body's internal mechanisms into the next gear of urgency. Suddenly I found myself trying to make my way up the stairs past what seemed to be an incredibly large number of old people (this theater has always attracted quite a large number of elderly folks, even though it is designed to appeal to hipsters). Which is extremely challenging, because you can't rush them -- but nor could I deny my body any longer.

When I finally made it back up to the ticket takers, I asked if they were starting the movies back up, and if so, how soon. "Once we think all the people are back in," they said. "Do I have time to go to the bathroom?" I asked. "I think so," they said.

And I did. I got back to my seat, and they resumed Shame about two minutes later.

And though I began this post with a metaphor about being sexually interrupted and losing your arousal, the metaphor doesn't carry through with regards to Shame. I got the groove back right away. Another of the benefits of good filmmaking is that it draws you right back in, no matter where you left off. And Shame is good filmmaking indeed. Perhaps "good" is not strong enough a word.

A funny side note: Near the end of Shame, I felt a sense of deja vu, as Brandon and a handful of others are evacuated from a subway car after an alarm goes off. Fortunately, unlike me, he didn't care about getting back on that same car.

Now I just need to figure out how much shame I'll feel if I end up ranking a movie about a sex addict as one of the year's best films.

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