This Filmophilia round-table piece poses the question: What was your most memorable in-theater movie experience?
In this collaborative article, we writers of Filmophilia will narrate our personal tales of theater triumph and share the cinematic memories, thoughts, and feelings we hope to never forget. United we are the writers of Filmophilia and these are our stories.
The year was 2009 and I was going through a phase of my life where V-necks and Busch Light reigned supreme, it could be argued that I am still in that phase, but that can be discussed in a different roundtable piece, I digress. I had heard rumblings for quite some time about this upcoming Tarantino movie that housed an incredibly diverse and talented cast, but as a 19 year old the idea of an upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie was not something that weighed heavily on my mind. To be entirely honest Inglorious Basterds really wasn’t on my radar until about five minutes before I hopped into my friends maroon Buick regal and headed to the theater.
My partner in crime for this life-changing event was making a solid case for Inglorious Basterds potentially being something quite special on the twenty minute ride to the suburban film complex and by the time the vehicle was parked, I was quite amped up.
It was opening night for the film and the line wrapped around the entire concession stand area. The last film I had seen on opening night had been Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban (The only Potter book without a Voldemort confrontation at the end) and it was severely underwhelming, so I was trying to maintain reasonable expectations. The other movie-goers were exactly what you would expect for the opening night of a Tarantino film, lots of loose fitting bowling shirts, misquoting of Pulp Fiction, and a general ricotta cheese smell.
As we settled into our seats in the sold out show, the anticipation was building. People were juiced. I enjoyed Pulp Fiction as much as the next movie-goer and occasionally fall victim of Brad Pitt’s charming spells, but I was still unable to fathom how this movie was going to live up to the hype. Everyone knows that hype is a films worst enemy.
For anyone who has seen Inglorious Basterds, recall the first scene of the film involving the tremendous Christoph Waltz character, Hans Landa, and his interrogation of the young French female accused of hiding Jews on her farm. I have never been in a theater that was so universally silent during a film. Cell phones weren’t out, people weren’t whispering, it was just one hundred plus eyes locked in on the screen, unable to fathom the sheer magnitude of the scene, the talent of Waltz as a performer and the scene as a whole. I will never forget how I felt during Landa’s speech comparing the Jews to rats. Hands down one of my favorite scenes in the history of cinema. If I could bottle up how I felt for those ten or so minutes, and sell it on the open market, I wouldn’t be writing for this site anymore, let’s just say that.
The rest of the film followed suit and was magnificent. As the credits rolled at the end, the audience (myself and my pal included) gave Tarantino and all involved a long round of applause and even a standing ovation from a select few (yours truly). Looking back it seems a bit silly, but in that place and at that time, it felt as though it would have been disingenuous to not let them know our adoration of the film. We, as an audience, were in awe. Complete and absolute awe.
The car ride home can best be defined by words like awesome, unbelievable, and sweet. There were probably a lot of “dude” and “man” occurrences as well. I don’t think I slept much that night as visions of Lt. Aldo Raine “killin Nazis” flooded my consciousness. Inglorious Basterds is still on my short list of favorite movies of all time. It was that film and the performances of Waltz and Pitt that sparked my interest in film and put the wheels in motion for my sporadic writing today. I’ll never forget that theater experience as long as I live and if you ask my dear friend then I’m sure he would say the same.
Since I was very young there was something in me that pushed me to want to tell stories. I started writing small, and very strange, pieces very early in my life, and although I’ve loved movies ever since I can remember, and knew that one day I would like to make movies of my own, the real epiphany came as I watched Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. By the age of 12, I was already a voracious reader of all things film and I found myself watching films most kids my age would have thought of as boring. One afternoon I remember watching TV, and a news critic went on and on about the film, they showed the preview and I was just hooked. I told my mom we had to see it. Luckily for me, a weird 12 year-old who wanted to see a French film, my mother loves foreign movies.
So that weekend we trekked across the city to an art house theater where it was playing. We sat down full of expectation and completely unafraid of the subtitled experience we were about to be part of. I can still remember how beautiful it was to watch the opening sequence of the film, the colors, the music, the fast narration, and then the discovery of Amelie as a young girl while the credits played. It was something like nothing I had seen before. The way the lives of the people she touched were changed and the magical realism throughout the film were just spellbinding. I attribute to this film, besides the unbreakable conviction it gave me to want to be a filmmaker, my love for French culture and my idealized vision of a perfect Paris.
After that day, I became a complete devotee of the film in all shapes and forms. It was the first DVD I ever bought, which I still have in a fantastic 2-disc collectors edition. I must have watched the film at least 20 times in the past 10 years, and I fall in love with it every time. The soundtrack is also a fixture in my music library, specifically the track called Les Jours Tristes (The Sad Days), which is not sad at all but rather inspiring. I have watched almost everything Audrey Tautou has done, and definitely everything Jeunet has put out there. The film has become such a part of me, it is well known among my friends to be my favorite film of all time. It’s hard to explain but I have never been able to repeat the wondrous nature of that first watching. It was as it for the first time in my life I knew what moviemaking was really about.
My most memorable movie going experience involves a particularly forgettable film. Back in 2008 I went to see The Forbidden Kingdom along with two of my best friends. We didn’t really have any hopes for the film, but we were huge fans of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, so the prospect of seeing them together on-screen was quite enticing. The movie turned out completely mediocre but we had heaps of fun watching it; laughing at all the dumb attempts at being epic and providing color commentary superior to the film’s own writing, pretty much turning it into a MST3K experience.
There were only 3 or 4 other people in the theater with us, the larger of two screening rooms in the basement of a building that used to be a dance club (appropriately) called Hollywood back in the 80s, and they weren’t having anywhere near our amount of fun. I might be misremembering things, but I’m pretty sure someone walked out halfway through, probably due to a combination of the film’s lack of quality and our intense cackling. Clearly appreciation for our shenanigans was not universal.
Although immensely thrilling and entertaining (especially for a cineaste that I consider myself to be), film festivals also tend to be quite hectic and bewildering. This pleasant festival daze is only further augmented if you are directly implicated in its organizing. One of the most memorable in-theatre experiences I’ve had took place in such a context, at the first festival I volunteered at.
It was 10 pm, my shift was nearing its end, and there was only a screening of Sushi: The Global Catch left to cover. This basically meant I could join the audience guilt-free and see the documentary about the Japanese staple food, otherwise said to be good, the food as well as the documentary. Having attended to my ticket-checking duties, I let myself into the screening room, carefully took a seat and hoped my services would not be needed elsewhere. In a matter of minutes, the room went dark, as it always does and the film started. Eager eyes in silence. Opening scenes. A boxing ring on the screen. A boxing match on the screen. A couple of minutes of two Asian men fighting and an occasional sight of (supposedly) Kanji characters. How peculiar, but strangely fitting it all seemed for a while. For the obviously missing ingredient was sushi. Does the story thereof begin with a boxing match, I could not help but wonder. As it soon turned out, the missing ingredient was actually the film itself. Instead of Mark Hall’s sushi documentary, unfolding before our eyes was Yung Chang’s boxing-related documentary, China Heavyweight.
My embarrassing moment of stupidity aside, I promptly hurried to the projection booth upstairs to try to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up, there was no telling where a copy of the sushi documentary might be. Down I go, proffer my sincerest apologies on the behalf of the festival to the audience, who seemed a bit baffled but otherwise indifferent. When someone suggested the Yung Chang film be played in its entirety, it actually sounded like a good idea. For a second. As I informed people upstairs of it, by the time I was back in the screening room, there was no one except one persistent person. Kudos to that person, whoever might you be, for showing true dedication and open-mindedness when it comes to films. On the other hand, for some reason or another, I felt personally responsible for the whole mishap and left the scene soon after, resolute not ever to talk about it. Kudos to me.
We would love to hear about your memorable movie theater experiences. Please feel free to leave comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks!