I’m nothing if not (something of) a luddite.
More than occasionally, I feel like a prematurely old curmudgeon. Living in Bushwick, a place for young people if ever one existed, exacerbates these feelings. Earlier this month, for the first time in my life, I left a bar because the music was too loud. Less than a week after that, I did the exact same thing. Chalk it up to being out of touch or the way kids are these days: I get annoyed when I have nowhere to sit and I think people take way too many fucking selfies. By more than one stretch of the imagination, I am an indignant cunt.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I love watching classic films on the big screen. Let me clarify: I love watching classic films on a big screen in a movie theater. While outdoor screenings sound fantastic in theory, and New York City hosts plenty of them during the summer, the experience is usually miserable (you can’t exactly expect that many people in what is akin to a concert venue to remain quiet and keep their phones out of sight). A repertory theater though, that’s something else. In a city like New York (or anywhere else really) these are some of the most uncool places to be on a Friday night, and as such, the likelihood of running into some jerk who thinks a movie is something to be glanced at in between sessions of Candy Crush is relatively low. Furthermore, the people who run and attend these things tend to be intensely devoted film fans, so bad crowd behavior isn’t usually an issue. At least, not in the usual way.
Summer was always my favorite season in Austin. Sure, it was oppressively hot and humid, but that tidal wave of baking sunshine always made me feel more alive and inclined to appreciate all of the joys of summer even more: breezy nights serenaded by crickets, afternoon dips in Barton Springs, and evenings at the Paramount Theater.
This beautiful theater, built in the early 1900s, hosts an amazing summer film series: with a book of passes, you can attend a double-header for $5.00. Casablanca always finds its way into the rotation, and the print is gorgeous. Other highlights have included Lawrence of Arabia, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, and F for Fake. Carefree nights spent bathed in the flickering light of that screen are some of my fondest memories of that town, and if you’re local to the area, I can’t recommend it enough.
Recently, my friend Ajai pointed me towards the second part of a Sci-Fi summer film series playing at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I’m looking forward to seeing Robocop on the big screen–a first for me–on Friday night. What I’m not looking forward to are the comments from the peanut gallery.
This is the curse of the repertory theater. While the bulk of the filmgoers are prematurely dusty cranks like myself and their guests, they also attract a small number of people who are obsessed with liking the “right” kind of art, and so flock to big-screen showings of classics they never got around to ripping from PirateBay. You can always tell who these people are by the way they loudly spurt irrelevant factoids about the film or filmmaker right up to the opening credits (at which point they begin hooting and applauding obnoxiously). They’re also the people who cause a ruckus at iconic moments in the film, which is basically the movie-going equivalent of having somebody blurt out the punch lines to a comedian’s set. While all of these behaviors are just as, if not more obnoxious than texting and talking, the one that always annoys me to no end is the slight, almost inaudible chuckle that accompanies a bad SFX shot, a dated turn of phrase in the screenplay, or a moment of admittedly uncomfortable political incorrectness.
I’m not too worried about Robocop. Despite being released in 1985, the film’s practical effects still hold up surprisingly well. If anything, the sheer wantonly cartoonish level of realistic violence often gapes the mouths of more casual moviegoers who have only seen action movies made after 1995. However, in some ways, I’m a little happy that I missed Terminator. The original 1984 film features a lot of wonky claymation and other effects that, to be perfectly frank, look downright hokey by today’s standards.
Those muffled laughs that accompany these sorts of lost-in-time moments annoy me for two reasons. First of all, I’m a firm believer that greatness, for the most part, endures. To make a rather inelegant analogy, consider the rambling story told by an elderly man nearing the end of a rather long and accomplished life. The story might have taken on several different endings, and it might take much longer to tell than it once did, and it might contain some jokes that seem lame (or even offensive), but we don’t laugh in the faces of our elders, and we don’t snort and roll our eyes when they use phrases that might be a bit insensitive. Classic films ought to be afforded the same respect, if not more. After all, a movie is literally lost in time, and can’t be expected to keep up with modern social norms and technology, lest every classic be given the mistreatment a no-less hallowed franchise than Star Wars received at the hands of its creator.
More importantly, we ought to approach pieces of art as what they are: standalone experiences for us to passively enjoy and then ruminate on. Not everything is going to appeal to everyone, of course, but that isn’t cause for members of an audience to alienate others who might be having something approximating a religious experience as they watch their favorite villainous cyborg storm the halls of a police station in glorious 35mm for the very first time.
Over at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci has a fantastic piece about the dangerous bog of nostalgia we’ve mired ourselves in. There’s a brilliant quote in that piece that Devin’s using to make a different argument–and my repurposing of it kind of seems similar to the very thing he’s railing against but so be it–but it speaks to why I find that hooting and hollering, the snickering and chuckles, the indignant grunts and tongue clucks so obnoxious:
“When you like a work of art for nostalgic reasons – you saw it as a kid, your sick dad showed it to you before he died, it evokes memories of a magical time in your life – you’re not actually talking about that art anymore…you’ve taken the conversation away from the art and made it squarely about you.”
Similarly, when you inject your opinions onto the film while the film is being played you derail the flow of the art–which should be a direct flow from the screen to the eyes of the audience and nothing more–and made it a hands-on experience that nobody else asked for. At this point, it’s not even out of respect for the art itself that you should keep your stupid comments to yourself, it’s out of respect for your fellow filmgoers that you might acknowledge that nobody cares that you think the casual way stars of the 1950s dropped the word “negro” is just awful, just as nobody cares that you know the Terminator’s exoskeleton isn’t real.
Art is art, and movies are movies. They aren’t for you or anybody else specific, they’re for whoever wants to take a moment to shut up and listen, and then walk away to ponder. True art isn’t tailor-made for a generation of spoiled brats who think they should be able to tell George R.R. Martin who lives and dies on Game of Thrones or who (get paid to) whine about Louie “not being funny anymore”. True art doesn’t come with a comments section, because it’s not a conversation. It’s something you can take or leave. If you leave, do so quietly.