Editor’s Preface: Okay, right off the bat, I know what you’re thinking…
Wait a minute! Weren’t the Oscars, like, six months ago? And he’s only just now turning them off??
The post which follows began that night, but never ended.
Having written the initial paragraphs, I felt the essay lacked a “tail” and so held back from publishing it to the web until I could figure out where I was going with it. I never did figure that out, at least not yet.
As a result, the words below remain a work in progress and the essay may yet undergo further revisions in the future. I’m still trying to wring the crankiness out of it, which is a pitfall I all too often encounter in my “free-form” stuff.
Hey, let’s face it: nothing is as good as it used to be. This is what happens to us if we manage to live long enough: we grow dissatisfied. Nostalgia is little more than a functioning selective amnesiac with rose-colored glasses…
Oh, and the term “Oscar” is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Thank you.
I Just Turned Off the Oscars
As I write this, the Academy Awards presentation ceremonies are playing out in Los Angeles. I saw Ellen Degeneres hosting for a few minutes (she looked very competent)…
I saw John Travolta introduce a nominated song performance (it LOOKED Live) and I wasted a few moments watching Jamie Foxx clowning alongside Jessica Biel (It looked like something I may have seen in High School.)
Then I switched it off.
I just don’t care.
How can I put that last sentence in its proper perspective?
I used to really enjoy watching the Oscars. But then I used to be a movie-goer. I’m not one anymore.
For one thing, it costs too much.
For another, I find it difficult to locate anything currently playing in the theatres that I actually wish to see.
I’ve aged well beyond the target audience demographic and nobody in Hollywood really cares about what I would like to see anymore.
And I don’t care for the way so many people seem to go out in public today and choose not to respect their fellow citizens. They are loud, poorly groomed and dressed, with no idea how to behave, how to speak, or how to show even the most basic level of courtesy to anyone.
Then there’s the violence…
People get shot and killed in movie theatres. And I don’t mean in the movies, I mean in the seats. Members of the audience. People like me. So there’s another reason why I don’t go.
As a result, I have seen none of the nominated films this year.
Maybe next year. Maybe not.
I cannot immediately recall the last time I saw a first-run movie in a first-run movie house. No, wait! Yes, I do…
I saw “Wanted.” It wasn’t my idea.
I was working in downtown Pittsburgh at a bank customer call center in the summer of 2008 and my wife and daughter and I somehow scored these passes to see a Sneak Preview of the film.
I knew the film was going to be violent and not family friendly. As it turns out, that was putting it mildly.
But somehow these things work out. As luck would have it, my wife and daughter were sharing some quality time in the ladies’ room and I was seated in the auditorium by myself. The movie started and within 2-3 minutes I knew it was not going to be the sort of fare we were hoping for.
I’ve seen Angelina Jolie before; she’s very beautiful and the woman does know how to act: her father is John Voight so it’s in her blood. I’m also very partial to Morgan Freeman, who strikes me as a relatively well-grounded man.
But this movie was like some sort of psychotic fantasy about assassination, destiny and a very warped worldview that sought to suggest that there is nothing worse than being a loser. If you see nothing wrong with that, please feel free to stop reading now.
I was so repelled by the opening scenes of the movie, I got up and left the auditorium, meeting my wife and daughter in the foyer outside the restroom.
“It’s not for us,” I said, “Too much violence and shooting. It begins almost immediately and doesn’t stop until it’s time to show some sex or telegraph some questionable philosophy to an audience that really isn’t into the whole sippy cup scene.”
My wife didn’t need me to draw a picture, but she did seek a little clarification.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
“The bullets,” I told her, “travel in slow motion. And they go around corners, which rather ups the ante as far as ‘The Matrix’ is concerned.”
My wife is a woman of few words, which is one of the reasons I love her.
“Wow,” she said. Not a happy ‘Wow’ mind you, more of a ‘That’s gotta be the most horrible freeway accident I’ve ever seen’ type of ‘Wow.’ The same sort of ‘Wow’ that emanated from me when I saw it happen on the screen just a few minutes previously.
So I am not the enthusiastic patron of the cinema that I once was. And I once was a VERY enthusiastic patron.
Mind you, there are still those occasions when we treat ourselves as a family to a rare night out at the Cinema. But it’s always at the discount cinema: the $2 show.
Obviously, we are no longer alone in this: these theatres are usually fairly well crowded, but even this experience has been cheapened by cost-conscious exhibitors.
Ticket sales are now handled at the concession stands, allowing you to combine your selection of a show with your selection of refreshments. And that’s at least one less employee the theatre manager has to hire, train, trust and pay. Since you’re neatly avoiding the expense of a first-run ticket, the concession prices are jacked up to compensate. After all, this is where the exhibitor makes his money.
As a result, the ticket now costs what the popcorn used to cost and the popcorn now costs what the ticket used to cost. Equilibrium is thereby maintained in a sort of budgetary dance of yin and yang.
When I was in high school, my neighborhood in the city was home to no fewer than four movie theatres, all within six blocks of each other; three of them within two blocks of each other. One of my classmates worked as an usher, another classmate, his girlfriend, worked behind the concession stand at the same theatre.
I remember applying for one of the usher’s jobs, with his recommendation. The theatre manager’s biggest concern was whether he had a pair of uniform trousers that would be long enough to fit my skinny frame. He didn’t, so I didn’t get the job.
And that’s something else that’s changed. If you worked as an usher you had a uniform: white dress shirt, bow tie, snappy vest or jacket with the theatre logo emblazoned on the breast pocket, maybe shoulder epaulets, dressy black slacks with a silk stripe down the outside leg seam, occasionally a bellboy’s pillbox hat and your badge of office: a flashlight.
Yes, you could be a high school student and actually hold down a job that had its own uniform and specialized equipment! You were someone to be reckoned with!
The uniform allowed you to partake, if only offhandedly, in the glamour of Show Business. You were dressed up for the occasion. Your post was just outside the auditorium doors, facing the lobby, anticipating the approach of the patron(s), proffering their carefully-torn ticket stub as a pass of safe conduct from the outer nether regions of the drab outside world into the holy of holies, the sanctum sanctorum, the theatre itself where you could submerse yourself in the show.
Since seating was almost never reserved, the conscientious usher would inquire whether you wished to sit up close to the screen or further back. And then, kindling his torch as if preparing to lead Dante through Il Purgatorio, he would turn, open the auditorium doors and lead you into the darkness.
Swinging the flashlight beam back and forth across the floor as if sweeping the carpet for land mines, he would lead you to the general area of the theatre you had indicated and then light your way from the aisle as you scooted yourself sideways along the row until you reached the seats you would take. At that point, the beam of his torch would snap out, he would turn and go back up the aisle to the auditorium doors, those mileposts that demarcated the boundary between the everyday humdrum world and the rarefied precincts of the theatre entertainment experience.
You truly were ushered to your seat. You didn’t just make an arrival at the marquee or the box office; you were personally escorted to your seat with the sort of deference normally associated with persons of high office and weighty consequence. You, literally, had arrived.
Take a good hard look at the cinema “associate” who serves you today.
They may be wearing a simple polyester tunic that zips up the front, but it’s more likely they’re wearing a T-shirt which may or may not match what any of their fellow associates are wearing. And I guarantee you their trousers and footwear won’t match each other. These people aren’t dressing for you; they barely care enough to dress for themselves. If they give the matter any thought at all, their only concern is for their personal comfort or to make a fashion statement among their fellows.
And you find your own way to the auditorium and you find your own way to your seat. Try to imagine the kind of incredulous look which might greet you if you were to ask, however politely, for some assistance in choosing where to sit.
“Dude, I got syrup tanks to switch out and then I got boxes of candy to re-stock and I got some guy in his thirties screaming at me because the Fast and Furious immersive video game console in the lobby just ate his $5.00 in quarters!
“You want somebody to help you find your seat? Why don’t you bring your Mom?”
Enjoy the show!