We often talk about out favourite/least favourite films but less discussed is the subject of the experience we have watching them.
Let’s be honest, the cinema/audience you watch a film with is more often than not integral to your enjoyment of the story. For example earlier this year I went to see Lincoln at a local multiplex and had the film completely ruined by a combination of idiots sat next to and behind me. There was a deaf old man who kept shouting to his wife to explain the dialogue he had just missed, a hungry chap to my right with armfuls of nachos and a particularly slurpy drinking technique, and to top it off I had a moronic young woman behind me who kept asking things like “is this a true story?”, “would Lincoln really say that?” and even remarked upon a field of dead bodies by saying “I reckon that would stink if you were there”!!!!!
These were more than just distractions, they totally killed the film’s atmosphere and shat all over a piece of cinema I had been looking forward to for months.
So obviously there was a point to the above rant. The point is that sometimes an experience is so great that it becomes more than just a night at the movies. In some very rare cases a cinema trip can become one of your greatest memories; a moment that becomes a snapshot of a time in your life when everything was good, if only for a few hours. For me that moment happened in early May 2012 when on holiday in Austin TX.
I was no stranger to the Alamo Drafthouse way of thinking/working. Having followed Austin based writers such as Harry Knowles, Eric Vespe, Drew McWeeny, C. Robert Cargill and Devin Faraci for about 13 years now I had been repeatedly told of its uniqueness, its commitment to providing a steller film experience and its zero tolerance policy on talking/texting during a movie. In fact my main reason for wanting to visit Austin was to be able to pay several trips to the Drafthouse (in particular the South Lamar venue).
For those that have no idea about the Drafthouse I feel I should also point out that as well as the above gems, they also have a waiter service and a full drinks/food menu that you can order from your seat and have brought to you before and during the movie. If you didn’t want to go before, you want to go now right?
So finally into my experience; I was lucky enough to find myself in Austin at the time Avengers Assemble (or just Avengers in the US) was released and I was hoping the Drafthouse would do something special to honour the event. I wasn’t to be disappointed. On the day Avengers was released they offered an ‘Avengers Marathon’ event. This day began at 12 noon and involved watching every individual Avenger movie in chronological order before the premier of Avengers at midnight.
But it wasn’t simply a case of watching one film after another. There were events through the day; competitions and tasks for the audience presided over by Thor himself (well he had a blond wig and a hammer…that counts doesn’t it?), specially programmed trailers and vintage Marvel shorts played at random points and of course lashings of food, beer, cocktails and fun!
Some choice menu moments included Hulk approved green chili Mac & Cheese, dog food bowls full of chips, giant soft New York style pretzels with various dips and of course Pizza!
What was most important was the atmosphere and the people around me. Stepping into the Drafthouse you can feel the amount of love and respect the other customers have for the place. They know that to enter that cinema is to be a passionate lover of film. Austin itself is so full of creative people that the air of appreciation for other people’s work is generally higher than most places anyway, so this too only adds to the experience.
I never felt worried that I would have my day ruined because I could see in the eyes of every other person that they were just as excited as I was. It was perfect. Yes there was some noise during the films, but it was all for the right reasons. We all laughed together when Phil Coulson told Steve Rogers about his vintage Captain America cards, we all (*Spoiler) gasped when Loki stabbed Coulson with the spear and we all cheered in unison when Bruce Banner told us “I’m always angry” before Hulking out in that incredible Manhattan climax. We all felt like one unit. It felt like being part of something special and I was in equal parts blown away and touched by the whole effect.
Just to view these films together also added to the whole journey feel of the day. We had followed these enormous, time spanning stories and by the end, the weight of emotion, empathy and physical exhaustion had brought us all together as people, as well as elevated our feelings for the onscreen heroes.
Upon returning to the UK I went to see Avengers Assemble again with friends, and whilst I enjoyed the film immensely again, I found myself missing that unique experience I had at the Drafthouse. That’s not to say a UK audience can’t be as incredible. I can and have had similar movie watching moments in this country, so please don’t think I’m saying I’m better than you because I’ve been to Texas. In any case you may have been yourself and I hope you found it as magical as I did. Instead I am saying that upon watching it in a half filled theatre with no semblance of importance given to the event, I just wanted to go back to that incredible day when film and audience came together in a moment of absolute perfection. I realised then that my 14 hour stint in the South Lamar Drafthouse had become more than one of my favourite cinema experiences, it was in fact one of the greatest days of my life. You may think that’s pretty sad. You may be right. But I’m just happy to say I was there, and more than anything I can’t wait to go back.
Cinema can be powerful stuff and it can also be powerful guff! I guess, as with many things in life, it’s all about picking your moments!