Approximately 1:30 in the afternoon, May 14, 2008. 93 degrees in the shade (it would eventually hit 96 where I live). It feels like the first day of real summer. I storm the Corte Madera, California "Cinema" and ask for tickets for the 10:00 a.m. showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The day before I called the manager, who, after years and years of talking with (mainly about the movie business rather than films per se, but one day I hope that changes) knows me as well as any regular moviegoer in the area. He told me tickets are "going" for the midnight showing ten hours earlier (I'm a fanatic, but not that much of a fanatic... then again, being an insomniac of sorts, what would I be missing anyway? Hmm...) as well as all the other starting times. 10:00 a.m. sharp is earlier than any showing in this theatre's history. (The Star Wars prequels were a little bit before 11:00, if I remember correctly.)
Now, I care about box office the way Gandhi cared about battle tactics. It's just not what motivates me at all (especially with regards to seeing a film). Yet even I have just become aware of early tracking numbers for this Indy movie that make it sound like it could break a five-day record. I only care at all because the money from the box office indicates one thing: People are going to see this film.
When I look back, most of the "event films" most people think of in such an obvious context are before my time. Did I or did I not see Independence Day when I was... (does the math) still eleven years old in a theatre? I honestly can't remember. I'm sure I've seen it once or twice at home.
I remember seeing the animated Beauty and the Beast in a cinema, however. Same goes for The Little Mermaid and, quite vividly, at nine, The Lion King. Jurassic Park the summer earlier.
I suppose every generation has its event pictures, and I'm probably short-changing myself and my generation in my retrospective musings. More recently, The Phantom Menace, I remember seeing and moderately being fine with it despite its many egregious flaws (at fourteen). I can still remember a mother asking her son what he thought while filing out of the theatre and his jubilant demeanor was irrepressible. "Do you think he'll go back and free his mom?" she asked, in the late May heat, asking of course about Anakin liberating his slave mother. As Mr. Bernstein's story of the girl in a white dress holding a parasol in Citizen Kane demonstrated, it truly is funny what someone remembers.
As I became older and more jaded by three-year gaps the prequels, which arguably became better as they went along, became more tedious and frustrating for me with each new installment.
The Lord of the Rings films deserve special consideration. I had at least a couple of high school friends whose devotion to the series seemed a little bit crazy to me. Each year, beginning in 2001 and concluding in 2003, they would see the first midnight showing--at the Corte Madera "Cinema," of course--and the next day in school they would do their best to limn the basic plot to anyone who would listen. I always waited for the weekend for a matinee. The Lord of the Rings films did possess a certain, undeniably populist invitation to seemingly everyone. I still occasionally flash back to the image of my English teacher in high school utilizing a Frodo bookmark for his own book reading. Sometimes event movies mean the occasional problem. Throughout much of The Two Towers, two guys sitting next to me would not cease yapping. Evidently, one had not seen the first film and the other was filling him in on all of the matters from the first that pertained to the second (which, as I'm sure you know, are legion). At about the one-hour mark, I finally lashed out. "Just go watch the first fucking film!" Sometimes one becomes a beast when locked in a dark room with other animals.
Two films that felt like consummate event pictures because of the crowded, bustling summertime audiences on opening day were Minority Report and War of the Worlds. I had a nasty sunburn all over my back when I saw Minority Report in a completely packed house; outside the weather was treacherously humid with a hot, hazy June 21st dampness creating a rare sticky heat for the San Francisco Bay Area. War of the Worlds, a perfectly pleasant summer day with a large crowd at the "Cinema." In each case, seemingly the entire audience began talking about the film they had just viewed with uncommon febrific alacrity. As I began to depart the theatre after Minority Report concluded, I remember briefly eavesdropping on two guys who looked like they were in their late twenties, and had probably become friends in college. "It's not that I disliked it," one of them said. "It just... It didn't..." As he attempted to formulate his opinion, his counterpart enthused, "The entire film is a metaphor for the viewer's relationship with watching a film. It's what Truffaut recognized about Hitchcock."
Sometimes the setting can diminish the experience. Batman Begins came out less than a month after Revenge of the Sith and consequently to see it on a big screen I had to go into San Francisco. I never made it, and saw it instead on a rather small screen in Marin County. I had a great deal of fun with it, but part of me wonders how it would have been on a bigger screen with a superior sound system. And yet that film nevertheless felt like an event movie because of the other people in the theatre, their reactions, and because I allowed the film's textures to wash over me.
And of course, that's the whole point, isn't it? Any film can be an event picture for you. In 2006, I didn't see Pirates 2 as an event film even though it made money hand over fist. For me it was an exercise in toleration, and because I was forced to see it a second time because of a film class I was taking, withstanding torture. Pirates wasn't an event, it was a long, loud and laborious yawn. What was my great event picture of that year? Brick, which I had seen on May 31 in an otherwise completely empty arthouse theatre with my father on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. First row, balcony. Just when you think films can't supply you with that "movie rush" anymore, one comes along to shake you as it unspools.
In 2007, my event films were The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in a nearly empty theatre; There Will Be Blood in a packed Castro Theatre in San Francisco on November 5; and No Country for Old Men at the AMC Theatre on Mission St. with a captivated audience on November 9.
Any film can be an event film for the particular viewer. Whether it's Spider-Man 2 or Cave of the Yellow Dog, any film has the potential to be an event film for someone... for an audience...
What are two of my great event films of all time, though?
July 8, 2006, at Union Square. Citizen Kane presented by Film Night in the Park. Excellent, huge screen. The only disturbance was the occasional trolley car bell, which was actually a cool sub-soundtrack for the film. Otherwise you could have heard a pin drop in the downtown San Francisco that summer night.
July 29, 2006 at Dolores Mission Park. Raiders of the Lost Ark again presented by Film Night in the Park. Excellent, huge screen. Arriving early, and sitting in the unofficial "front row" in the park that evening, it was truly a spectacle of epic proportions to behold thousands and thousands of people streaming through the park to watch a film twenty-five years old. Never have I been a part of an audience so vast, and the only thing that could equal its enormity was its melting into one gigantic voice. It was like the Super Bowl and World Series put together for an Event Movie.
So, do I even have to ask?
Okay, I will anyway. What "event movie" was the biggest event for you? Which event film experiences do you most cherish? Or abhor?