Top 5 film watching experiences

Associate Editor, News; Toronto, Canada (@Mack_SAnarchy)
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We all love movies and film. We don’t write here because someone is twisting our arm and no one is holding a gun to your head making you read our site. We’re all here because we love movies and film. But I believe there is something greater than just watching a movie or film. A great movie is only made greater by the experience of watching that movie. Even a bad movie can be redeemed by the experience you have watching it. There is the build-up leading up to the viewing. There is the type of audience you watch the movie with. Anything that is done by the presenters can also enhance the screening. Even the venue you watch it in can play a part. These things and among others only make the movie going experience so much better. So, to celebrate the experience of film watching I have compiled my list of five great experiences.

And then afterwards, if you feel so inclined, share with us your great film watching experiences.

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Army of Darkness – During one of our college years Todd was the Creative Arts Chair of our student council. That year he managed to blow most of his annual budget on a concert so with the little money he had left he bought a train ticket for Canfield to come up from Chi-town and talk to the students about film in a number of workshops. It was bliss. We marveled at his knowledge and prowess. He marveled at our Ketchup flavored chips. The days were filled with insightful talks and lively discussions. All of this was held in Room 156. Room 156 was tucked away underneath the library, in behind the bookstore. One of the last night’s of the week Canfield hosted a B-movie night. I can’t remember all of them but there were some notables; The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Godzilla vs. Mothra. And then, there was Army of Darkness. AoD itself is an undeniable classic and I was an AoD virgin. But it was the atmosphere in the room that also stuck with me. Room 156 was rammed. We laughed. We cheered. There we were, a room full of Jesus Freaks, late into the morning hours, watching a movie that we all knew the school faculty would frown on, having the time of our lives. That night my love affair with Sam Raimi began.

A couple of side notes related to this posting. We also went out and saw Rumble in the Bronx that week and I fell in love with Jackie Chan as well. If we ever meet ask me sometime about how I got the Bible College to buy me a new copy of John Woo’s The Killer because one of the school VCRs ate mine. It’s a good story.

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Bubba Ho-Tep - You take any sort of genre program, be it in an eclectic international festival such as TIFF, or in a genre centered festival like FantasticFest or FantAsia, and you can be guaranteed to have a theatre full of viewers with the same mind-set and goal- to enjoy themselves. Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes has picked some real gems for his program at TIFF and this particular night was extra special.

I hadn’t been fully indoctrinated into the festival life. In fact, ScreenAnarchy wasn’t even off the ground yet. Bubba Ho-tep was at the long gone Bloor Cinema and so was The Bruce. The mighty chin himself. God it was glorious. Bubba Ho-tep itself was awesome, but, to have Bruce Campbell standing there in front of you? Ash? Damn, that was exciting stuff. The Q&A went long. He was funny. He was charming. We were saturated with his charisma and loving it. And when the inevitable question about Evil Dead 4 came around well we just about went into hysterics. Of course he skirted around the question and wouldn’t give an answer but in the end it didn’t matter. Bruce Freaking Campbell stood before us a demigod. We lavished our praises upon him and he allowed us to bask in his glow.

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Gorgo - This screening only just happened the other week so this is excellent timing. Here in Toronto, a group of devoted Cinephiles has been test screening an invite-only night of cinema and it is glorious to witness. It is the hope of this group to inject a bit of life into an otherwise perceived bland movie scene here in Toronto and offset the sad disappearance of some of Toronto’s great movie houses. For starters, just to get to the screening venue you have to walk down an alley. Also, the mandate of this group is that every film, every trailer, every news reel, is shown via 16mm and 32mm projectors. There will never be digital projections at these screenings. I can’t divulge much more than that because I don’t know how much I am allowed to say. Plus, I do not want to endanger my chance of getting membership into this group. These test screenings have been invitation only and once it gets started it will be a members-only type of group.  The night was bliss. We watched the 1961 monster spectacle Gorgo in 16mm glory. I use the term spectacle in the loosest of terms. Gorgo is camp and so bad it was good. We drank wine and beer along with our small cups of popcorn. We laughed. We cheered. All the guys wanted to move to Bali [if you were there you would know]. The sooner these secret members-only screenings take off the greater the shared experience I am sure we’re going to have together will be. But, shh, it is a secret.

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THE STAR WARS PREQUELS - There is little disputing that Star Wars fans didn’t throw a great party when a film opened up. The days leading up to each opening night you could drive by the theatres hosting a midnight screening and see the hardcore fans camped out in the line. Does any other fan base do the line as good as them? And the atmosphere the night of the screening as you got closer and closer to midnight was nuts. The geeks, the fans and the curious were whipped into frenzy as the hardcore fans paraded around in their costumes. Impromptu light sabre battles erupted on the sidewalk. I bet $20 on my friend, John, then he lost when he tripped on his Jedi robe. His sister Elaine tried to help but because she had the same colored light sabre as her brother’s assailant Jedi logic states that you cannot fight each other. Shame. You’ll never find a more resilient crowd either. They endured the jeers and taunts from passer-bys and drive-bys, which was relentless [we’ve all seen that cigar smoking rubber latex pooch taking names in New York]. But when we got inside the theatre we were one. And when the Lucasfilm shimmer came up we went insane. For each warm spring evening that a Star Wars prequel opened over those six years our faces were lit up by the glow of our light sabres and dazzling special effects on screen that diverted our attention away from the fact that George was ruining our lives and precious childhood memories.

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FUNKY FOREST - A bit of personal history which will help put this entry in context. I have never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not in a theatre let alone in its entirety. My circle of ‘friends’ in high school saw it many times- without me. So I have never had a theatre experience like that, until this year. Funky Forest has become my Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had seen it many times on DVD but never in a theatre/group setting until the Toronto After Dark Festival last October. It started a bit slow. I am sure there were a bunch of WTFs but it took no time before everyone was caught up in the glory of Funky Forest. We were laughing. We were cheering. Soon everyone was oozing cool along with sketches like Guitar Brother. Folks were scrambling up the aisles and stairs to the bathrooms during the intermission saying, ‘I hope this is a real intermission. I don’t want to miss anything’. How suitable that a movie, with its core message about how people feel that their lives are full of loneliness and isolation but are in fact truly connected to those around them, brings together a group of strangers in a celebration of Japanese surrealist sketch comedy.

So why bring up the Rocky Horror Picture Show? When I reviewed this film during Toronto After Dark I said that I believe that Funky Forest, if given the time and the right atmosphere each time is screens, it can achieve the same status as Rocky Horror. It just needs nurturing and a chance to take with an audience. Give it enough time and I am sure that there is a masturbating butterfly joke in there somewhere. If Funky Forest hits the right note it is an awesome experience in audience participation.

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JoshMay 19, 2007 9:34 AM

I have many of just these kinds of experiences, but perhaps the most memorable was the first Movie Marathon I went to in my first year of University in Berkeley (1997).  The University theater had a 12 hour marathon of horror films the weekend of Halloween, it was about $12 and anyone remaining in the theater at 7AM when the final credits ended got a free pass to a future showing of anything (the University was a repertory theater, I saw many great films there including the rereleases of M, and Pink Flamingos, as well as the first runs of Welcome To The Dollhouse and Killer Condom among many others).  In that marvelous single screen movie house I saw: David Cronenberg’s Rabid, Blacula, Wes Craven’s filthy Last House On The Left, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, Army Of Darkness, and the stunner, Peter Jackson’s masterpiece Dead Alive.  I’d only ever seen Army Of Darkness previously and the rest were amazing as well.  To be in the company of fellow film fanatics watching the madness was an amazing sight.  The theater was not full, but the people who were there were the real deal and you can definitely feel an audience like that around you.  So much fun!  One of the things I remember most was that I had to get up and go outside (at about 3AM) after watching Last House On The Left because I actually felt physically dirty, I felt like I needed fresh air, no film before or since has given me that feeling.

SwarezMay 19, 2007 9:43 AM

Sadly the movie scene here in Iceland is in a sad state and we rarely get those types of showings. But in the last couple of years some film festivals have gotten some good people to come over. The screening of The Toxic Avenger with Lloyd Kaufman was great, we were pretty few then but I think my review in the local paper got more butts in the seat the next time.

Porn Star with Ron Jeremy was fun, got my picture taken with him and hung out with him cause he liked my band.

Also An Evening with Quentin Tarantino where he showed three Old School Kung Fu Flicks was great, packed house, a thousand people, sitting for near five hours watching stuff more than half of them would never watch but stayed because they didn’t want to seem uncool before the great Tarantino.

SanteeMay 19, 2007 12:53 PM

1998. New Mexico. Sitting in my brother’s apartment alone, in the afternoon, channel surfing, I run across Showtime and see the title: Chungking Express. Being a huge fan of Martial Arts flix I automatically assumed that I will see some traditional Wushu action. Instead of that it ended up being the day I discovered Wong Kar Wai.  I had never seen a movie with such memorizing characters, and interesting conceptual properties. I only got to see half of the movie, so later that day I went out to SunCoast, (most video stores did not have much in the way of Asian Cinema back then) and looked through the foriegn section, and found the film shelved beside Fallen Angels (VHS). I watched both back to back. Of course now I own all of the WCW features, and through the years have seen WCW’s popularity grow with In the Mood for Love and 2046. What most new fans do not realize that in a way all of the features are one film. 

Rhythm-XMay 19, 2007 1:07 PM

Opening night, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX (New Line version) - A local four-plex had it on two screens.  The vibe was more like a rock concert than a movie.  It was sold out for the whole night, and the other movies sold out as well from people buying tickets for whatever else was showing and sneaking into RUMBLE IN THE BRONX.  The theater was totally understaffed for the crowds, nobody was expecting this sort of turn-out for the movie, and nobody seemed more surprised than the audience, most of whom seemed to have been expecting a mostly-empty theater, as was I.  The surprise of seeing such massive turn-out was a key-factor in really getting the crowd amped up - more so than most event movies, this really felt like an honest-to-God event, with people standing in the aisles.  The theatre management felt the positive vibe in the air, because the ushers and manager both periodically walked into the barely-even-standing-room-left theater, but never tried to check tickets or kick people back into the movie they were supposed to be watching - which they would ordinarily do without hesitation.  Everyone was having fun, and though we were loud as all hell, nobody was making any trouble.  Standing ovation at the end, with screaming, the way it ought to be.  I doubt I’ll ever experience anything like that again.

ArdvarkMay 20, 2007 4:00 AM

This is the main reason for visiting Film Festivals: the atmosphere just can’t be beaten. As for film watching experience, I remember StarWars playing in the local community center in Ijsselstein (very small village) sometime in the late eighties. The trilogy had been out for several years but to everyones astonishment it was totally sold out. Lots of small children there as well, and even though the movie was at least ten years old it rocked the house! When you get the side-views of the Y-wing fighters in the Death Star trench there was a collective gasp from the children, as they had never seen such a thing on the big screen before (there was a severe dearth for space-sf in the Netherlands at that time, I can remember seeing Predator and thinking “Wow, a spaceship, that’s been a while!").

Magic!!

DocMay 21, 2007 11:32 PM

Not sure what year it was - but WarnerBrothers was doing a travelling film fest to celebrate 50 yrs of being a studio or some crap.  It was a week long, and they spotlighted a different decade for each day.  Me and a friend of mine went for the 80’s and got to see the following films back to back - The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Blade Runner, and Batman.  Was a killer afternoon…

DrewbaccaMay 22, 2007 8:19 AM

Great post Mack.  I too had the same experience at Funky Forest at After Dark.  I remember asking you before the movie what it was about.  You just laughed.  The experience was amazing.. easily one of the best ever (I’ve also never seen RockyHPS).

And the Star Wars prequels?  Oh yeah.  I waited in line outdorrs for two whole weeks to see part one.  What an amazing experience.

And this may sound totally crazy, but I remember Independence Day.  I was 20 years old and I remember it being my first experience with a mega-blockbuster that was sold out everywhere. I got to the theater 2 hours early only to find out that every showing was sold out except for the 11:40pm show.  It was packed and we had a great time.  The audience cheered at the right moments and it was so much fun I ended up seeing it like 5 times in the theater.

Enough talking. I’m off to re-watch Die Hard again (for the 135th time)… speaking of great movie experiences.
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