Since I’m in the mindset of communal theater and all its possible glory, let me offer up My Top 5 Movie Theater Experiences:
1. Pulp Fiction – October 1994, Varsity Theatre, Chapel Hill, NC
Obviously, it’s easy to make fun of Tarantino now, but in the mid-’90s, fresh off “Reservoir Dogs”, my friends were psyched beyond psyched to see this. The Varsity, then run by Jim Steele, had olive-oil-popped popcorn and real butter, and was one of the few establishments that seemed to harken back to Chapel Hill as it might have been during the first two World Wars.
“Pulp Fiction” captured our dialogue perfectly, even as everyone’s brains were blown to bits – and when John Travolta stabs Uma Thurman in the heart with the adrenaline needle, the roof went off the theater. People were splayed out on the rows, unable to believe what they’d seen. We talked about it for weeks. It was a totally awesome event, in a time when such events were scarce indeed.
2. Silence of the Lambs – February 1991, Ram Triple, Chapel Hill, NC
Any of you who still remember the Ram Triple as it was in the late ’80s/early ’90s are probably still trying to get calcified butter off your shoes – simply put, this was the nastiest theater north of porn. Somehow culling the worst movies in then-current release, the screens were often torn down the middle (and hurriedly stitched up, like sails during a Napoleonic sea battle) and the film reels would unspool halfway through each movie.
NONE of this was true, however, the night “Silence of the Lambs” opened. Half the town crammed into one of the Ram Triple’s three theaters, and we sat, every seat taken, hot and still – but we didn’t care. This was one of those public experiences when a hundred people thought as one. At the end, when “Buffalo Bill” knocks out the lights, dons infrared goggles and reaches out to touch Clarice Starling, every single human being shrieked.
My future wife? Sitting a few rows ahead of me.
3. Swiss Family Robinson – Summer 1974 – Lindale Plaza, Cedar Rapids IA
This Disney classic had it all: a violent storm that shipwrecks a family, the coolest treehouse ever built, a hot androgynous chick that shows up out of nowhere, and a huge fight with marauding pirates. My favorite? When the ingenious Swiss Family Robinson Daddo makes a trap that unleashes hundreds of tree trunks rolling on top of the pirates.
My brother Steve took me to this, the first movie I ever remember seeing. He remarked how the tree trunks all looked like styrofoam, and I thought, “maybe, but I don’t care!”
4. Blade Runner – June 1982 – Military Circle, Norfolk VA
Go and check the fourth row of Theater 2 at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk, and you will find my seat. My nails bent the actual metal dividers as I watched the last fifteen minutes of this film, and decided I might want to tell stories for a living.
5. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut – June 1999 – Mann’s (Grauman’s) Chinese Theater, Hollywood CA
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. My brother’s marriage had disintegrated, my reasons for moving to Los Angeles had evaporated into a haze of humiliation, our house had become a sleaze den where strangers did blow on our coffee table and chicks peed in the trash cans. What could possible save us?
Sean, Michelle, Seth, and a number of friends and I all went to the first weekend of “South Park” at the famed Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., and for two hours, everything lifted. I started laughing from the first frame and never stopped. By the time Cartman sang the “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” song, I was actually lying in the aisle, unable to function from laughing so hard. The entire theater was apoplectic.
This movie has given us so much, but nothing quite as important as the introduction of “SUCK MY BALLS” into our everyday lexicon. “South Park”, you provided the best movie experience of the last decade, exactly when we needed it the most. And for this, I genuflect and give you a low, humble bow.
How about y’all?