by Collin Souter
Gremlins 2... Just add water!
Going to movies is a pain in the ass these days. I know you don’t need me to remind you of the persistence of talkers in the audience, the audacity of cell phone calls—both ingoing and outgoing—during a movie, the stereophonic sound of popcorn munching and candy unwrapping, the dazed and confused non-Union projectionists and having all the majesty of filmgoing being sucked out of the air with the presence of TV commercials before the flick. So, I won’t remind you.
Instead, this Top 10 list will focus on the positive, the unexpectedly perfect and the unabashedly nostalgic. I did not have an easy time making this list, but I wanted to write it. I have made several Top 10 lists in the past few years, but all of them had to do with just the movies themselves. I wanted this list to focus on the over-all experience of going to the movies. I wanted to focus on the memorable audiences, the theaters themselves (many of them extinct), some of the “firsts” I ever had, the weather during the movie. I left off “the movies that changed my life,” because I can’t honestly pinpoint those moments and what I felt at the time. I don’t always know in the moment when my life is changing.
For instance, I left off what I consider a major filmgoing experience for me: The first time I saw “Sense and Sensibility.” It was in the winter of 1996 and I had just met a fellow U2 fan by the name of Nikki Ferguson. We met through an ad I placed in the official U2 fan club magazine Propaganda (“I want to meet more U2 fans. Are you out there?” Something like that). We had a few beers, swapped U2 stories and then headed over the Oakbrook Theaters to see one of two Oscar contenders: “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Sense and Sensibility.” Thankfully, we opted for the latter and we have been together ever since. I don’t think we would be if we opted for The Gang-raped Hooker and the Self-Destructive Alcoholic flick. So, life is good.
I left it off because it’s too obvious and because it’s bigger than anything else on this list. I wanted to make room for incidents I had never written about before and although I have these listed 1-10, that does not indicate an actual ranking of most-to-least memorable, although the #1 is tough to beat. Enjoy…
1.Gremlins 2: A New Batch
Where: Music Box Theater
When: October 7, 2000
I’m sure my friends have grown tired of hearing me tell this story, but here goes again. Okay, so the phantoms behind the 2000 Chicago International Film Festival have decided to give director Joe Dante a Career Achievement Award and in his honor, they have decided to screen his two best movies—“Matinee” and “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”—on a Saturday afternoon at the glorious Music Box Theater. A perfect double bill if I ever saw one. Dante arrives, introduces “Matinee,” promises a Q&A session after “Gremlins 2” and proceeds to be an all around nice guy.
I’m sitting by myself in this enormous theater that is only filled to about ¼ capacity. After “Matinee,” I get out my notebook to jot some gibberish down for an article. Suddenly, two people—a man and a woman—decide to take a seat right behind me. They talk, chew their popcorn loudly, kick my seat (not their fault…you almost have to at this theater) and basically annoy the hell out of me. “Of all the empty seats in this damn theater, why do they have to…?”
I grab my bag and get ready to move. “No way are these jackholes going to ruin ‘Gremlins 2,’ dammit!” I turn around. It’s Joe Dante and his wife. “Gremlins 2” is about to start and I got the director sitting right behind me. I figure I can get my own little Q&A session right here. I ask him about the possibility of “Explorers” coming out on DVD. He tells me that Paramount has no interest at this time (it’s also Dante’s least favorite of his movies). “Gremlins 2” starts. One of the funniest movies ever made in my opinion, and hearing the director sitting behind me laughing right along with me will go down as one of the most pleasurable and endearing experiences I’ve ever had at a movie.
I should also point out that screening a movie that glorifies and salutes Saturday matinee movies (“Matinee”) as well as a great Saturday matinee monster movie in its own right (“Gremlins 2”) on a Saturday afternoon… well, that’s just brilliant festival planning!
2.Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Where: Loews Streets of Woodfield, Shaumburg, IL
When: August, 2001
This may well be the best case in which an audience truly surprised me. The star of “Evil Dead 2,” Bruce Campbell, came to Chicago to promote his new book “If Chins Could Kill.” Always a convention favorite, Bruce introduced the movie by first treating us to a screening of his documentary “Fanalysis,” in which we see Bruce travel to various horror/sci-fi conventions where he meets and greets fans of his work, but also tries to understand their fascination. It’s a fun ½-hour documentary and you can find it on the “Evil Dead: Book of the Dead” DVD. Campbell truly loves his fans, but he doesn’t shy away from being sarcastic with them, either. The guy knows how to work a room.
The movie starts, and I’m gearing myself up for all the annoyances a sold-out, frenzied audience can bring. Then I remind myself that, hey, I can always watch “Evil Dead 2” in the comfort of my own home. Rarely can I see it on the big screen with a die-hard audience. Let them scream and shout and make comments all they want. It’s a fun, maniacal, roller-coaster ride of a movie. Let the party begin.
And, they’re quiet! Truly, madly, deeply quiet. When the movie is funny, they laugh hysterically. When it’s scary, they scream. When Ash says, “Groovy,” they cheer. And when the movie is quiet…I’m shocked to find that the audience goes dead, solid quiet, making the experience all the better. The “Evil Dead” audience may well be the best, most respectful and most devoted audience I have ever sat with.
3.Everyone Says I Love You
Where: Rolling Meadows Theater (now extinct)
When: January, 1998
Sometimes, the weather outside from which you try and escape ends up making the movie-going experience more effective and rewarding. I don’t know why exactly, but something about seeing this movie in the dead of winter just made me feel like the happiest moviegoer on the planet. It snowed hard that Sunday afternoon, but Nikki and I made the trek up to this theater anyway and I couldn’t think of a better time to see it.
Maybe because Woody Allen would probably romanticize seeing a movie in the middle of a snowy day, and maybe because this particular movie—a loving, hilarious throwback to old-fashioned Hollywood musicals—would be the kind of movie you would see Woody Allen seeing in one of his movies. (Make sense?) Although, scenically, the suburban Rolling Meadows is about ten Stepfords away from the high-rises and old-fashioned movie houses of Manhattan, that didn’t take away from the over-all joy in seeing more snow falling after the film ended. You don’t always have to be in love to romanticize this stuff, either.
4.Babe: Pig in the City
Where: Music Box Theater
When: Spring, 1999
I recently wrote a review of this movie and I pointed out that I saw it about six or seven times once it hit the cheap theaters. I, like Gene Siskel, absolutely loved this movie and would often take skeptical friends to see it just so I could see the looks on their surprised faces when the credits rolled.
I had a bit of a rough patch with one of those friends, sad to say, but it was all good later on. I just remember wanting to get out of my house late one night, away from my roommate, away from this friend who was also friends with my roommate and just away in general. Luckily, the Music Box Theater happened to be running a midnight screening of “Babe: Pig in the City” in honor of the recently deceased Gene Siskel, who put the movie at the top of his 1998 list. That night, I felt depressed, lonely and angry and, thank the Gods of the Music Box Theatre, this movie happened to be there for me.
I should also point out that given the exquisite set-pieces and otherworldly feel of the movie, it makes sense to show it in a theater that looks just as outlandish. If you remember the mini-Venice set the filmmakers built for “Babe: Pig In the City,” picture it being shown on the big screen at this legendary Chicago theater.
That’s what I’m talking about. They practically blend into one another.
Where: Fine Arts Theater, Chicago (now extinct)
When: Fall, 1988
I have a friend who claims he took a first date out to see David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers,” starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists. This screening of “Track 29,” a cinematic oddball from director Nicholas Roeg, would probably come the closest to that as far as bad picks for a first date. Luckily, I had a girl with me who seemed hip to the whole thing. But, still…
I was a high school sophomore at the time and knew nothing about how to be cool (and as Nikki will attest, I still have a long way to go). This was the first time I ever took a train into the heart of the city of Chicago, the Loop. I wanted to show this girl, Jill, how hip I was, that I knew where all the cool theaters were located and that I hated—hated—the suburbs just as much as she did (I still do). But I really wanted to take her to see “Wings of Desire,” because I heard all these great things about it.
Unfortunately, we arrived a tad late and had to settle for “Track 29,” a surreal, kinky, incestuous and over-the-top exercise in phantasmagoria that did little to ignite any romantic energy that may have existed between us (It stars Gary Oldman, Theresa Russell, Sandra Bernhard and Christopher Lloyd, if that gives you any indication). Jill and I enjoyed a rocky relationship at best, but remained close friends throughout high school. She just had a baby and even gets around to reading my movie reviews once in a while. But I’ll never hear John Lennon’s “Mother” in quite the same way again, or “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” for that matter.
6.Night of the Living Dead
Where: 34 Drive-in, Earlville, IL
When: Late October, 2000
Do I really need to say anymore about seeing one of the best horror movies of all time at a drive-in? Not just any drive-in, either. The 34 Drive-in, located just 50 miles south of the middle of nowhere, used to host a 3-picture marathon of horror/sci-fi movies every year at Halloween time. This particular year, they showed the Japanese monster classic “Destroy All Monsters,” George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and a Hammer film, the title of which escapes me (we couldn’t stay for it). I showed up for “Night of the Living Dead.” The print looked worn, torn, scratchy, blotchy, unfocused and I believe a leaking keg of Green River added to the tragedy…but it was still “Night of the Living Dead” to me, dammit!
Unfortunately, the 34 Drive-In does not indulge in anything nearly as adventurous at Halloween time anymore. I do remember many cars pulling out of the lot during “Living Dead,” a sign that the small town of Earlville just doesn’t gravitate toward that kind of nostalgia. Last year (2003), the 34 screened “Freddy Vs. Jason” and “Jeepers Creepers 2.” Not quite the same thing, is it?
7.Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over!
Where: Cascade Drive-In
When: August, 2003
Combining two of my favorite novelties—3-D and drive-in theaters—seemed like it could have been a recipe for disaster (much like when this same drive-in showed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), and maybe for some, it was. From where I sat, though, it worked perfectly. Nikki and I sat outside the car in the center of the second row, glasses on. “Spy Kids 3-D” takes place in a video game and most of the shots have clouds in the background. Combine that with real clouds in the sky surrounding the screen as well as a soothing summer breeze and you have one uniquely involving filmgoing experience.
I’m sure it didn’t bode well for everybody who showed up that week. During the movie, I wanted to take a walk back to the cars that, for whatever reason, decided to park towards the back of the lot and see how the movie looked to them. I never did. I felt too happy sitting where I was, I didn’t want to interrupt the experience. The second feature, “Freddy vs. Jason,” also works nicely in this establishment, as most horror movies do.
8.Eddie Murphy Raw
Where: Town & Country (now extinct)
When: Winter, 1987-88
My friend, Jim Peebles, and I made a habit early in our moviegoing childhood (age 11-12) of sneaking into a second feature. We first did this at the Randhurst Theater when we saw “All of Me.” We noticed nobody looking our way when the door stayed open for the theater showing “Irreconcilable Differences.” Why not? From that day on, we didn’t go to a movie unless we could somehow see two for the price of one. Eventually, we made it a habit of sneaking into a rated-R movie after seeing a PG(13), or just buying a PG(13) ticket and going straight for the R.
I particularly remember one day where Jim upped the ante by sneaking some food in as well. Oh, sure, we’ve all done that, but an entire large pizza? Add to that the fact that the vulgar “Eddie Murphy Raw” carried one richly deserved R-rating, which put two mischievous-looking 14-15 year-olds at the top of the list of usual suspects. No matter, we wanted in and Jim was hungry. We bought the large pizza, went to the nearby K-Mart to get a shopping bag. We concealed the pizza box in the shopping bag, walked up to the ticket counter, paid $3.50 (probably) for a PG(13) flick and when the usher turned his/her back, dashed into the theater playing “Eddie Murphy Raw.”
Do your worst, Valenti! I dare you!
9.Clash of the Titans and Dragonslayer
Where: Arlington Theater (Now extinct)
The older I get and the more movie theaters turn into carbon copies of themselves, the more nostalgic I get for the old-fashioned neighborhood movie theater—like the Arlington—with the single screen, the oversized neon marquee, the guaranteed Disney movie or “Star Wars” re-issue and the double feature of a newer movie and an old standby that just appears out of nowhere. Before home video rentals became a widespread means of entertainment, older movies would sometimes come back for a week-long run if a theater needed a second feature to attract more customers.
Sometimes, the combination didn’t work (“Snow White” and “Staying Alive,” I remember perfectly). The best combination I can remember at this theater has to be the Greek Gods and Goddesses epic with Ray Harryhausen effects, “Clash of the Titans” and the medieval sword and sorcery epic “Dragonslayer.” A 9-year-old kid couldn’t ask for more. I remember seeing “Titans” many times almost a year prior to this double feature. Other memorable double features include “The Secret of NIMH” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the Town & Country and the 3-D back-to-back eye killer, “Treasure of the Four Crowns” and “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.”
10.The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Where: Village North
When: Summer, 1993
People lately have been debating the idea of taking their kids to see “The Passion of the Christ” so that they may teach their children the value of His sacrifice. My opinion: Exorcise careful judgment about this. Nobody under, say, thirteen should see it, and even then…
I remember in the summer of ‘93 my friend Jeff and I went to the Village North Theater to see this Peter Greenaway-directed, NC-17-rated soft-core porn/hardcore gross-out cannibal arthouse flick. I had already seen the movie when it first came out and thought Jeff would get a kick out of it. And, hey, it was on the big screen, as well it should be. Very cinematic. Yet, it more than earns its NC-17 rating since it contains plenty of nudity, sex, foul language, unspeakable violence and endless scenes of torture and malice. Anybody who makes it all the way through it should be granted a special achievement award…and that especially goes for the 11-year old boy in the theater with us!!! I’d love to know what the parents were thinking. I’d love to know why they didn’t take him and leave. I’d love to know why the ticket takers let it happen. Most of all, I’d love to know where that boy is today and how therapy has been going. I think about him a lot, actually. Every now and than, I find myself praying for him.
RANDOM HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke
Where: Mundelein Cinema
My friends and I ran this theater for about a year. We screened midnight movies every weekend and I specifically remember serving large tubs of popcorn even as late as a ½ hour before the movie ended.
Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket
Where: Music Box
We should all be so lucky to have a theater like The Music Box in our neighborhoods where they still host great film festivals. We should all be so lucky as to see Stanley Kubrick movies on the big screen whenever possible. We should all be so lucky, but we’re not. I, for one, don’t take that luck for granted.
Where: Music Box
When: Summer, 1993
One of the most maniacal audiences I think I ever sat with. Nobody knew what to expect, but as we sat there watching the carnage blaze across the screen, we knew we were in on what would eventually become a horror classic. We were there.
The Passion of the Christ
Where: AMC River East
When: February 23, 2004
The most anticipated movie of its time, certainly the most talked-about. I sat in on a preview screening in a theater packed full of people who had won tickets through a Christian radio station. It may have been the best-dressed audience I’ve ever seen, but I expected the worst “talky” audience ever. Instead, everybody sat quietly. Nobody could move or speak. When the film ended, people quietly exited the theater as though the priest finished what could have been the most passionate, life-altering, thought-provoking sermon of all time and everyone could adjourn. Dead silence. People filed out, thoughts racing, yet standing still. There it was. Cinema as church…as I always knew it to be.
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originally posted: 03/20/04 18:06:20
last updated: 04/23/04 06:56:32