Monday, January 01, 2007

Annie Frisbie: The Year I Stayed Home

I am a pathetic shell of my former self.

Picture a girl who once spent a month straight at Film Forum for a Fassbinder retrospective, a girl who had a standing Sunday afternoon movie with a friend for five straight years, a girl who sees all the Best Picture nominees and started compiling data for her year-end 10 Best in February. That girl used to look at surveys that asked, “How often do you go to the movies?” and wonder, “Who are those people who only go to the movies once a month?” She couldn’t imagine a week without a movie, or two. Double features were nothing, nor was standing in line on opening day. And if a movie deserved it, she had no compunction about seeing it a second time in the theater, because it was the experience she loved as much as the art.

At the time of this writing, it’s December 21, 2006, and rifling through my ticket stubs I discover that I’ve only been to the theater 12 times. That’s a movie a month, except I know that I saw more than one movie in at least one of those months, meaning there were movie-less months. I find this stunning. What was I doing if I wasn’t at the movies?

Let’s take a closer look -- but I’m warning you, it ain’t pretty.

Hotel Rwanda (January). Technically a 2005 release so I feel like I can’t count it in my examination of Why I Stayed Home This Year.

16 Blocks (March). One of those, “Oh, yeah, that movie. I liked that, right?” as I frantically try to remember anything about it.

Friends with Money (April). This feels right. Things couldn’t have been that bad since I made sure I caught personal hero Nicole Holofcener’s latest on the big screen. Maybe I’m exaggerating the extent of the problem. I could just be making the whole thing up, and I haven’t really lost my love for movies. I’m just saying I did so I can get published. Munchausen’s Syndrome by blogging.

X-Men: The Last Stand (May). I feel like crying when I remember how bad this movie was in every way. The half-assed writing, the phoning-it-in performances, the lamely outré special effects, and the crowd surrounding me, amplifying the crap by chatting away on their cell phones. Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to figure out why bad things happen to good franchises. I can probably do that without being able to hear the dialogue, since I know how important it is that you tell your caller, “Yeah, I’m watching a movie.”

The Devil Wears Prada (July). The former was the kind of movie that Hollywood used to do so effortlessly, but my disappointment in the lackluster framing story gets sent to the background by Meryl Streep. She’s acting her heart out, and for once it was almost worth sitting through the 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from “Two and a Half Men” that preceded the film.

Little Miss Sunshine (July). We all clap at the end, and I feel like Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, and Abigail Breslin actually care about me in a deep, meaningful way. I want to thank them by having them over for beef brisket and mashed potatoes. (Email me.) But my flip-flopped toes are sticky from the floor residue, and I have to hold it till I get home because the bathroom has been declared a biohazard.

Miami Vice (August). My brother sells me on this because it’s playing at The Senator, the old movie palace in Baltimore, and I want my husband to see it. On the drive there, I regale him with memories of the 70mm festival they had there when I was in high school. “I saw Cabaret. Lawrence of Arabia. Dr. Zhivago.” I tell him about when I saw Quiz Show and they played the “This Is Your Life” sketch from Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. After Miami Vice is over I want to burn The Senator down, and throw my memories on the blazing pyre. I lose my voice because my husband and I can’t stop talking like Crockett & Tubbs. “Here’s how it’s going to go down. We’re going to have dinner.” “No, you’re going to have dinner.” “Okay.”

Half Nelson (August). I already saw it (and loved it) at Sundance, but I make the sacrifice to brave the chatty older crowd to see it at Lincoln Plaza because my husband worked on it. I don’t know why people won’t just shut up already and let a person watch a movie in peace. Especially when it’s quiet, meditative, and character driven, and we’re at a place that supposedly celebrates the cinema.

Jackass Number Two (September). My apathy is killing me. I am so pissed off at the movies that the only way I can justify going to the theater is if (a) I don’t have to follow a story and (b) it’s a belly-laugh comedy—the only kind of movie that’s fun in the packed theaters of today. We have a great time and we don’t want to jinx it, so we stay away from the movies until…

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazahkstan (November). It’s my birthday! And my birthday present involves naked wrestling! To make things even better, the group I’m with turns a near-disaster into a bonanza. Some company has bought a block of tickets and they’ve got 5 people holding 75 prime seats in the middle of the theater. That just isn’t done, because people used to respect The Line, but today I take it all as the cost of going to the movies. My friend who works in film production and doesn’t take no for an answer gets the theater manager to give us boatloads of concessions—a token of penance paid for on the land-grabbing company’s corporate card. We’re high on sugar and Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s comedies only for me from now on, the crasser the better.

Let’s Go To Prison (November). My brother comes up for Thanksgiving and we redeem the Miami Vice fiasco (“No, you’re going to pass the turkey”) by becoming three of the 25 people who actually saw this movie. In the bathroom that night, I step out of the shower and wipe the condensation off the mirror. “Am I turning into a fourteen-year-old boy?” I whisper to the face of a stranger. “I’m losing my demographic. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.” I smash the mirror with the soapdish and sink to the floor in tears. My husband wraps me in a bathrobe and sets me delicately on the couch. I find a Bridezillas marathon and start to feel better.

Blood Diamond (December). Hey, look, we’re at a Real Live Serious Movie! Kind of like when we went to see Hotel Rwanda. I’m engaged! I’m interested! I’m at the movies! And then, two seats over, I hear a tinny “Sexy Back” and a girl flips open her pink Razr and takes the call. I shoot her a look and force out a “shh” but my heart’s not in it. To be quite honest, I’m a little bored by the Jennifer Connelly storyline. I’d probably enjoy this movie just as much on DVD.

Something seismic shifted in me this year, and I’m scared I’ll never regain the dream of the movies that I’ve danced with since the night my father took me to see Watership Down at the old Rotunda in Baltimore. You remember the Rotunda, right? It had that cupola painted with stars that filled my field of vision and I didn’t know up from down from me from the stars and my hand in my dad’s and the rabbits that were so alive they’re still with me today. For now.
By day, House contributor Annie Frisbie is Senior Editor of Zoom In Online. By night, she’s the Superfast Reader.


Blogger Annie Frisbie said...

I have an addendum up at Zoom In Online:

9:41 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I do remember the Rotunda; I used to go there all the time and watch films, good and bad (I lived over on Tuscany Rd, so I could walk). And the record store there was where I bought most of my music in my youth (1980-88).

7:03 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

David Denby hits some of these points, though at considerably greater length and with entirely too much the-world-is-coming-to-an-end hand wringing, in his New Yorker piece this week. I get where you're coming from, though; at this point I despise most exhibition chains so much that if they went out of business, I'd feel not one pang of sadness. They're about 90 percent responsible for the sorry state that so-called cinema culture is in; they make movie theaters unsuitable places for anyone except teenagers looking for a place to hang out and bullshit for two hours without getting read the riot act. Between that and the loud and crappy commercials, the excess of trailers, the overpriced and oversized concessions, the chronic inattention to projection and sound, and an overall air of perfectly understandable wage slave ennui on the part of the employees (would you take a place like that seriously? Of course not) these are often places to escape, not flock to.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Tom E said...

Thank god for the independent non-profit theaters near where I live (in suburban Philadelphia). Doylestown has the County and there's the Ambler Theater in Ambler. Both a bit of a hike from where I live, but really the only place worth going to anymore (and both much cheaper than the multiplex). The audiences tend to be respectful, the image and sound are good, and the films they show aren't crap. (In the summer they also show older films. This summer, for example, included "Some Like it Hot," "Lawrence of Arabia," a couple of Hitchcock, and many others.) I imagine that these types of venues are rare in most suburban communities, but they have been very successful here and so I doubt that movie culture is in an inevitable decline - there's a demographic that wants to go to the movies in a nice environment. If only we could get them there...

8:02 PM  

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