I arrive at the AMC Theater on Michigan Ave at 10am. I push through the revolving glass doors and am immediately welcomed by the smell of faux buttered popcorn and commercial floor wax. It's a queer thing to smell at 10am. The brain recoils, akin to walking into your high school after dark for the homecoming dance. The brain says, "This smells like a high school, we hate this place, what the fuck are we doing here at night?" But 10am popcorn is the norm for the few and proud who call themselves movie critics, and I have recently been ordained one of them. I step onto the escalator armed with my notepad and pen light.
Everyone's a critic, except those people missing a hand or thumb.I should say first that I am not a bona fide movie buff. I mean, I understand fundamentals—I know why Citizen Kane was important and I have a rudimentary grasp of industry jargon, which allows me to converse on the subject of film with relative ease. That being said, I have seen no more than a dozen films made before 1980, almost all of them in film classes. I fell asleep during Metropolis, and I cry when I watch Lady in the Water…don't judge, M. Night Shyamalan spits some truth. So I am hardly Siskel and/or Ebert, which makes me a bit of a novelty in the film critic circle.
As I reach the top of the escalator, I spot them, the critics, huddled together at one end of the gallery about 30 feet away from the only other person in the lobby, the beautiful, 20-something, blonde film promoter. The promoter is someone who works for the distributor, generally a very young and attractive female, who organizes these pre-screenings which allows film critics the necessary time to write a review and to have it ready for publication before the movie's actual release date.
The lights dim in the theater and as I sit with the well-paid homeless gentlemen, I can't help but replay in my head just how easily President Pony Tail had swayed them. So what we have is, on one end of the lobby, a beautiful blonde with a clipboard staring at the clock, bored out of her mind; on the other end, a half dozen critics standing absolutely as far away from the promoter as humanly possible. The only way these guys could be further away is if they started climbing the wall.
I approach the promoter; she seems happy to talk to someone. I let her know what publication I'm writing for, and she scans her clipboard and tells me I can proceed to theater 12 whenever I'd like, that the movie will begin in about 20 minutes. I say, "Do those guys know that?" as I point to a cluster of people in the opposing corner. She sighs. "I guess so, none of them have checked in yet."
I figure since I have a few minutes to kill I'll take the long walk over to the opposing corner and see what these cats are all about. If nothing else, it's something to write about.
As I approach, I notice the general aesthetic of this group spans a fairly short wavelength, from homeless-looking to very-homeless-looking. Lots of greasy facial hair, well-fed pasty bodies, dirty ironic t-shirts, old running shoes loosely tied to feet that haven't run in a decade, and, upon closer inspection, a substantial amount of body odor—and not the, "oh, you've been working out" body odor, but the, "oh, your life hasn't been working out" odor. The odor of a person who has given up. The human odor of atrophy and pores weeping the residual toxins of a thousand microwavable burritos.
I approach the group, now standing in a circle, during the middle of a heated floor debate regarding the marketability of William Shatner. A slender bearded man, speaking over his shorter bearded colleague says, "Shatner is king and he can do whatever he wants! If he wants to do features, he still can. It's despicable that J.J. Abrams kept him out of Star Trek! Instead of having a living legend in his film, he makes 90210 in space!" The floor is then yielded to the representative from elitist-movie-snob.com: "You are so wrong, dude. I love Shatner, don't get me wrong, but he's a man built for TV. He is not marketable for a feature at his age." Then, a man with long greasy hair tied back in a pony tail shakes his box of Snocaps: "Shatner is not awesome. Shatner is a shill. He has become a parody of himself. He can never be taken seriously again. He has turned himself into a human punchline. The new Star Trek was entertaining but why Abrams insisted on using a lense flair for every shuttle shot is beyond me." With this, the six men chuckle and nod in agreement and the floor debate is officially closed. Pony Tail must be their leader, I think to myself.
Courtesy of toothpastefordinner.com My presence in the group circle goes unnoticed for the most part; there are bigger issues on the senate floor that day, like William Shatner and the Green Hornet movie. The attractive young lady approaches to tell us the movie will begin shortly and the smelly circle becomes noticeably uncomfortable by her presence.
The lights dim in the theater and as I sit with the well-paid homeless gentlemen, I can't help but replay in my head just how easily President Pony Tail had swayed them in their opinion. There's nothing wrong with William Shatner. What's so wrong with not taking acting seriously? Who said it was a serious job in the first place? It's pretend. It's adults playing pretend. They're paid handsomely and praised publically, why should they also be rewarded with levity of work?
I read a lot of film reviews and a lot of them are thought-provoking, sometimes excavating themes and ideas that don't even occur to the filmmakers. It can be a beautiful art when executed with diligence and temperance.
There are a lot of things and people in this world that are, I'll say, shitty. These things are like icing on the cake of comedic life. They are there for flavor but not at all the bulk of the cake. They are an indulgence. George Bush is a horrible wonderful piece of shit, for example. But everything and everyone can't be shitty and terrible because then there is no distinction and everything is uniform and bland.
And everyone knows that if you eat nothing but icing all day, you will get greasy, bloated and break out in ironic t-shirts. Also, the movie we screened sucked ass.