Tears in the rain

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I worked for many years as a projectionist, and our theatre hosted the Boston Sci Fi Marathon for a good portion of that time. It’s an annual event that happens every Presidents’ Day weekend. We showed science fiction films for 24 hours – we split it into three shifts for projection, although my friend Jeremy always threatened to do the entire thing, but that just seemed like a crazy recipe for disaster. People slept outside the theatre the night before to be first through the door. A couple annually toted in a cooler full of supplies made to look like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The event sometimes sold out the 500 seat theatre, filled with just the kind of people you might expect. I once witnessed a woman ask someone who was in perfect Klingon regalia if he was going to enter the costume contest, and he replied that he hadn’t decided yet. They have a tin foil hat contest. The opening film is always Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century, which I once showed backwards, just for kicks, but most of the event is feature films.

We enjoyed hosting the festival, although at times it could be rather crazy. Working all night was fun and different, and the folks who attended were entertaining. There were some large couples who celebrated their anniversaries at the fest. It sometimes happened on Valentine’s Day, and tended to have a good date feel to it, although male attendees certainly outweighed the women, and I mean that both ways.

It’s not à la MST3K, but there are some things attendees traditionally shout back at the screen. When we showed Battlefield Earth in 2001 they did encourage banter, but after making fun of Revolta’s hair for 35 seconds, it turned out to be too boring to bother, so everyone went out to dinner.

A few hours into the event, the theatre always began to smell disgusting, and it only got worse, fueled by the coffee, pizza, and burritos the festival provided the ‘thoners.

The Marathon eventually moved to a different theatre, and I eventually quit being a projectionist, but I decided to attend the fest from the other side of the porthole glass. At first I got comped, since I had no $$, but eventually I started paying for my ticket. I usually attended alone, or tried to get a friend to meet me there, but it can be a tall order (did I mention the smell?). I haven’t made it much past 12 hours of the 24 for a while, but I get my money’s worth.

We showed everything on 35mm film back in the day, of course, and these days it is a healthy mix of digital and film.  Some of the prints come from collectors, archives, and a few from distributors. There are only a few moments between films, as they try to show as much as possible. The projectionist at the Somerville projects the entire show, all 24 hours of it.  This year (2016), the 41st anniversary of the ‘thon, even included STARMAN on 70mm!

Slava and I actually re-met at SciFi a few years back, so it’s an anniversary for us. Last year, it fell on a blizzard, and we stayed home to shovel instead. This year we were able to go, but I’m pretty sure it was our last year because WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH PEOPLE AND THEIR GODDAMN CELL PHONES!!!!????

I have trouble enjoying a movie in a movie theatre sometimes. Presentation is important to me. I need the film to be in focus and properly lit and shown in the correct aspect ratio. I need the volume to be at a normal level. I need the theatre to be heated (or cooled), and I need it to be dark. In addition to proper presentation, I need my fellow cinema-goers to be upright citizens, aware that they are sitting in the dark with strangers. What does this mean? No talking, no making noise, NO CHECKING YOUR SMART PHONE OR TEXTING OR WAVING FLASHLIGHTS AROUND DURING THE MOVIE! Is this really so much to ask?

At this year’s marathon, I had to ask 3 different people on 4 occasions to turn off their phones or use them in the lobby, and there were plenty of times I didn’t speak to people but should have. In addition to the usual bullshit, people were using the flashlights on their phones to find their way to their seats or to read the program or whatever.  Bright lights were regularly flashed around the balcony (and, I’m sure, on the floor). By the time I asked the last, self-righteous nerd to shut off his goddamn phone, I was close to fisticuffs. People have become slaves to their smartphones. One guy was actually checking imdb while FUCKING BLADERUNNER was on the big screen! Then, to add insult to injury, the projectionist started banging film cans around in the back of the balcony during this most perfect of sci fi films.

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I mentioned to our friend who also attends SciFi that it was probably my last year due to this nonsense. She said she was having the same problem where she was sitting, and it was also causing her to re-think going back.

We made it through 5 movies without me getting into a fistfight, but just barely. We had planned to get dinner during EX MACHINA, since we’d already seen it, and then return for THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, but after the interesting HIGH TREASON (1929), I realized I could not possibly watch one of my favorite films with these damn degenerates (and it was DCP anyway), so we bailed.

I just don’t even know what to say. When I was a kid, we went to a cinema that employed ushers. If you turned up after the lights went down (which we inevitably did – maybe dad did it on purpose!?), the usher would show you to a seat with a flashlight.  He or she did not flash the torch willy nilly all over the theatre and into people’s eyes, but pointed it at the floor so you could follow. Is this concept so difficult to understand these days?

There is just no excuse for using a phone in a theatre. What is wrong with people? What will stop them? Certainly people who operate theatres need to make phones Verboten, and they need to enforce the rules. My projectionist friends and I have suggested stopping the film and shaming the offender publicly. It’s not as satisfying or as final as shooting the person but….

Slava is such a sweet and understanding husband.  He gets my frustration, and it’s OK with him if we don’t go back – better that I not go to jail for assault, after all. He suggested that next year we have our own sci fi movie marathon at home, invite friends, and enforce strict rules such as no talking, no cell phones, no bullshit. See you there!

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