*Sigh!* A Wonderful Evening

July 29, 2008

Before I start, I suppose I should warn you:  I am not a crass person.  Not my style of humor.  But I do happen to think kids throwing up is pretty funny.  Growing up as the oldest of seven, with my closest half-sibling 6 years younger than me, I took my laughs where I could get them.

And to set things up even further: on Thursday, because a relative pressed money on us for helping them move, my husband and I decided to do something we never do–walk down town, have dinner in a restaurant, and see a blockbuster movie at the Regal Multiplex.

“Oh, so THAT’s why the last non-Japanese animated film we saw in a theater was Mulan, when we were in college,” was our general feeling.  At 10 on a weeknight we were the only people at Wall-E.  During the entire second half of the movie, bored out of my gourd as the plot cycled through all the requisite cartoon conventions, I kept thinking: this is just the same as when we watch a boring DVD at home, only at home we would be on the couch and I’d lie down with my head on der Mann’s knee and go to sleep.

The beginning was strong.  (They should have kept the whole movie in the garbage dump and not allowed the robots to talk.)  To get to the beginning, however, we had to run the gauntlet of the “Regal Kids” (was that what it was called?) marketing and movie previews for thirty minutes.  I mean “run the gauntlet” in the traditional sense of being beaten with armored fists and stuck with small knives by drunken Vikings.

Since our TV can’t do anything but play DVD’s, media culture tends to jar us.  We expect that.  Our eyes bug out when we catch a half an hour of television at my relatives’ once a year.  But the previews before Wall-E went far, far beyond a little eye-bugging.  My husband and I stared full into the abyss of orgiastic pandering that is children’s entertainment.  By the time the movie started, I was ready to scratch a hole in the ground, crawl into it, and wait for the cretinous Eloi and Morlock generations produced by these movies to grow up and eat me.

In other words, the tone of the previews totally undermined the cheery propaganda of Wall-E.

Our favorite place to walk is a trail in a valley with a creek and some woods.  We were very happy to discover it this spring, because it is the only natural greenway in our new city!  (The parks department here is good at sports complexes and bad at parklands.)  On Sunday we went there to stretch our legs and check on the progress of the caterpiller-treaded machines that are destroying it for posterity.

Very thorough, we concluded.  Then, since I was in a bad mood already I said, “Why don’t we go see Prince Caspian at the Kiggins Theater?”

I liked the Narnia books enough that I’d purposely avoided the movie version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I was interested in Prince Caspian because it was supposed to be a throw-away.  People complained it went too far from the book.  In that case, I figured I could just forget about the source material and watch it as a fantasy action film.  And if we got bored we could leave because tickets are only $4 for a double feature.

The Kiggins Theater is a poured-cement art deco cinema from the 30’s that shows second run movies.  It’s a surprise it’s survived in this town.  I like it, though we’d only been there once before since it doesn’t usually have the movies we want to see.  It’s such a home-style place that you walk inside and buy your ticket (only there are no physical tickets) from the teen-or-early-20’s person running the concession stand.  And since the movie doesn’t seem to start until they’re done serving refreshments I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also the projectionist.

There is something I really miss in modern theaters: big big screens with curtains.  Of course the curtains are totally pointless (dust reduction?) if there isn’t a stage as well; I don’t know why I’m so attached to the theatrical symbolism, but I am.  When all the munching masses were settled in their sprung seats at the Kiggins (many are mended with floral vinyl circa 1969) and the curtains parted on the huge screen in the huge auditorium, I felt the most wonderful “ah” of happy 1930’s expectation.  Like time travel without the Morlocks.  Like Life On Mars without the irony.

There were no previews, and Prince Caspian was the perfect movie to carry that feeling, since it begins with the classic cinematic device of a desperate royal escape: paneled chambers and swirled cloaks and a moonlit horse chase.

Since I wasn’t watching it as Prince Caspian, and the Pevensies didn’t show up for a while, I was totally enchanted.  It just happened to be one of those films (rare for me) whose faults are the kind I find easy to forgive.  As far as I’m concerned Caspian and Reepicheep carried the movie.  And the location scout.  And the costumes.

One of der Mann’s and my favorite things to do is get on line and read A.O. Scott’s New York Times movie reviews aloud to each other, preferably of a film we’ve already seen, the better to savor his bon mots.  We happened to read the review for Prince Caspian a few months ago and I remembered Scott commenting (though he disliked the movie) on the exceptional performances of both Miraz and the young Italian actor who played the prince.

Um, no.  I’d misremembered the review.  The actor who played Miraz is the Italian, and very good, but I went clear through the movie thinking the actor who played Caspian was this incredible Italian ingenue:  “Wow, his delivery is flawless!  He’s got an almost perfect feel for the cadence of English, yet without any of that stage-brat actorishness British actors tend to bring to heroic roles!” I marveled.  “They made a really good choice casting an Italian instead of a Brit!  And he isn’t even very good looking!”

The remarkable thing was the way Caspian (Ben Barnes is his name) could take the silliest overblown lines and utter them with perfect authority and sincerity–natural sincerity, not the over-wrought over-earnestness that most people use.   With a consistent accent.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of screen presence in an actor born after 1920.  It made sense to me that he would be Italian because it was just so . . . foreign to the usual experience.

This level of dramatic authority is very useful if you are the centerpiece of a movie with a bad script, bad direction, talking animals, and impaired fellow actors.  It would have been a shambles without him.  As it was, I enjoyed it thoroughly!  I’ve seen a single good stage actor rescue a stage play just the same way.

What was most interesting to me was that Prince Caspian had all the elements of a really good movie; it was as if they had just been misassembled.  If the powers had cut out some of the stupider bits (forced love interest, for example), and expanded a few of the non-stupid ones; added some more CGI where it would really help the story (conveying the feeling of “Aslan on the move”), and taken it out where it was wasted (gryphons clutching aerial spies), they could have made something really grand for exactly the same amount of money, with all the same sets, all the same costumes, and all the same actors!

Different director, naturally.  (I’d have voted for Alfonso Cuarón of the third Harry Potter movie.)  I think it is mostly the director’s fault that the kids’ performances were so poor.  They gave poor Peter a bad hair day for the whole movie!  No wonder he pouted like a rock star!  Their scenes were so short the kids had no time to craft them, and (I’m pretty sure) no help getting in the right place to jump in cold.  Edmund was the exception.  Like Caspian he was a pro and always had perfect presence.  I was really looking forward to the scene when he delivered the challenge to Miraz, and I wasn’t disappointed, even though it was too short.

Der Mann and I reminisced that we had both been really impressed by the idea of the combat on the links when we first read the book as kids.  Deadly, courtly single combat is something you just don’t find in novels for children.  It seemed grown-up and illicit.  The whole book had very much that feeling of a series of important vignettes, which I think would have been the key to a good adaptation.  We agreed that we would have liked to see fewer scenes crammed in, allowing the ones that were included to be given more weight.  They tried to do that with the combat.  Der Mann liked it, but I thought it became too stagey and intense by taking place in the ruins rather than on the grass–more like a passionate duel than a deadly contest.

On the whole, pretty much everything I didn’t like about the movie just made me laugh.  I laughed at the gryphons.  I laughed at the trebouchets (gotta have trebouchets!).  I laughed at the crude subplot of Peter’s and Caspian’s jockeying for male dominance.  I laughed when that bizarre pop anthem started up during the final scene.  These things were all so truncated and tacked-on, they were no more disfiguring to the overall movie than a mustache scribbled on a magazine model.  I tried not to laugh often or loudly enough to bother the people around me, though I think it would have been a fair return for all the noisy popcorn chomping and pop swilling.

Okay, so the Kiggins Theater puts me in a good mood.  But the movie really was a lot of fun.  The production had gone for the feel of the Pauline Baynes illustrations.  Or am I misremembering again?  Anyway, most of the outdoor scenes in particular were just like I remembered them from the book.  And I noticed all the costumes looked very good on the actors (except for the armor and the Pevensie’s traveling clothes, which I know are supposed to be too big for them, but all the same I think they could have provided something both outsized and becoming).  I loved the details–smocking and embroidery–and the designer chose one of my favorite palettes.  Bruise and wound colors.  Raw salmon reds, solid greens on the yellow side, umbery accents, all kinds of silvery and muted blues, dirty butter, old linen.  Everything greyed or browned but fleshy, not cold.  I would happily have worn any of Caspian’s shirts.  Doublets are coming back!  Definitely!  They made a bad decision putting him in a skirt for the last scene, but that was almost like a final hurdle for his acting ability.  Will he make it?  Can he keep his princely dignity . . . in a dress!  Kissing a 16-year-old?  He can!

I didn’t even mind the storming of the castle.  Nothing to do with the book, but a nice set-piece, nicely executed.  I liked the business with the flashlight.

And the giddy finish to this fabulous cinematic experience?  I got up and discovered my wallet wasn’t in my pocket.  Der Man had gone on out of the theater, not noticing I wasn’t behind him.  The house lights were extremely dim, my wallet is black, I wasn’t sure which row we’d been sitting in.  After feeling around the sticky floors I found it trapped out of sight between the upended seat and the arm.  Der Mann wasn’t waiting in the lobby.  I couldn’t see him outside under the marquee.  I decided to wait a little by the concession stand in case he’d gone upstairs to the bathrooms.

And then I heard the teenaged Kiggins employee (it’s run by a family) say in the most patient, world-weary voice:  “Aw, don’t worry about it.  I’ll clean it up.”

I never saw the parent he was talking to, because they had already scuttled their child off in shame.  But, right past the only doorway, damming a stream of exiting moviegoers, splattered on the tile floor under the marquee:

Fully formed disks of sliced hot-dog in a cream sauce with what I believe to have been cubed potatoes.

No wonder the parent scuttled!  For heaven’s sake–teach your children to chew!

(On second thought maybe I might have been wrong about the potatoes.  They might have been pieces of popcorn.)

There was another young Kiggins employee upstairs when I went to look for der Mann by the bathrooms.  I heard the concession-stand one reporting the incident to him over a walkie-talkie.  They were both so resigned.  And if you think about it; yup, that’s the movie business: kids plus quantities of bad popcorn plus excitement equals vomit pretty darn consistently.

And so my love for the Kiggins Theater and all the good movies and all the vomiting children that have graced it’s hallowed tiles sent me skipping out the door, leaping over the vomit, and laughing all the way home!

The End

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One Response to “*Sigh!* A Wonderful Evening”

  1. Jane Says:

    OK — you’re not crass . . . but you are wicked!

    Hmm…..better be careful. Laughing at vomiting children may be one of those cosmic juju (or in this case jujube) things that will bring down upon you, a snarled warp. I think I hear the faint sound of a child snickering off in the distance. Warning, Will Robinson!!

    Gotta love the independent theatres, sprung seats, upchucking children and all.

    You crack me up.

    Jane


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