Sunday, January 7, 2018

My Top Ten Best Movie Experiences

Since I have yet to see all the movies I wanted to see to select my picks for best films of the year for 2017, I wanted to compile another post based on a conversation I overheard a few weeks ago around Christmas time. While waiting for a movie to start in the theater, as I arrived about 25 minutes early, four ladies who must have been about college age in their early twenties sat in the seats directly in front of me, and for about 15 minutes were debating back and forth on whether or not it was better to watch movies at home or in a theater. Now for me personally there is no debate: it is pretty much always better to see a movie in a theater rather than at home. Seeing that we were the only people in the theater, and in such a close proximity, I decided to get in on this conversation by telling them a story of a great experience I had watching a movie in that very theater almost 20 years ago (which was probably when they were born), which could not have been experienced at all the same way if I had seen it at home. To this I added that it was my personal belief that all movies, if possible, should only be experienced in a theater, as they were meant to be seen, and only under extreme conditions should watching a movie at home instead of a theater be preferred (such as being sick, lack of a decent theater, weather conditions or lack of money). Plus many movies are meant to be experienced communally, and when they are seen alone at home much of their effect is lost; the same is true to the fact that many movies are best seen only on opening weekend.

This conversation got me thinking about some of my own personal favorite movie experiences. Seeing that perhaps most people today, especially younger people, would prefer watching a movie at home over going to a theater, I thought about compiling a list of my own ten best movie theater experiences that I would not have had watching the same movie at home. My hope is that those who prefer watching movies at home would reconsider. Over the years I have had dozens of such great experiences watching movies in the theater that it was hard to narrow it down to ten, so I just listed the first ten that came to my mind, in no particular order, beginning with the movie experience I described to the four young ladies who sat in front of me that day when I came up with this idea. I should note, that I will not try and talk about the films themselves in any details and mainly concentrate on the theater experience; you can google the movie if you want to see a trailer or read about it. And I should also note that most of these movies are horror movies, mainly because they tend to offer the best experiences, and they were the first to pop into my head, but my great experiences are surely not limited to horror movies.

My Top Ten Best Movie Experiences

By John Sanidopoulos

1. Irreversible (2002)

This film, directed by the controversial Gaspar NoƩ, offered a theater experience that could not be replicated in any home theater, and is difficult to describe as an experience in a few words. A few days before this movie was released in America, I read that it came highly recommended by Marilyn Manson to be experienced in a theater, so on opening day I went to go see it with my wife at an independent theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A reason for the title Irreversible is because the movie runs in reverse, so it begins with the closing credits and ends with the opening credits, and the first scene of the movie is really the end, while the last scene is really the beginning.

Now as much as I would love to recommend this movie, I can't, because many of you would hate me after you saw it. The film was particularly controversial upon its release for its graphic portrayal of violence, specifically the scene where a man is savagely bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher, and its 9-minute long rape scene, the victim of which is then brutally beaten into a coma. The entire movie is high energy and fills you with anxiety, and is shot as if it was done by a hand-held camera following around someone who is high on cocaine, and you feel like you are too (it was really shot using a widescreen lighweight Minima Super16 mm camera). The film consists of about a dozen apparently unbroken shots melded together from hundreds of shots. This included the 9-minute-long rape and sodomy scene, portrayed in a single, unbroken shot. During sixty minutes of its running time, the film uses extremely low-frequency sound to create a state of nausea and anxiety in the theater audience.

I would be lying to you if I said I didn't feel nauseous and anxious throughout this movie, but that is what the film is meant to do, which is why it was made for the theater. The day I saw the movie there were probably around 30 other people there, but by the time it was over there were only five people left. We all felt like we survived something around 25 people could not get through. Half the audience was already gone by the time the first scene was over! To have seen this movie at home would have only given a very sanitized version of it, though this is one movie most people would want to see sanitized. Personally I consider this film one of the best of the 21st century, but it has to be experienced in the theater to see why.

2. Blair Witch Project (1999)

I went to go see this movie on opening day in a packed theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, knowing almost nothing about it, except that it was sort of a scary documentary based on found footage in the woods. This is very important to understand the impact this movie had and it was how it was intended to be seen. It was also how it was promoted. So on opening day, when audiences went to go see it, and when the final credits rolled, we all looked at each other wondering if that was real or not. Some people didn't even make it through the movie, since they became nauseous from the camera work.

My wife and I tried to break it down on the way home whether it was real or not, and I was about 80% convinced it was not real...but maybe it was. When I got home I immediately did some research online, and being the early days of the internet the only thing that really could be found was one website set up by the production of the film, and it was filled with testimonials and police reports about what happened to those three documentary student filmmakers in the forest of Burkittsville, Maryland. In the beginning it was convincing me more and more this could have been real, until I looked closer and discovered this was all being made up to look as if it was real but it really was not.

Because of this experience, I consider this film to be among my favorites. Many who saw it on opening day would say the same. Those who saw it any time after opening weekend probably would not share the same feelings. Nonetheless, it played a major role in how I view movies, especially horror movies. And though I was always interested in paranormal subjects, it was because of this movie that I started going to places associated with paranormal occurrences and investigating in a more serious way. In fact, the day after I saw the movie with my wife, I bought a book about haunted places in North Carolina and we went to the woods of one location and explored it a bit (this is a scary story in itself which I will save for another day). And years later I even got a chance to visit Burkittsville. I haven't stopped exploring and investigating because of it.

3. The Village (2004)

Since The Sixth Sense I had been a big fan of director M. Night Shyamalan, and when I first went to go see his movie The Village in 2004 it did not disappoint. But this is not when my favorite experience with this movie happened. It happened about a month after my first viewing when I was on vacation with my wife in Maine. There wasn't much to do at night there, so we decided to go see a movie at the local Drive-In (one of the few left in New England). When we arrived we saw that the Drive-In was actually somewhat in the middle of the woods, and the only film they were showing was The Village. We thought how perfect it would be to see The Village in the middle of the woods. And I must say, it did not disappoint, in fact it was certainly one of the best movie experiences I ever had. Next time you see it, just imagine you are in the middle of the woods seeing it from your car on a beautiful summer night, and you may get a glimpse of what I experienced that day.

4. Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Obviously I wasn't alive when these four classic horror films came out, but I did get to see them in an old run down yet exquisitely beautiful theater from the 1930's in Charlotte. In 2000 a group of people were looking to restore this theater, that didn't even have any seats, but it was full of gold carvings and renaissance-type artwork, and very little electricity ran through the place, so it basically looked like a theater from the 19th century with a very gothic atmosphere. To raise some money, the group came up with the great idea of showing some old gothic masterpieces and provide audiences a rare opportunity of experiencing them in this atmosphere. So every Saturday night at around 10:00pm in the month of October, they showed a film from the above four, with the final film showing the night before Halloween, and it was requested that everyone dress up for the occasion. It so happened that my wife's company Halloween party took place right before this, and dressing up was mandatory for it, so she arrived as a dead bride, and won the contest out of about 400 people. But if you ever have an opportunity to view the above gothic masterpieces in such a perfect gothic atmosphere, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity.

5. Saw V (2008)

When I was living in New York in 2008 and getting ready to move back to Boston in October that year, there was a one week period where I had nowhere to live as the place where I was going to stay was not ready for me yet, so I decided to drive from New York City to Orlando, Florida for a week and do some exploring and go to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. I arrived at Universal Studios early, did all the rides I could, then we were told at 5:00pm we had to leave the park for a few hours as they got it ready for Halloween Horror Nights. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to go see a movie, and the only one I had time to see was Saw V. For those who haven't been to the movie theater at Universal Studios, it is quite an experience in itself, mainly because it is by far the largest movie theater I have ever been to. And apparently it was not a very busy evening, because it seemed like I was the only one watching a movie that night. I can't remember exactly, but I think this theater was playing about 20 movies, and each of them literally seated hundreds of people, maybe a thousand or more. It seemed like a mini-stadium. So I sat in this super large theater, alone, and watched Saw V on a very large screen. The movie was ok, but to see it the way I did highly elevated the experience.

6. The Ring (2002)

Though as a film I prefer the original Japanese version of The Ring, the first version I saw was the Hollywood version when it was released in theaters. Back then 3-D wasn't a thing, but if it was released in 3-D it would have freaked out audiences even more than it did. It's mainly because of a scene towards the end when a guy is watching on TV a videotape of a ghost girl/demon emerging from a well and coming towards him, then she walks through the TV into the room he is watching it from. It's a very scary scene that is meant to be seen on the big movie theater screen to have its full effect. Half the audience in the theater was screaming, while the other half was too mesmerized and shocked to scream. I'm not one to get scared watching a movie, but the scene stayed with me and my wife for three days, to which I could only say well done to the director. The effect was enhanced by the fact that the theater was full, it was opening night, and we sat close to the screen.

7. The Room (2003)

If you want to see the story behind this movie, I encourage you to watch the 2017 film The Disaster Artist. It's too long of a story to recount here. Basically, this movie is considered the worst movie ever made, but it is so bad that it's very funny and even beloved by many, to the point where it has become a cult favorite and a staple at theaters that play midnight movies. I had heard of this movie for a while, but every time I went to buy tickets it was sold out, so you have to buy tickets well in advance. My opportunity came around 2011 or so. The theater was full of mainly very excited twenty-somethings who brought with them bags of plastic spoons. I knew nothing about this movie going in, except its reputation, so I was curious why they all brought so many plastic spoons. Unfortunately, I was not to find out, because before the movie started the owner of the theater came out and said throwing spoons at the screen was not allowed anymore, because it takes them all night to clean them up. It seemed understandable to me, but it got loud booo's. Despite the no spoon tossing, everyone had a great time watching this total disaster of a movie, that must be experienced communally in order to really appreciate it.

8. The Hateful Eight (2015)

As part of a Christmas gift to my nephews in 2015, I decided to bring them to see Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, since we are all big fans of his films. But this was no ordinary screening in a theater, but in the only theater in the Boston-area that was showing it the way it was meant to be shown - on 70mm film. And as a special treat for those who were to see the movie in the way it was meant to be seen, Tarantino arranged for it to be experienced by audiences just like audiences did back in the 1950's when 70mm films were being made (there are only about less than a dozen of them in all of film history), which is basically as if you were going to a live theater, where a booklet about the movie was handed out at the beginning, there was a curtain screen, and a 20-minute intermission in the middle of the movie. It was such a great movie experience, and a great movie for such an experience, that my nephews and I still talk about it.

9. Jaws (1975)

Obviously I never got to see this movie in the theater when it came out, as it was released a year before I was born, and this is a movie like most people I have seen numerous times on television. I even saw it as a child one summer when my family and I were staying at Cape Cod, and the next day I refused to get in the water to go swimming. It actually took me a few days to get back in the water, with some hesitation. And since then, I had always viewed this movie as a scary horror film, that now is somewhat dated in its effects. But my viewing experience of this movie totally changed on October 30, 2017 when I got the opportunity to see it on the big screen. Fortunately, it was showing in the same theater as I saw The Room, which attracts a lot of college-aged kids, and when the owner asked before it began if there was anyone in the audience that had never seen it before, I was surprised to see that maybe 30 out of the 200 hundred or so had never seen it. My opinion of the movie changed in the sense that I now view this movie as much a horror movie as a comedy. It is difficult to see the comedy elements of the film when you see it alone or even with one other person, but when you see it on the big screen with an audience that's willing to laugh, I was shocked at how funny the movie really is from beginning to end, but at the same time the shark and the score truly is horrific even after all these years.

10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

With about twenty or so other movie experiences in my head that I could put for number 10, I feel obligated to put down one movie that should never be seen on a television - The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When I was a kid, this used to always be on TV, and would begin to watch it but got bored real quick. Then one night in 2002 my wife and I decided to go see it at a midnight showing in Harvard Square. It was a packed theater, and we were surprised to learn we were two out of only about a dozen that had never seen it before live, and they asked those who had never before seen it to raise your hand and to go up on the stage. We never raised our hand, a bit intimidated by the situation. It's a good thing too, because then you had to learn a dance in front of everyone called the Time Warp, which everyone in the audience had to do during a specific scene. What we also learned is that many in the audience had literally seen the movie live dozens and dozens of times. They knew it by heart and they knew exactly what to do. And basically throughout the entire movie there is a dialogue between the audience and the actors on screen, while a professional group leads the dancing along the aisles. Like this, the movie was anything but boring, and in fact was one of the best times I have ever had watching a movie.