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Let’s All Go Without Snobby
...in which Ashley does not enjoy the movie.
Don’t go the movies with me. I’m just warning you. You shouldn’t go to the rock concert or the comedy club or the cornhole tournament with me either, but especially not the cineplex. You might be looking forward to the wisecracking Legos or Tom Hanks’ transformation into a beloved PBS icon, but my behavior will make enjoying this difficult. I will groan with genuine agony. I will laugh in the wrong places. I will squirm with irritation at best, loudly suffer the indignities of the damned at worst (and it’s usually worst). This is unintentional. Honestly, I don’t want to ruin your “thrill ride of the summer” (Jeff Craig - Sixty Second Preview). I like you. I want you to be happy.
But I’m dying over here. I’m trying to suppress a more significant outburst of pain, like the bored kid in church trying not to run screaming down the aisles during the depths of Leviticus. I cannot be expected to give the first good goddamn about the Hobbits and Transformers falling in love on the screen, so I will busy my brain by wondering where the boom mic operator was standing in the shot, and how much money he might owe for the UCLA film studies program that landed him his job holding a stick for Muppets. I can forget paying attention at all once the CG action really kicks in. I cannot engage with the meaningless blur of Hulks and Yodas toppling skyscrapers, so my mind wanders to possible dinner options or that time Chad Williams peed his pants in the second grade.
If things are looking particularly grim, I might activate my award-winning creativity to supply helpful suggestions for improving the cinematic proceedings. (Nudge) Wouldn’t this rom-com be improved by the sudden arrival of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? (Nudge) Wouldn’t Will Ferrell be funnier with a parasitic twin, voiced by Morgan Freeman? (Nudge) How about, just as James Bond leaps out of the helicopter, the Rapture takes place? (Nudge) Little more Billy Barty never hurt nothin’. I’m helping.
For a while, I thought I was in my element during the previews, the pre-show film trailers, where Hollywood’s latest chum buckets are unloaded in bite-sized, highly-concentrated chunks. Here, in the relative hubbub before the opening Parade of Logos, I felt freer to shout in horror or in laugh-so-I-don’t-cry hysteria at the market-tested sitcom reboots and adult coloring book adaptations the three remaining media conglomerates pump out of their collective poop chute. The trouble was, after six or eight of these violent traumas, I was expected to stifle my screams and become fully immersed in one of the two-hour media contagions I’d just been warned to avoid.
Clearly, the problem is me. I mean, granted, modern Hollywood persists in its Twitter-tested action figure smackdowns and Oscar-bait virtue porn, spoon fed to a “like”-minded mob of Tik Tok addicts and sweatpants models, high on emojis and Funko Pops, who wouldn’t know Bergman from a Bob Denver biopic. But maybe the trouble is simply that I’ve lost my childlike sense of wonder.
And what spoiled my childlike sense of wonder? The drugs, of course.
Allow me to set the scene. There we were, my delinquent friends and I, circa 1983, buzzing away in my teenage bedroom, ready to groove on the ultimate psychedelic movie experience, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, courtesy of one of them newfangled VCR machines. We popped in the cassette with high anticipation and waves of LSD jitters. But was I driven into cosmic euphoria by the squirming animation or the squealing Gilmour in this brilliant piece of cinema surrealism? No, I was too busy trying to stop the floor from turning into snakes to pay attention to Pink’s brick-themed hallucinations. I had my own problems.
So what I did, in a last-ditch effort to “get involved” with the movie, was plant my face directly against the screen of the old cathode-ray television, as we’d all done in childhood, to see if the effect might induce sufficient trippification. Maybe I could kind of commune with the movie, get in there and pal around with those cartoon hammers. Instead, staring into the screen only revealed the falsehood of the whole presentation, the arrangement of red, blue, and green dots, illuminated in tiny strips, collectively generating the illusion of Bob Geldof’s nose. TV ain’t even REAL, man! It was another of those acid-inspired revelations, uncovering the collective fabrication of our accepted reality: We’re all made of light, and the light is coming from a 1978 Zenith Solid State portable. Never again would I be swept away by movie magic, since all I could think about was the fakery, the hand up the puppet’s ass. It’s the same reason Alan Watts couldn’t get into Lidsville, even though it seemed right up his alley.
And so, today, in a darkened theater, watching the Gyllenhaals and Cumberbatches vie for my attention on the screen, I am never unaware of the beam of light overhead, transmitting the make-believe, and I must suppress the urge to turn to the projection window and yell, “I’m on to you, buddy!” The rest of these drooling yahoos might be enthralled by the flailing of Wookies or SNL alums, but I’m not fooled by your magic lantern show. Those aren’t even Edward Norton’s real hooves!
I suppose you’ll never have to deal with the problem of my cinema squirming. They tell me Covid and Netflix have conspired, along with Fauci and Soros, to shut down the movie theaters in favor of jammie-clad home binging. By my calculation, the last film I saw in a theater was six years ago (I watched Rogue One, in German, in a Düsseldorf cinema – the popcorn had powdered sugar on it), and it’s probably best I avoid the experience henceforth.
Most of my modern movie viewing the past few years has been on airplanes, my eyeballs glued to that little screen built into the seat in front of me. At least here I have the option of scrolling and skimming the latest Marvel horror or buzzworthy biopic, free of streaming subscription costs, before stopping it altogether. Admittedly, even in the psychotic depths of my cynicism, I maintain some small measure of hope about these films. Look! This one has festival logos all over it! The critics loved it! Maybe I’ll be swept away in its grandeur!
Alas, the abject artificiality of the playacting creates the worst in-flight turbulence in my soul. For me, they are not simply bad movies, but indictments of all humanity, who, not having had any LSD revelations about colored dots to corrupt them, happily consume Silver Linings Playbook in wonder and complete satisfaction.
Best-case scenario for me is when the flight attendants announce that the airline’s video system is out of order. This is a relief for all involved. They told me if I didn’t stop crying they were going to land the plane.
(And let’s not forget Ashley’s website, jam-packed with portraits and other drawings, his highly-affordable prints and books currently available, his eagerness for your portrait commission, and his contact email, firstname.lastname@example.org, where he longs to hear from you.)
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