Notes on the theatrical experience, psychology, and sexism.
Spending, as I do, entirely too much time on Film Twitter means I’ve been following the saga that ensued over the Alamo Drafthouse deciding to have women-only screenings of Wonder Woman, whereby a bunch of shitheads threw tantrums over this decision for some reason. Shitheads throwing tantrums is practically Twitter’s brand, which is why the only thing that makes this particular incident memorable is that the outcry is even dumber and pettier than the usual standard. Even on a strictly textual basis, a women-only screening of Wonder Woman, a movie whose protagonist comes from a women-only culture, is equivalent on the surface to a Naval veterans-only screening of The Hunt For Red October or Top Gun or something. If your knee-jerk response is that that’s a dumb example and a bit of a reach, you’re absolutely right, because the real reason to have a screening like this is that not having any men around is a simple way to make the theatrical experience a lot more enjoyable for women.
Proving that sexism exists and is bad is unnecessary. It exists. It’s bad. Arguing otherwise is either obtuse or a lie. The angle to this whole story that interests me—in the sense of writing a whole column about it, not in the sense that pervasive sexism is boring—is the curation of the theatrical experience. Because going to movie theaters has lowkey kind of sucked for years now. The increasingly rare theaters that are actually still nice to go to are ones that go to at least minimal lengths to make things pleasant for audiences, whether through making sure the movies are projected properly or even simply by making sure the place is a comfortable temperature and clean. For many years my local movie theater, which was first a short walk and then a slightly longer walk after I moved, was the Pavilion, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It opened in 1996 with three screens, one enormous auditorium with a balcony for big commercial releases, and two smaller screens for independent and art films. Over time, that business model proved untenable, and management chopped the space up to fit as many screens in as they could, which left the theater as a whole in (what turned out to be) a permanent sense of dishevelment. Things would eventually deteriorate to the state in which film critic and Park Slope resident Matt Singer immortalized the Pavilion as “the worst movie theater in America,” but until they were doing shit like projecting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in half-pink and half-green for the first twenty minutes and then cutting the projector before the ending (the one and only time I’ve ever asked for a refund) the Pavilion spent a very long time as just an ordinary shitty movie theater. Dim projection, cramped seats, sticky floors, people waving their blinding cell phone screens around for two hours when they’re not taking calls and talking in full voice, and corporate penny-pinching resulting in staff not being paid enough to give a shit (which to drive the point home as unambiguously as possible is the fault of upper management not paying workers enough money, not the fault of the workers who aren’t being paid enough money) are the standard conditions for movie theaters across America now.
The special extra annoyances, like being a woman and having to worry some dude is, at best, going to sneer at you and ask you to name five of Wonder Woman’s albums when all you want to do is watch a fucking movie, compound the already wholly sufficient pile of bullshit inherent to the modern theatrical experience. What few oases there are—the better art houses, rep theaters, private screening rooms if you’re fancy—become ever more enticing with each passing year. I personally have yet to journey to an Alamo Drafthouse, for reasons that don’t have anything to do with this piece, but I applaud their devotion to the experiential aspect of watching movies. Fun movies should be fun. Serious movies should be taken seriously. Great movies should be revered. The environment in which movies are beheld is a significant and essential part of the experience. And, for an example ready at hand, it thus makes not only business sense, but artistic and moral sense as well, to let women watch a movie about a heroic woman without a bunch of dudes around to fuck up the vibe. If they want to. If they want to see it with their dude friends, there’s literally every other screening of the movie at literally every other theater that’s playing the movie.
Both the sexism issue and the deterioration of the movie theater experience derive from the same source: a lot of people are fucking assholes. A lot of people are all right, and fairly decent despite a foible or two here and there, but there are a whole bunch of jerkoffs out there. Since I bring Occam’s Razor to a knife fight, here’s my solution: stop being a jerkoff. If someone’s having fun or planning to have fun, and it affects you in no way, let them have their fun. Do anything else on Earth, with the only caveat being, primum non nocere. Here endeth this week’s sermon. Amen.