Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Cinema interruptus

Since returning to the States, I have been sneaking off to the multiplex every chance I get in order to catch up on as many movies as I can. So imagine my frustration when, about a half-hour into Where the Money Is just as Paul Newman is savoring a long missed glass of Glenfiddich, suddenly the film stops, the lights come on, a weird alarm sounds repeatedly, and a disembodied robotic voice announces that there is “an emergency” and to please leave the theater. Sigh.

After about 20 minutes of standing outside (luckily, it was a nice day) and watching the fire truck and ambulance come and go, we got to go back inside and watch the rest of the movie. On the positive side, we did all get vouchers for a free movie. (Thanks, Loews.)

But while I was standing there waiting to see what was going to happen, my mind wandered back to other occasions where my movie-going experience had been cruelly suspended.

The most dramatic instance was in 1977 in Santiago, Chile. I had been hearing and reading for months about a movie called Rocky that had been the Cinderella of the 1976 Oscars. In the capital on a visit from the provinces, I finally got my chance to see it. And right in the middle of it the lights went out. It was pitch black in the theater for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Interestingly, no one panicked or even acted too disturbed. Apparently, this wasn’t an unusual occurrence in Santiago. Given the political situation (Salvador Allende had been killed a few blocks away four years earlier in a military coup), I would admit that I was a bit nervous, but I probably needn’t have been. Law and order was never a problem under the Pinochet regime.

By far, the best opportunities for having movies interrupted are at film festivals. It’s almost a tradition to have one or more movies stopped. The eeriest case was toward the end of the 1996 Seattle International Film Festival when I was watching the premiere screening of The Trigger Effect. That movie, which is about society breaking down during a major electrical outage, begins in a movie theater which suddenly goes dark. Darned, if that wasn’t exactly what happened early on during the screening of this movie. Some of us were suspicious that the “glitch” was planned since it was so perfect.

Another good one was during a thoroughly depressing Chinese-Hong Kong flick called Back to Back, Face to Face at the 1995 Seattle film festival. As the narrative started winding toward the end, the film just stopped. It turned out that the last reel had not arrived. A helpful festival programmer stepped out and read a synopsis of the rest of the movie. Amazingly, in the final missing five minutes everything turned around and worked out fine for everybody. It was such a dramatic turn of events that, to this day, I suspect that the programmer made it all up just to cheer us up.

Then there was the three-hour Finnish war epic called The Unknown Soldier at the 1987 film festival, which was stopped shortly after it began. This was because the subtitles were in French and some people in the audience started complaining. It turned out that two prints had been shipped and the projectionist had managed to pick the wrong one. We were given a choice of continuing or waiting while they changed reels. Of course, everyone (except me) voted to sit there and wait until we could read the subtitles in English.

You have to understand that, as a compulsive personality, I find it very painful to have my movie interrupted. What’s even worse is to have it aborted completely.

By far the most frustrating case of cinema interruptus was in Bakersfield, California, in the early 1970s. I went to a drive-in with my best friend and his first wife (the alert reader will spot my mistake right there) to see a Jules Verne adaptation called The Light at the Edge of the World. I had tried to resist the invitation for obvious reasons, but the wife insisted that they were not going to do anything to embarrass me. They didn’t go to movies to make out, she said, they went to movies to watch the movie. Fine. The only problem was that a few minutes into the movie, pirates began swarming over the deck of a hapless ship. A woman on board swooned as the hordes overtook her. Suddenly, our car was rocked with an ear-piercing scream. The wife was freaking out. My friend explained that the film had apparently wakened some unresolved childhood issues and that we had to leave right away. Needless to say, since we had come to a drive-in in a single car and the driver of that car had decided to leave immediately, my staying wasn’t an option. Off we drove, and I have never in my life seen the rest of that movie.

-S.L., 27 April 2000

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