Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

The bitter end

That select minority of people, which includes myself, who believe that the movie doesn’t actually end until the final reel of film has completely spooled out of the projector, live in our own little hell.

I was reminded of this, once again, a couple of weeks ago when the Missus and I brought her niece and nephew to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at a multiplex in the west of Ireland. My family has long since learned that I do not leave my seat until the lights go up or until the screen goes dark, whichever occurs later. So my wife or my mother or my brother-in-law or whoever happens to be with me knows that they have time to get up, go to the bathroom and stand around in the lobby until I emerge from the auditorium. (It goes without saying that they all know better than to try to engage me in chit-chat while the credits are rolling. If they usually do stick it out with me, they sit by politely, muttering something like, “Sure takes a lot of people to make a movie…”) So, it was no surprise that I found myself alone in the auditorium watching the end credits of the Harry Potter movie. Well, alone for a few seconds.

A distressingly common occurrence at the particular cineplex that we frequent in Castelbar, the lights came up before the film was finished. Then an army of young adults swarmed into the auditorium and began sweeping up and picking up trash. (In Ireland, they don’t even bother running those little nagging ads before the movie in which they exhort patrons to put their rubbish in the bin. There would be no point.) The army of cleaners proceeded to engage in conversation among themselves, as I did a little dance from one row to another, doing my best to stay out of their way while scanning the movie screen to ensure that no giant spiders or snakes or any other animals had been harmed in the making of the film. Then, one young lady noticed me and proceeded to engage me in conversation, asking me if I had liked the movie (which, by my definition, I hadn’t yet seen the end of) and if I had read any of the Harry Potter books.

It’s simply a losing battle. Movies rarely display the actual words “The End” anymore, but people instinctively know when they are “over.” It may be an actor’s wink at the camera or a rising melody on the soundtrack or just a fade to black. Sometimes people wait until the crew members’ names actually start scrolling. In any event, for some time now this point represents the “end” of the movie and audiences immediately leap to their feet and anxiously shuffle out to the nearest aisle. What is the hurry? Are people really that busy? Or is there a pandemic of undersized bladders, causing everyone to rush to the restroom? Or, most likely, are people in this day and age simply bored by having to look at words and people’s names?

In any event, this leap-to-the-feet reaction to screen credits is now ingrained in people as firmly as anything Dr. Pavlov ever did to a dog. I remember a couple of years ago being persuaded by an acquaintance to bring over a video I had put together of my wedding. Most of the camera work, of course, had been done by someone else (since not even I am geeky enough to try to film my own wedding), so my main technical pride in the video was the clever and humorous credits I had added to the end. As we got to the end of the video, I was anticipating our friends’ reactions to my creativity at the finale. To my dismay, the minute the first credit appeared our friend, without so much as a conscious thought, leapt to his feet and turned off the television and began rewinding the tape. Sigh.

Sometimes the filmmakers make the end credits so entertaining that it totally confuses the audience. I remember watching people half-sitting, half-standing, unable to decide if they should stay or go, kind of like a computer program in an endless loop, during the humorous “outtakes” at the end of A Bug’s Life.

The nice thing about going to film festivals is that most of the audience is sufficiently tuned in to cinema that they will sit through a movie right to the end. Occasionally, however, a movie will be high enough profile that the auditorium will fill with interlopers and day trippers who jump up at the beginning of the credits and crowd the rows and aisles. But mostly, film fest attendees are more civilized than this.

Why, a “normal” person might ask, would someone want to sit through the end credits anyway? They usually scroll by so fast that you can’t possibly hope to read them all anyway. And, the bigger the movie, the more credits there are to sit through, so sometimes after a blockbuster it seems like ten or fifteen extra minutes. And, honestly, most of us (even film buffs) don’t know exactly what half the jobs listed are. Moreover, you often have to listen to an insipid pop song that was tagged on so it could be included on the soundtrack CD. If you walk out before the credits are over, have you really missed anything?

Yes! It is all part of the movie. A lot of people work hard on every film, and they deserve at least a little respect. Also, you learn things by reading as much of the credits as you can. Personally, I am always watching the credits to find the name of one actor who looked familiar but whom I couldn’t place. (Inevitably, I miss it. Thank goodness for the Internet Movie Database.) And sometimes I even spot the name of someone I actually know. Like my friend who was a production assistant for the Seattle filming of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha. Also, I pick up a lot of other interesting info. Like the fact, at the end of virtually every James Bond movie, that “James Bond will return.” Or that the movie Creep Show had a “roach wrangler.” Or that Straight to Hell had a “sex and cruelty consultant.”

But the best reason of all to stay put in your seat is that, every so often, there is a surprise at the very end of the film. One last little scene, perhaps lasting just a few seconds, that ties up one little loose end of the plot or else just provides one last little joke. This happens often enough that it is well worth hanging out for it, just on the off chance. Like with the low-budget independent film Live Nude Girls that actually displayed the cast members in their birthday suits for a few seconds at the end of the credits.

So, I had the last laugh at the end of the credits for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Even the cleaning crew had finished and left by then. I watched it all by myself. A few seconds that were arguably the funniest of the whole movie. What was it? Sorry, you’ll just have to sit through the end credits yourself. Or wait until you get the movie on home video so you can fast forward to the end.

-S.L., 5 December 2002

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