Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

That film fest feeling

In the best creepy horror movie tradition, there is definitely something weird about my child. Since virtually the first day she began to talk, she has frequently begun sentences with “When I was big” as if she has clear memories of a previous incarnation. A voracious reader, I mean listener, since she can’t actually read yet, the other day she made me read Thumbelina backwards! That is, she made me read the last page first, then the second-to-last page, and so on. It was as though this fairy tale about a tiny girl had suddenly become the movie Memento.

It is hard to believe the Little Munchkin is already about to turn three. I suppose it is appropriate that her birthday always has and always will occur at the end of spring which, to us film buffs, is also known as peak film festival season.

It’s true. Another May has come and (all but) gone, and once again I did not make it to that film festival in… Can. Con. Cans. Whatever.

I didn’t get to see Gus Van Sant get the Palme d’Or for Elephant. I didn’t get to see Nicole Kidman shock people by lighting up a cigarette during a press conference. Actually, I’m not sure whom exactly she shocked. My experience in France was that the French are shocked only by people not smoking. But maybe the shock was purely in the eye of the American media since I was watching Cannes coverage from America.

Even worse, I was in America during the first days of the Seattle International Film Festival, but I never got closer than 700 miles to Seattle. If you are anywhere near Seattle, I hope at least you are seeing some of the films. The festival continues until June 15. The good news for me is that it is only about a month and a half until the Galway Film Fleadh, and I think I can make that one since I am only a half-hour drive from the City of the Tribes.

Since I can’t be in Seattle now, I have to content myself with memories of SIFFs past. These days my daydreaming head is full of reminiscences about all the years I took in scores of films in a three-and-a-half-week period. I recall sprinting several blocks from the Harvard Exit Theater to the Egyptian Theater because there was only five minutes between the end of one film and the beginning of the next—only to collapse with hyperventilation after discovering that the Egyptian screening had been a sell-out and no more passholders were being admitted. I remember eating burritos from Taco del Mar for ten meals in a row because it was the only food place fast enough and close enough to the Egyptian to get a bite between screenings and still get back in to protect my favorite seat. I recollect standing in a downpour in a queue that snaked around the Egyptian Theater on a Sunday morning for the Secret Festival, just so I had a chance at a halfway decent seat, which of course was damp from my soaked clothes. I remember walking out of a midnight screening and having a stranger walk up to me and say in a heavy Slavic accent, “Hi! I’m a gay guy from Moscow, and I just want to say, you look good in glasses!” God, how I miss all that!

But one memory in particular keeps coming back to haunt me. It is one of those embarrassing episodes that you just wish would go away, but somehow it never does. Probably because the Missus keeps bringing it up whenever we are having a conversation with friends, families or casual acquaintances. Maybe I can purge this guilty escapade from my consciousness by making a public confession. Here goes.

If by some extremely unlikely chance you are the woman who innocently went to see the Australian film Praise on a Wednesday evening at the Harvard Exit during the 25th Seattle International Film Festival and sat next to me, I offer my deepest and most profuse apologies. Let me explain what happened and maybe you will understand.

The Harvard Exit is one of the coolest cinemas anywhere. Near the heart of Seattle’s Broadway district on Capitol Hill, it is in the midst of trendy bars, pubs, restaurants and coffee houses. The fine brick building was originally the Women’s Century Club. Local lore has it that a ghost haunts the upper levels. At some point the building was adapted to be a cinema on the ground floor, with a second auditorium later added on the third level. Its nicest amenity is a large lobby with couches, chairs and a piano for people waiting for the movie to start. It’s like being in a large tasteful living room. When I moved into the city, I deliberately chose an apartment a block away and had the pleasure of making the Exit a virtual extension of my home for seven years.

When the 25th SIFF came around, I hadn’t been to the Exit for many months. I was no longer living in the neighborhood, having shifted a few years earlier to the suburbs to be closer to work. So, when the Missus and I settled into our seats to see Praise, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the main auditorium had new comfortable seats. The old seats had been one of the weak points of the Harvard Exit experience. They were narrow and rigid and didn’t leave a lot of legroom The new seats were downright cushy.

The movie we were watching turned out to have a few tedious stretches and somewhere in the middle my mind began to wander. I ran my hand over the armrest and marveled at how nice its foam rubber padding felt compared to the old wooden armrests. I felt under the armrest and was impressed to find the foam rubber extended down between the seats. Now this is comfort, I thought to myself. As I admiringly stroked the foam rubber, something completely unexpected happened. To my (and the Missus’s) complete dismay, the woman sitting the other side of me forcefully reached over and grabbed my hand and placed it firmly on my lap. In a flash, I realized what had happened. There was no foam rubber separator between the seats. I was feeling the leg of a plumpish woman wearing spandex pants!

I sank deep into my seat and spent the rest of the movie wondering what I could possibly say to my neighbor when the lights came up. In the end, she rose and exited the moment the credits started and I never got a chance to offer an explanation or apology.

So, if that was you, I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, under instructions from the Missus I now always keep my hands in my pockets during a movie.

P.S. Happy 100th birthday, Bob Hope!

-S.L., 29 May 2003

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