Notes From A Traveler: At the Cinema

They're playing a three-reeler down at the RKO Theatre

Image via I'm the guy in the white shirt on the far left.

For someone who doesn’t like going to movie theaters I seem to find myself in one more often than I would expect.

My most memorable movie-going experience was almost 20 years ago when Better Half informed me that he had reserved two seats for us to go see the premiere of “X-Men 2”. First of all I’m not a big fan of comic book movies. Second of all, I wasn’t sure what the X-Men were. But fine, he seemed to want to do this. Plus we were going to see this at the Ziegfeld (RIP) which was a classic movie theater, the largest in NYC at the time, with the largest screen.

It was a beautiful day (much too nice to waste in a darkened movie theater, I thought sourly) so I said, “I’ve been reading advanced reviews of ‘X-Men 2’ and people seem very excited about it. Why don’t we go early and get in line and stand around in the sunshine?”

So we did, there were maybe 20 people ahead of us, many if not most in costume, which caught me by surprise. “I’m going to go to the Duane Reade and get some snacks. Movie theater candy is a huge rip-off.” “Stay right by my side. I don’t want to be left alone with these—“ but off he went.

Just then a news crew showed up. A reporter hopped out of the van and started interviewing people. Oh God. Me, on the nightly news, at the “X-Men 2” premiere. But they skipped right over me (since I was costume-less I guess) and interviewed the more enthusiastic among us.

We settled in to watch the ads. There was a very long one for Axe body spray that was British, I think. Everyone had English accents and the settings seemed urban England-ish. Of course they would have a long ad for Axe body spray. It was a series of vignettes where different guys do different things to piss women off but one whiff of Axe body spray and all is forgiven. In one a couple is at a café table, the guy having left the woman waiting for his arrival in the pouring rain for quite some time. The very beautiful young woman says to the guy, “Oh me too, I love comic books!” I barked out a laugh that could be heard in every corner of the theater, but there was a stony silence from my fellow theater patrons.

The movie was fine, watching a shirtless Hugh Jackman never fails to entertain. Afterward I had to pee and I was confronted by something I’d never seen before and haven’t encountered since: the line for the men’s room was a mile long and the one for the women’s room non-existent. It’s usually the other way ‘round, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed. This was not an emergency situation and I waited my turn.

On the crowded train back to the apartment I had a Carrie Bradshaw moment. Only later did I discover the term “cosplay,” but I realized I had been living around cosplay all my life. Why did I dress like someone I wasn’t when I was a preschooler during Halloween? Why did I dress like a 1930s Austrian teenager during my star turn in my middle school’s production of “The Sound of Music”?

Better Half and I used to haunt this leather bar really close to our apartment because the beer was cheap and their dress code was really, basically, no yuppiewear. On warm nights we’d don T-shirts and jeans, drink 75-cent Budweisers, and watch old movies with the sound off (they liked “Alien,” for some reason) while those around us chatted and played pool. We got to be buddies with one of the barflies who had an extensive collection of leather outfits. He was a big burly guy with a shaved head and a bushy mustache, and a real sweetheart. IRL his name was—let’s call him Francis, worked in accounts receivables at a well-known corporation and when he talked he sounded like Carol Channing. That bar, I realized, was his stage, but I couldn’t communicate this to Better Half, because the train was so packed that at least 20 people separated us. He was munching on the last of his bootleg Twizzlers that he had smuggled into the theater and intently studying a Dr. Zizmor ad. For those who don’t know the seemingly decades-long phenomenon of the Dr. Zizmor Ad:

I realized that I am much happier with cosplay around me and have put “Attend a Renaissance Faire” on my bucket list.

I have also gone to the movies in LA, which is its own experience. Once the movie ends people don’t race for the exits. They stay glued to their seats and watch the credits closely. You can guess why: so many people know so many people in The Industry that you’ll see a frame with 20 names and all of a sudden a group will yell something like, “Woo-hoo, go Jeff!” When the last credit has rolled, then you can leave.

I will now conclude with this: If you have a couple of hours to spare while in The Abroad and can speak the language but not well, take a load off and go to an English-language movie that’s subtitled, not dubbed. See something you’ve already seen if you want. Try to go to a talky one with lots of dialogue, not an action flick like “X-Men 2: Revenge of the Better Half.” While you rest your feet you can listen to the dialogue and read the subtitles and gain all sorts of linguistic insights not provided by DuoLingo.



  1. I went to see, of all things, American Pie at The Odeon in London, in 1999. One of the funniest things I’ve seen in life was a bunch of day-drunk Brits taking the piss out of that movie, then breaking out in rapturous cheers once Jason Biggs finally loses his virginity, complete with a song.

  2. last time i went to see a movie…superheros hadnt been invented yet

    not counting superman….boring goody 2 shoes…

    oh wait…no i lie…i saw watsit? baddia baddie flick…not burdened by will fucking smith this time

    oh yeah…birds of prey


  3. Queen’s used to have Friday Night Movie nights at the Geological Building because they had a huge auditorium/screen and they were free.  Most of the time it was artsy flicks (being an ignoranus/uncultured nerd I avoided films like that at the time) but they had two I went to.

    One was Spinal Tap.  A bunch of upper years dressed up as members of the band complete with tinfoil covered cucumber while Sir Eton-Hogg strutted around in a bowler hat (I’m guessing he thought Patrick MacNee as John Steed) while a Derek Smalls look a like demanded everyone smell the glove. Someone had made a drawing of Stonehenge with the wrong dimensions.

    The other was Highlander. It was more fun than the movie which was fun and quite stupid (an apt description of most 80s movies.) However, everyone dressed as the Kurgan as I’m guessing it was easier than finding a highland kilt or dressing as a snappy Spanish swordsman with a Scots brogue.

    Me? I had no imagination or costume instinct and dressed as a nerd.


  4. One of the things that sometimes jumps out at me when I’ve been in other countries is the US culture being promoed, which often seems completely unconnected to marketing in the US.

    I remember being in one country where there were endless commercials in Spanish on TV for the DVD release of Nanny McPhee, a movie which I hadn’t heard of in the US before or since, which was odd since my kids were in the prime market at the time. But flip on the TV, and there was 30 seconds of Emma Thompson dressed like an off brand Mary Poppins hamming it up in Spanish.

  5. My close friends and I were the dorks that made costumes for Lord of the Rings movie premieres. Fellowship turns 20 in about 3 weeks, so have fun feeling even older if you were a formative age when that came out. Take some ibuprofen for your bad knees.

    • I think I would date the phenomenon of dressing as a character in the movie you are about to see to “Rocky Horror.” That was the 1970s. The experience was also highly ritualized; I remember toast and rice being thrown around with abandon but only at certain points, and a call-and-response ritual from the audience. But I also remember seeing the original “Star Wars” (1977) maybe half a dozen times and I can’t remember anyone dressing in costume, like they started doing however many years ago for the sequels/prequels.

      I see that the first Comic Con was held in San Diego in 1970; maybe over the years its influence has spread and engulfed us all.

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