the perils of the revival

Recently, a group of my friends and I visited a nearby revival house to watch a screening of The Princess Bride (1987). I seriously misunderestimated the enduring popularity of this film, because when we arrived at the theater, there was a line to the box office that ended somewhere around the back of the building. It was impressive. I do not know why I assumed it would be like any other time I’ve visited there — The Princess Bride is a HUGE cult classic, quoted to this day and so ubiquitous in our pop culture that it’s popularity never fully registered with me. It’s always been one of those movies that just was.

Attending the show that night was interesting, to say the least. Upon seeing the line of people waiting to buy tickets for the show, I had an idea to just buy tickets online and bypass the crowd. It more or less worked; we still had to wait for a confirmation email that contained a link to download an app that I had to register for with an email address that needed a confirmation…oh, for chrissakes, just let me into the damn theater, already. As we stood in the line to have our QR codes logged after finally receiving them, we were ushered over to the person who was taking physical tickets. In a rush, she explained that their computer systems were down, so could she please just take my name and how many tickets I purchased online? Hell yes, I said, spelling out my name for her, and we rushed to a set of seats near the front of the house (after a short round of musical chairs).

I love watching older films in even older theaters. I love seeing them with an enthusiastic audience, especially films that have a cult status. Previously, I’d been to this theater to watch a double feature of Foxy Brown (1974) and Jackie Brown (1997), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and a small handful of other features. It’s always a decent crowd and the people there tend to be a mix of die hard fans of whatever is showing and folks who are seeing the movie for the first time (the hosts usually ask the audience before the show and gauge the respective applause). Typically, the crowd is as respectful, if not more so, as most movie theater audiences. There’s not much in the way of whispering, and rare is the texting attendee.

inigo montoya“hello. my name is Inigo Montoya. you might remember me from such films as…”

This was not the case with the massive audience turnout for The Princess Bride. There were a lot of families present, because it’s by and large a kid-friendly film, and there were a lot of people around my age who have grown up with this film. Unfortunately, sometimes with certain audiences and certain films, folks take it as an opportunity to talk through the film, reciting quotes or laughing terribly long as the jokes or what have you. This happened when I went to see Ghostbusters (1984) at a late-night show in St. Louis: the audience was kind of rowdy and probably (definitely) a bit drunk, because it was close to midnight and we were all out for a good time. No one cared that people were talking or acting up, it fit the setting.

This is what happened during The Princess Bride: we seated ourselves in front of probably the world’s most obnoxious family, including a set of parents who quoted the film’s best lines two seconds before they were uttered on screen as they told their child to “pay attention, this is the best part…oh, look look look, this part is so funny, pay attention now!” ad infinitum from opening to closing credits. It dawned on me that this has happened at revival shows before — I remember going to see a double-feature of Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein around Halloween and the crowd was completely heinous. They chatted through the films and laughed at several crucial scenes — worst of all, during the scene where the Creature throws a little girl into a pond, not fully realizing the awful consequences.

shut upmy literal internal reaction

I think I’ve partially figured out why audiences act this way during re-releases, although I could be totally wrong here. I suspect it’s because a large part of the audience is already familiar with the film, so they feel more comfortable, more casual in the way they watch. So they settle in and jab at their friends’ ribs and quote the film. Okay, yes…not everyone is like this, but I think this does happen quite often. For the most part, I try to treat every movie-going experience the same. Sit down and shut up and let’s all be entertained together. I get it, though! I get wanting to quote along or bring attention to the best lines or scenes. But there are still people who haven’t seen whatever film is showing, even something so supremely popular as The Princess Bride.

This reads like something of an admonishment, and as much as I want it to kind of be one, it isn’t really. I don’t exactly know what this is. But I am curious now; how many of you have experienced anything similar going to a revival house to see a beloved classic? Do you find yourself in situations where you’d like the crowd to be less rowdy? MORE rowdy? Let’s talk this out (please do not talk this out during a movie, though).

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One thought on “the perils of the revival

  1. I’ve been very lucky with revival showings. I can’t really remember a bad crowd at one (with the exception of the Ghostbusters incident, which I remember very well). I’m usually heartsick at the size of the audiences for films I love. Ah, well. I do remember one particular audience for a revival of The Haunting on a genuinely huge screen. That movie worked that audience over such that the early rowdiness gave way to stunned silence. As well it should have.

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