The Alamo Drafthouse is the moviegoer’s dream theater, with its comfortable seats, carefully curated film series, and draconian anti-texting stance. They currently have four theaters, three in Texas and one in Virginia, but today they announced that they would be setting up shop in New York City’s Upper West Side, renovating and reopening the shuttered Metro Theater in 2013. The prospect of a Manhattan refuge from loud phone conversations, shoving matches, and disconcerting smells makes this New York staff giddy with the sense of possibility … but it has also nudged us into remembering some of our worst movie-theater war stories, tales of bodily fluids, melted films, screaming babies in R-rated films, and many, many unrequested exposures to men’s private parts. And we want to hear yours!
Put your best stories in the comments below, and we will pick the best ones for an upcoming slideshow. (Make sure to include the movie you were seeing to really set the scene!) Allow this writer to get you started with a couple of his most memorable experiences on two ends of the spectrum:
1. First, a tamer, technical example: Up in New Hampshire, near the summer camp at which I worked in the eighties, there was a local inn, the Oak Birch, that also showed movies. The projectionists were impressive in their unerring ability to always find a way to screw up the movie. When a counselor came back from a film, the question was not, “How was the movie?” but rather, “What went wrong tonight?” Usually it was the projector melting the film, and often the reels were shown out of order, but the most memorable screw-up came when I went to see Splash: When 35mm films that are delivered to theaters are shown at their fullest, most raw presentation, you can often see things like boom mikes popping in at the top. It’s the job of the projectionist to correctly frame the film in such a way that these extraneous intrusions don’t show up. Nobody had heard of such a tradition at the Oak Birch. During the famous scene in which Daryl Hannah walks naked up to a tour group at the Statue of Liberty, there was one close shot of her bare back as she was mobbed, but because the bottom of the frame wasn’t set right, you could see that she was clearly wearing jeans. Which kind of ruined the fantasy for a 15-year-old boy.
2. And on the more disgusting end of the scale, Manhattan’s now-shuttered Worldwide Plaza theater was a failed first-run multiplex that the owners briefly tried to salvage as a two-dollar second-run house. Moviegoers often interpreted this as “for only two dollars, I only need to be two dollars’ worth of polite.” Homeless people would pay two bucks and set up shop all day, with stuffed shopping carts parked right under the screen. As I sat near the back for Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, midway through the movie I saw people in the front start to scurry out of their seats and migrate backwards to my section. And it was like seeing action stars trying to outrun a wall of fire, as hot on their heels came the inhuman — yet at the same time, innately human — smell of shit. Soon all that was left in the first few rows was one sleeping man, happily dreaming his soiled-pants dreams as the rest of us crowded in the rear. And yet, nobody left the theater, even as the noxious odor lingered: Two dollars was way too good a deal to cut a movie short because of a little toxic aroma.
Okay, your turn, let’s hear ‘em!