Open Thread: “Midnighting” the Movies

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In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, writer Alexander Huls offers up an unexpected suggestion for “How to Enjoy Going to the Movies Again”: going to midnight movies. Specifically, he suggests going to those first, Thursday night-at-midnight showings of the new releases that are hitting screens that Friday, in order to be among the very first paying audiences to see a highly anticipated new flick. (Huls even admits turning the start time into a verb — i.e, “I’ll definitely midnight Prometheus.”)

The logic is, at first, a little hard to follow, as Huls is offering up these late-night screening opportunities as a manner to restore a faith in the movie-going experience that’s been sapped by non-stop talking and intermittent LCD screens. “As a committed moviegoer who once treasured the cathedral-like atmosphere of the movie house,” he writes, “I now find myself entering the auditorium anticipating a bad experience — sitting and nervously profiling every person who walks into the theater for their yet-to-be-committed misdemeanors.” This all sounds very familiar. So why would a moviegoer despairing of noise and distractions want to view a film with the rowdiest audience imaginable?

Because, as Huls understands, it’s not about quiet, it’s about respect. When this filmgoer has bad theatrical experiences (usually when I make the mistake of seeing a highly anticipated movie during, say, its first weekend in release), what is most striking is not the fact that people are talking or texting during the movie — it’s that they’re barely acknowledging that the movie is there. Time after time, I’ve watched groups of teenagers come and go and eat and drink and chat and Facebook, and wondered why they even bothered going to a movie. But that’s the problem. They’re not there to see a movie — they’re there to have somewhere to go. That’s what’s infuriating about going to a movie these days: you’re having to watch it with people who treat the movie screen like their television, something that’s on in the background for occasional reference.

And that’s the exact opposite of what happens at midnight. These are people who are there to see the movie, who cannot, in fact, wait to see the movie. “Because current midnight shows almost always involve sequels, reboots, remakes, genre movies or adaptations of popular books or comics, they draw a very specific brand of hard-core audience,” Huls writes. “Rather than conceive of the theater as a cathedral, these die-hard fans turn the midnight show into a frenzied jamboree.” But it works, because — at their heart — movies are a communal experience, a social engagement, a shared joy.

As much as I love my home theater, and as exhausting as it can be to walk away from it to take my chances at the cinema, I know this much: Films are meant to be seen with a group of like-minded strangers, on a screen that dwarfs mine. For what it’s worth, I would expand the thesis in the Times to include all midnight movies, which have long been a kind of special treat for moviegoers, an opportunity to stay out late and have a good time at the picture show. And I’m not just talking about obvious standbys like Rocky Horror or Pink Flamingos (though you should certainly see them that way too). There are examples all over the country, but here in New York, moviegoers have scores of cult movies and old favorites to choose from at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays; the Landmark Sunshine started it years ago, branching out from the old standbys into ’80s favorites and goofy obscurities (including regular screenings of The Room), and IFC Center followed suit, with Lincoln Center joining in this summer. And make no mistake, it is a very specific kind of moviegoer who shows up at midnight to see The Holy Mountain, Evil Dead II, or Duck Soup — and those who do are going to have a unique experience, one they can’t possibly have in front of the plasma screen at home.

When’s the last time you went to a midnight screening? Share your experiences in the comments.

Main image credit: Cinema Blend