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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How do you cope with ‘cinematicus interruptus’?

I’m stealing today’s question directly from Peter Martin at Cinematical, because it’s simply too perfect. After relating a story about how the power went out in the middle of his press screening of The Other Guys, he says:

After a couple of false starts, and a break of 10-12 minutes, power was restored and the movie picked up where we left off. But it wasn’t the same. The movie had been playing for about 45 minutes before the break, and its comic rhythms had been established, for good or for bad (depending upon how you feel about Will Farrell and director Adam McKay). The break, ill-timed as it was, meant that we had to jump back into an ongoing story and try to latch onto a narrative train that was slowly pulling away from us.

I call such an occurrence ‘cinematicus interruptus,’ inspired by coitus interruptus.

Ouch.
It’s been years since I’ve experienced such a severe disruption to a movie-watching experience: On the opening weekend of Return of the Jedi in a Long Island multiplex, the film got caught in the projector and we watched it burn up (in silhouette) on the screen. It was right in the middle of the speeder bike chase, and I think that mob of rabid teenagers that exploded was the closest I’ve ever come to being in a riot. The film got going maybe 10 minutes later again, and no riot occurred. I don’t recall feeling that the flow of the film had been interrupted in any detrimental way, but I was only a kid, and not yet the finicky movie watcher I am now.

But I have had other similar experiences. Recently the NYC press screening of Salt went through four or five false starts — the screen curtains weren’t fully open, the auditorium lights were still on, but worse of all, there was no sound — before whoever was running things got everything right. Though this did not happen mid-movie, it was deeply aggravating, enough so that it took me a few more minutes that it otherwise would have to get into the movie. (It’s not unusual, alas, that the mere environmnent of big all-media press screenings are so frustratingly insane that it puts me in a foul mood.)

Mostly, though, the kind of disruption I do experience regularly comes in small screening rooms (the kind not open to the public), when projectionists don’t pay attention to reel changes, and we’re left staring at dark screens for long moments before the film gets going again. That is indeed a severe interruption that can totally ruin the flow of a scene.

How do you cope with ‘cinematicus interruptus’? Well? Poorly? Or are you lucky enough never to have had it happen to you?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • CB

    Hey, at least the movie finished.

    I saw The Fugitive in the theater, and about halfway through the projector bulb exploded, taking the film with it. The last copy of the film the theater had. At the only theater still playing the film in town.

    This was of course long before the era of video releases coming in on the heels of the theatrical run. It was years until I actually saw the movie all the way through.

    And yeah, I’m still a little bitter, so I guess you could say that the one time it happened, I handled it poorly.

  • RyanT

    It happened to me twice. Both times not at a normal theater screening. In college, every Friday they would screen movies for the school in this auditorium. They would usually be DVD releases, but for us poor college folks, it was just another way to see the “latest” without having to spend any money, so it was great.

    The films affected were Thirteen and Hustle & Flow. For the first one, I think we were about 15 minutes or so to the ending. I’m not really sure. It’s the scene where the inappropriate threesome happens… though I don’t know if it EVER happened since the movie cut off right before. Now imagine a room full of college kids being denied a threesome on screen. The reactions were hilarious in their overkill. Unfortunately for some reason or another, they couldn’t get the movie to work as we all waited there for like 20 minutes. They called it a night and apologized. Haven’t seen the ending for that film to this day…

    For Hustle & Flow, the sound was cut off midway to the movie. Instead of stopping the film to figure out what’s wrong, it kept rolling. This lasted a good 5-7 minutes before sound worked again. They didn’t rewind. What sucks is that the scene we missed was a church singing sing. Couldn’t really get into the movie after that event…

  • Erik

    I was in a nearly empty theater watching “Congo” and about an hour into it the film broke. Being as a) my friends & I were only there because it was horribly hot outside and the theater was nicely air conditioned, b) the movie sucked donkey balls and c) Bruce Campbell had already died (pre credits! WTF?!?), there was no reason to care about what happened anymore. So we let the projectionist know in no uncertain terms the longer it took her to fix things, the better. She heard our cries and took her sweet time.

    The worst that ever happened was at home. The family was watching “The Natural”. We were in the final 10-15 minutes of the movie. The bat had broken. He was bleeding. The kid had just given him the new bat. He was standing at the plate. We were literally on the edge of our seats (my sister almost fell off of the couch). The pitcher started the wind up, threw and… the power went out.

    We woke the neighborhood with our screams.

    Eventually we shuffled of to bed and when the power was back on when we woke up, we finished watching, but all the emotion & tension was gone. I wish I could remove all memory & knowledge of that movie from my mind and watch it fresh so I could have the full, true experience of it.

    Oh, and once in a theater, there was a fire alarm (false it turned out) during the last 10 minutes of “The Mummy Returns,” but horrible CG The Rock Scorpion had already taken me out of the movie, so I wasn’t bothered too much.

  • This sometimes happens when my Mother (or Mother -in-law) calls during watching a film at home. Since either of them can talk for an hour without any effort the generally accepted practice in our home theatre is to rewind about 5 mins of the film and try to get “back into the flow”.

    Sometimes, however it is too late to try to finish the film so we shelve it for a couple of weeks…usually long enough to lose the “anticipation factor” and then come back to it for a second go.

    Some films have not been watched in our house because they keep getting interrupted: “Bucket List,” “Magnolia”, and “Bugsy Malone”

  • Keith

    Happened only once that I can recall do to power interruptions caused by a thunderstorm, but the interruption was only a few seconds.

    Reminds me of a better story about how I got to see the original C.H.U.D. movie in the theater for free while living in L.A. Apparently, the audio track on the second reel was about 30 seconds out of sync, so you heard what was happening before you saw it.

    I remember a suspenseful sewer scene where someone gets grabbed and eaten and we got to hear all this while the person was fearfully making their way through the sewer. Made the movie even more ridiculously silly than it already was. Since they said they’d let me see it for free, how could I turn that down. Weirdest, movie, experience, ever!

  • amanohyo

    I was the projectionist at a theater showing Thomas in Love, and the film snapped at the climax (literally) of the CGI sex scene that opens the movie. The four single 40-something dudes at the showing were very upset with me, but they stayed, and I got it rethreaded in a few minutes.

    I was watching Liar Liar in college, and the electricity in the whole block went out right after Carrey’s boss has sex with him and asks “Was it good for you?” Everyone in the theater shouted out the next line (I’ve had better) because it was in the trailer. Then, in the pitch black theater, people quickly became ape-like, hooting and screaming and carrying on in desperate anonymous pleas for attention (in other words, it turned into an internet forum). I stayed and got my free pass.

    I was watching The Seven Samurai at the UC Theater in Berkeley (best theater ever) when the film got jammed and burned through. I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the next movie, which was either Ran or Stray Dog.

    And finally, I was watching Spiderman 3 when a fire alarm went off and they evacuated the theater. I was so relieved to have an excuse to escape from the movie, I drove away immediately, not even waiting to get one of the free passes the manager was passing out.

    These days, I would just pull out my trusty DS Lite and play some Shiren FFP.

  • Dokeo

    C David Dent,

    Sounds like you need to find your phone’s mute button. :-) It’s your phone, you don’t have to answer!

  • This seems like a problem only movie critics have, because they’re so used to seeing films in quiet theaters with no interruptions maybe.

    For those of us on the outside, interruptions are very, very common. Theater malfunctions are just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got your home market too, where you can be watching a movie and end up having to pause or even stop it for hours or days because of family issues, or unexpected visitors, or phone calls, etc.

    Especially now, when pause and rewind are such a huge part of our movie-watching experience, this cinematicus interruptus thing is just part of life. Nothing to be upset by.

  • Mostly, though, the kind of disruption I do experience regularly comes in small screening rooms (the kind not open to the public), when projectionists don’t pay attention to reel changes, and we’re left staring at dark screens for long moments before the film gets going again. That is indeed a severe interruption that can totally ruin the flow of a scene.

    This is something I blame on Fight Club, for pointing out the “cigarette burns” that I now CAN’T ignore. I never noticed them before, and now I see them every time. This is one benefit of digital projection.

  • MaryAnn

    This seems like a problem only movie critics have, because they’re so used to seeing films in quiet theaters with no interruptions maybe.

    No, I promise you, this is not the case. At all. If it’s not an all-media screening that’s packed with people who’ve won tickets from a radio-station who think because the movie was free, they can act like animals, then it’s — as I mentioned — the screening room where one would expect that the projectionist is a professional but turns out not to be able to present a movie without interruption.

    You would think that the studios would want to give critics the most optimum screening experience, but it doesn’t happen most of the time.

  • Yeah… you would think that. Pretty stupid / lazy of them not to tightly control that environment to illicit the best conditions for an honest review.

    There’s lots of talk about film criticism being dead, but it’s mostly nonsense if you ask me. I watch plenty of movies based solely on recommendations by critics like you, MaryAnn, and others I respect.

    I also avoid plenty of shitty ones the same way! :D

  • gensing

    Until a year or two ago it was standard practice in Rome to give an intermission in the middle of the movie… no matter how long the movie was. For ‘Cleopatra’ or ‘Gone With The Wind’ this is O.K… but for movies that are less than 2 hours long it’s really annoying. And it’s not like they plan when to have it based on the film: they’ll interrupt screen conversations if it’s half way through the film!

    I can’t recall many specifics because I just had to learn to get used to it when I moved here, but the first time it happened I was flummoxed. In the middle of a car chase the film stopped, ‘intermissione’ was projected, and the lights went up for 10 minutes. Then it all started up again.

    Thank goodness that’s stopped!

  • Matt C

    This is one benefit of digital projection.

    The other beauty about digital projection is that should a power outage happen, there’s no need to rethread anything. Once the power comes back on, all you have to do is rewind the digital file back a few minutes, check the right sound mix and press play. Much faster and efficient than rethreading a projector.

    Of course, being digital projectors means they automatically start. That’s due to our company, Screenvision, forgetting to send the signal to start the movie (which happens weekly). Last Christmas Day, I’ve had a complaint from one customer about people almost coming to blows because “Up in the Air” didn’t start on time. Seriously.

  • Laura

    At The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, about halfway through, a homeless person who had been kind of muttering to herself from the beginning got up and started to heckle the screen. They didn’t stop the movie for a long time and didn’t rewind, so once they got it started again, we had missed a good 10 minute chunk.

    To be honest, that movie dragged so much that I was glad for the interruption. At least SOMETHING interesting was happening, even if it wasn’t on the screen.

  • Matt C

    I did well for one instance of cinematic interruptus at our theater. After my shift, I went in one auditorium to watch “The Simpsons Movie” — a thunderstorm knocked out the power for a minute (it was the scene after the family got out from under the dome and Colin writes music on the glass for Lisa). It took 5-7 minutes before it started back up again, and rewound a few minutes. So that ended up well.

  • Boingo

    Sharin’ a Funny theater interruption (I wasn’t there).
    Excerpt from the Honolulu Advertiser April 6th,2006:
    Everyone was watching “Ice Age.”
    Viewers were actually seated during the flash flood.

    The water somehow entered theater No. 8 which was showing “Ice Age,” split open the wall to theater No. 7, then crashed through another wall to pour into theater No. 6, damaging 500 seats along the way, said Scott Brazwell, vice president of operations for C—– Theaters.

    “It’s not even clear what really happened,” Brazwell said. “But it was busting through from one auditorium into another into another — almost like storm surge. Pretty much all the seats are muddy or dirty. Thank God no one was hurt.”

    The water then poured through the theater’s lobby and reconnected with the torrent that came in through the glass doors, reaching as high as 10 inches on both sides of the mall.

  • Boingo

    Some memories of odd interruptions:
    At one art house theater, the movie was 15 min. into it.
    I thought like the rest of the viewers, that it was
    supposed to be a certain anamorphic lens effect-the
    figures were squished horizontally . It got too funny when the
    cops on screen busted down a door looking like Keystone
    Cop Munchikin midgets (this was not a comedy). I hailed
    an attendant who eventually changed the wrong lens,
    and we started from the beginning.

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