For all the faults of my college, there’s one thing they have to offer that almost makes the $65,000 tuition worth it. I can deal with the over-processed food, the questionably sturdy elevators, and the at-times underwhelming professors so long as the school continues to deal out the one thing that feeds my film major soul.
Free movie screenings at the theater across the street. The building itself is a majesty; an extension of the AMC theater chain, it’s a perfect storm of old school and modern cinema. Gold, classical detailing, dozens of movie posters lining the walls, and stories upon stories of films being played. Just thinking of it now has me holding back tears.
Equally beautiful as the theater itself is the feeling of plopping yourself in one of the cushy seats, watching the trailers play, and knowing that the only expense for it all is the popcorn nestled on your lap. What’s even better is the occasional early screening. The knowledge that you’re seeing a film before the rest of the world is a kind of power usually reserved for (I imagine) drug cartels and pimps. It’s a high you can’t pay for (literally).
It was one of these early screenings that gave me one of the best viewing experiences of my life. My school had the opportunity to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out a couple of weeks before its February 24th release date. Its rotten tomatoes score (then 100%) set my expectations pretty high, and I was eager to see what a funny man like Peele could do with a horror flick. As the theater flooded with my classmates, there was a energy only college kids just given free stuff can bring. I was swept up in it immediately, and before the first scene was even over I had fallen in love with Get Out.
As the movie played on, I was hyperaware of being part of an audience. Every funny moment was a riot. Every scare earned a scream, gasp, or heckle. While this would typically take a person out of the movie, it only served to draw me in deeper. I think that this is the power of horror, as well as comedy, and the reason that Peele’s directorial debut was so successful. Horror films (good ones, anyway) are scary because something about them connects with us; whether it be imagining ourselves in the character’s shoes, having a fear played out on screen, or feeling the pain of the FX gore. It’s precisely the reason why we yell at the protagonist to not open the closet, cringe at a character’s wounds, or fall victim to jump scares. When horror is done right, it’s going to get a reaction, and it’s going to be a strong one.
The same is true of a comedy. What makes a movie funny is its ability to get a rise out of its audience. These elements are all present in Get Out. Peele created a film that is at once terrifying and uproarious, and in doing so he expertly pulls reactions from the viewer(s). As we watched the story unfold, everyone in the audience was undeniably there, both as an individual spectator and as a part of the whole. We couldn’t help but yell warnings at Chris, heckle the oblivious white folks, and hyena laugh anytime Rod was on screen. And again, this should have alienated us from the world of the movie- but Get Out is a film so aware of itself that the audience interjection only served to make it better. It has undeniable prowess as a movie, but what really made me enjoy Get Out were the circumstances around seeing it. The theater was full of energy, shifting from excitement to unease to amusement with the drop of a hat. There are few things equal to the feeling of being among others and knowing you’re all equally riled up about the same thing. And as someone who wants to work in film, it was nothing short of heartwarming to have this applied in a theater setting. What’s better was the fact that the majority of the audience was comprised of VMA majors. It was the most honest form of moviegoing; each of us unapologetically freaking out, sporting our passion for film in a place we knew it would be understood (and, in fact, celebrated).
Film is such a personal medium that it’s easy to forget that every movie we love is not tailor made for us. The beauty of film is that it is simultaneously intimate and universal, and such is never truer than when you’re seated in a packed theater. While each member of the audience has their own experiences which allow them to form an individual opinion, at the same time film is a group activity. I have often fallen victim to that possessiveness one can feel over a movie, but here’s what that first viewing of Get Out taught me: You can’t own a movie. Even if you do own a physical copy, who the film ultimately belongs to is each and every person that has ever seen and loved it. And when you can embrace this idea, there’s a real sense of camaraderie that comes with going to see a movie in theaters.
Yes, it’s easy to get annoyed at the guy who yells at the screen or the girl who laughs too loud at any remotely funny moment. But it’s all an inherent part of going to the cinema. Some movies are just meant to be watched on a big screen, and to completely ignore your fellow moviegoers is to miss out on half the experience.
(Except for the guy who just has to keep his phone on. Fuck that guy.)