Jesse Jarnow

from the archives: the multiplex dreams of bollywood

from San Diego Fahrenheit, circa summer 2003:
The Multiplex Dreams of Bollywood

by Jesse Jarnow
“These seats are real comfy,” my friend whispered as exotic birds fluttered floridly across the movie screen and landed.

“Yeah,” I giggled. “It’s almost like they want you to stay.”

We were somewhere in the middle of Winged Migration, a low-grade Disney-style nature flick, in the fourth theater on the third floor of the local multiplex which featured – give or take – 20 or so inexorable looking pieces of shit. But, despite the theater’s dubious quality, they also possessed a refreshing lack of security, coupled with labyrinthine system of escalators and a pair of unwatched smoking decks. It was an unbeatable deal: for $10 one could construct his own Indian-style multi-hour epic replete with sweeping drama, garish dance sequences, and – hell – even a mutant slasher or two. So we did.

From the anthropomorphic goodness of Winged Migration, we dropped into some previews. If Winged Migration was an abstract tune-up, then the previews were an overture. They acted as a series of condensed plot arcs, keynotes for the dramatic themes to be explored later. Under The Tuscan Sun (chick flick), Cat In The Hat (future cult-favorite dark horse), and Brother Bear (a Disney cartoon with a puzzling appearance by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising the McKenzie Brothers in the form of a pair of talking moose), attuned us as viewers to the range of emotions we would likely be expected to feel later.

Then, a dash into the thick of it, to the movie we had actually bought tickets for, the 9:20 show of Spy Kids 3D. As I turned to survey the theater, I realized the other viewers had actual 3D glasses. “Yeah, it’s in 3D,” my friend confirmed, noting my puzzlement.
“Well, why don’t we get some?”

We zipped down the escalator to the Guest Services Counter and demanded what was rightfully ours: two pairs of gloriously old-fashioned cardboard glasses with blue and red cellophane lenses. Back in our seats, the screen instructed us to put our glasses on. We had worn ours up the escalator and into the theater. Suddenly, the landscape morphed into a grid, Tron-like and perfect. For the next 40 minutes, minus a quick nip to the smoking balcony, we were immersed in a genuinely vintage 3D world. It worked as well as could be possibly hoped. Objects shot out of the frame, characters progressed with no other motivation than that it might look cool.

And it did. A senseless feast for the eyes unfurled in a picaresque series of spectacles. The plot was occasionally stirred by a suitably bizarro b-movie villain played with Jerry Lewis aplomb by the impossible-to-take-seriously-ever-again Sylvester Stallone. In 10 years (or even 10 months), this could be a serious midnight classic, assuming theater owners have enough ingenuity to track down (or make) a crate or two 3D glasses. So, the little kid and Grandpa saved the universe or something and it went back to plain ol’ two dimensions, and we split.

Falling plum into the middle of a movie can be disconcerting. At first, one clutches desperately to the dialogue, trying to figure out who is who, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. After doing it two or three times in a row, plots became irrelevant. Other details took on new importance. Dialogue and acting could be taken objectively on their own immediate merits as performances. Messages could be found, y’understand? Any film could be turned into a Rocky Horror-style gimmick-fest with cues and whistles.

I looked for triggers for us to leave: a parrot escaping in a cage in Winged Migration, the end of a montage sequence in Freaky Friday, which we checked out after Spy Kids. Montages kick ass, instantly understandable dumb shows that rarely fail to express cinematic momentum, regardless of the quality of the movies they’re nestled in.

Gigli was the final stop for the evening. A guard hovered by the door of the theater, though made no attempt to stop us, despite the fact that we still wore our 3D glasses. Though it was supposedly legendary in its terribleness, Gigli didn’t seem all too bad — or, at least, no more horrible than a random 10 minutes out of Freaky Friday. There was Ben Affleck, and Jennifer Lopez, and a retarded kid, and Ben Affleck sticking a syringe in his character’s mother’s thong-dipped ass. What’s so bad about that, eh?

It still looked way cooler with 3D glasses on, though, red and blue hues swirling the film to Stan Brakhage-like abstraction. The guard stood by the door. “What if he doesn’t let us leave?” my friend hissed as J-Lo launched into a display of histrionics.

“You got a problem with the retarded kid?” I asked her. “Are you insensitive?”

Apparently, the guard was, because he soon left. And so did we.

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