Observations: Film Screening
Story as Democracy: Sharing the Theater
Hot, Hot, Hot
“How,” I wondered, “can a film screening ever be considered to be a Democratic Process?”
My calendar for the past month has been splashed with color: Pink reading assignments and observation hours for Doing Dem; Green reading assignments, appointments and ideas for Thesis I; and Teal reading assignments, class presentations and observation hours for History of Education. Colors not only help me with my dyslexia, but they are pretty and somehow less daunting.
Photo by RJ Molyneux-Davis, April, 2012
I hate going to a theatre alone, but it seemed like a good way to do observation hours. At the beginning of the semester, each Thursday I had the 8:15 Siskel showing listed, but with each passing week, I found myself filling in those squares with solid pink, my way of eliminating the scheduled event that I had not attended. The time would come and go, and I still had not gone. Desperately behind in hours (well, at least for me feeling desperate), I took a deep breath after exiting the March 23rd lecture at AIC Fullerton Hall determined to proceed.
I have learned to write addresses alongside the events, and somewhere throughout the weeks, I realized the address for the theatre had been pinked out as well. As I stepped down to my apartment’s front desk to let the guys know where I was going and when I would be back (added security, they explained, when they realized I was a single woman who not only had no sense of direction but enjoyed wandering the streets alone at odd hours), I asked them the location of the theatre. “It is a small box, wedged between AT&T and ABC. You know where those are, right?” The blank stare I gave Michael in return let him know I didn’t. First, he threw out too many letters in his reply, acronyms that only serve to confuse me, and I haven’t any interest in television, so why the hell would I know where the ABC studio was located?
“Oh, my God,” he replied, shaking his head. “Just walk down Randoph…” He interrupted himself. “That’s the street we are on, right,” he added sarcastically. I knew if I didn’t get directions, I would use it as yet another excuse not to face the theatre alone.
I meandered through downtown after the lecture on Egyptian art, sucking down my iced latte so I wouldn’t use the next convenient excuse: fear of falling asleep in a theatre if the movie is a boring “artsy-fartsy” film. I flip open my phone and begin talking to my daughter about everything just to distract myself from the task which now confronted me. The caffeine made me jittery and burned in my already churning stomach.
Movies shouldn’t have to be attended alone. They are for couples on dates or family entertainment.
A box, poorly signed, and confusing when you enter. Just like all the other buildings associated with SAIC. Ironic since so many of the courses assign an artistic "Mapping" component. Why was I not surprised? We are to know "where we are artistically," but the Institute doesn't seem to bother clarifying actual physical geographical locations. As I stood in the doorway, I confronted three distinct things: A steep, wide, yet smallish staircase (called “grand” by the sign, which still didn’t provide direction), too much script on the wall (ironic, I have often noted, how SAIC design students have no concept that commercial media, fliers and brochures should contain incomplete sentences with quickly readable font size), and an elevator.
After receiving no further information from signs or the aforementioned indiscernible script on the walls, I surmised, “Well, the theatre must be up the (grand) stairscase.” No wonder I find myself walking around mumbling to myself. SAIC tends to assume everyone has intimate knowledge of all their buildings, refuse to include actual addresses in the majority of their communications, and provide poor if not misleading signs at each location, including even the main map in the lobby at the Institute itself which is drawn perfectly for someone who is dyslexic: precisely backward and in reverse of the actual building's layout.
I walk upstairs to a dimly lit corridor and am greeted by someone behind glass as I read the LED screen with the films and times. “I guess I am a bit early,” I sheepishly explain. “Your webpage indicates the movie begins at 8:15.”
“No,” he responds. “It starts in an hour.”
I am not off to a good start. Do I turn around and head back down Randolph to my apartment or wander the streets for an hour? Knowing that if I return home I will be there for the night, I choose the latter, looking up the nearest Barnes and Noble, which I eventually find after doubling back a few times. The weather is warm, and I enjoy the walk. Although the largest Barnes and Noble I have ever been in doesn’t carry a copy of the Tony Morrison book I need for my thesis (based in part on mapping, ironically), I walk back toward the theatre, now juggling a bag of books, an umbrella, my cell phone with its perpetual GPS open, a scarf, my purse and a half-empty cup of iced latte. Damn.
At least this time, I know I need to make my entrance on “the grand staircase,” but this time do it with less finesse because of the additional baggage. Good thing I don't live in Nineteenth Century France. My entrance alone could potentially cause a riot!
I was right. Everyone was there in pairs or small groups.
“One for Hot Hot Hot.”
I walk into the already full theatre, spilling popcorn and afraid I am going to spill my beer as I excuse my way to the empty seat sandwiched between two couples. “Now I know why I wanted to get here early,” I remind myself. The woman beside me offers to take the umbrella, which is hooked rather securely and stickily over my arm. She doesn’t make the offer out of kindness, I am sure, but out of a sense of self-preservation since it is a cane umbrella with a metal tip.
She struggles to pry it off my sweaty arm, and I squeeze into the row, chuckling quietly to myself as I wonder which will end up on the bald head in front of me: kernels of popcorn or beer.
I settle into my seat and take a last look at my cell phone, which is blinking green, indicating an unread text. “Should I have popcorn with parmesan, plain popcorn or popcorn with butter,” my daughter asks? I fight tears. She didn’t know my destination or what I was doing as we were talking earlier. Popcorn and movie nights were our family tradition. I take a quick pic to forward to her of the now half-empty box in my hand and reply, “With parmesan. Mine just has butter. We can share.”
I live most of my life through virtual reality now, sharing bits of my life with my grown children, family and friends through a 2.5 x 4.5 inch screen, the only device that really manages to keep me grounded. An existence in limited, electronic liminal space, a way of providing both emotional and physical sense of self, community. Quick, witty FB quips shared with people thousands of miles from me that, I hope, adequately mask my life of silent desperation.
Although I am late, I still have ten minutes in which I can pretend not to feel awkwardly alone listening to everyone talk with their fellow movie goers. Who am I kidding? Their companions. The word sticks painfully in the frontal lobe of my cortex, the part of every human brain that processes emotions. Or lack thereof.
Democracy. Government through the voice of the many. Only my voice, from what I can tell, remains silent in the crowded theatre.
No wonder the second part of my thesis is based on a classroom built entirely upon building a sense of community through Democracy. I have lived so much of my life lately in silence. The least I can do is encourage my students to develop their own voices in the classroom, hoping that they walk away from the experience more equipped with the confidence to express themselves in other situations.
Language, notes Manguel, is “an awareness of the importance of finding a common means of communication, of understanding what the other says and of making ourselves understood” (58). Urban space, he notes, “is where men and women gather to eat, sleep, make love, and talk, the central point from which stories are told” (77). Storytelling, he adds, “has the function of lending expression and context to private experiences,” a means through which “the whole of society…can acquire a common, shared meaning” (77). Therein lies the Democracy of a film screening: a movie becomes the voice of one expressed for the many to represent a shared experience.
The writer, the director, the actors, the set designer all pull together, hoping to tell a story which may serve to unify society.
As the movie begins, I realize my crunching popcorn can be heard across the small, confined space, and every movement I make can be felt by my neighbors because the chairs in the theatre seem to be spring loaded. A few minutes into the film, I am thankful for the caffeine since someone else’s snores echo through the tiny theatre.
Hot Hot Hot. I couldn’t even remember what the movie was supposed to be about; I was there only to fulfill an assignment. The protagonist is an awkward, lonely, cold character who timidly refuses to interact with others. I find myself chuckling at how well, at least for myself, the director has, indeed, managed to represent my “private experience,” and once the protagonist pulls out a map to find a location across the theme park where he works, I am hooked.
Mapping. How often do each of us feel isolated, alone, confused in whatever landscape we find ourselves, be it real or virtual, economic or social, sexual or racial? Apparently quite often, for when the movie ends, about a third of the audience claps.
“Stories,” Manguel notes, “change in order to hold the passing of memory” (79). Stories. I love telling them, and I love hearing them, but I don’t want too much to change. I don’t want too much to pass from memory. Therein lies the third component of my proposed thesis: having students record, through whatever mediums they choose (dance, film, photography, visual arts, narrative) their own culture, memory, history and experience to create a sense of agency within their community.
As the majority of the audience slips out of the theatre during the credits, I sit, umbrella, scarf, popcorn, beer, purse, cell phone, bag of books in hand, watching the credits as we always did when we went to the movie together as a family. I leave the empty theatre and step into the warm Chicago spring evening, alone.