Living Hell - Volume #2, Issue #8


July 17, 2002

Special Essay Writin' Fool Edition!


  o World Without Movies
  o License Plate Covers
  o The Night The Inmates Howled (teaser)

World Without Movies

Fourteen months ago, I stopped going to the movies.  Went cold tur-
key, as they say, opting out of a years-in-the-following routine of
watching and reviewing two to three films a week.  'Twas a ritual
initiated every Wednesday, when the coming weekend's releases were
announced.  I'd spend Wednesday and Thursday forming "attack strate-
gies" for Friday through Sunday's movies, with factors ranging from
running time-- would I be breezing through an 85-minute "quickie" or
suffering a nearly three-hour epic?-- to geographic proximity, e.g.
enough of a "buffer" between same-day screenings of different films
at different theaters.  It wasn't always a last-minute scramble,
mind you, as most movies opening on a given Friday-- or, occasion-
ally, on an given Wednesday-- were known about ahead of time.  I had
a hunch of what was coming week to week, thanks to Web-based release
lists I consulted.  I also called the theaters, asking if they were
booked for a particular film and, more importantly, if it was show-
ing on the best screen in the house!  (More notable releases were
marked on my personal calendar and for *highly* anticipated titles--
e.g., a seasonal blockbuster, a "Batman" movie, etc.-- I'd even take
a vacation day.)

Since the *specifics* of particular showings were rarely known be-
fore midweek, my *weekend* plans invariably were "up in the air" un-
til Wednesday.  Or later.  And which wreaked havoc with my personal
life as friends and girlfriends didn't entirely understanding this
"repeating limbo" I kept placing myself in.  The merciful exception
to the "Wednesday Rule" was when a "sneak preview" was attended for
a coming weekend release.  Advanced screenings negated the need to
see a particular film on Friday or Saturday or Sunday, thus freeing
precious free time.  Unless, of course, I opted to screen an *addi-
tional* movie on a particular weekend.  Plus I got to see something
for free.  (Even matinee prices add up over time!)  Unfortunately,
said "sneaks" also their downsides.  Unlikely sparsely attended Fri-
day afternoon showings-- my preferred choice-- Tuesday or Wednesday
or Thursday night screenings were usually packed, requiring a half-
hour's early arrival to ensure decent seats.  Plus armrest-sharing
with the Great Unwashed, with the odds always favoring the evening's
most odiferous stranger sitting *right* next to you.  (If memory
serves, a friend and I once rubbed something mint inside our nos-
trils to counteract a nearby nicotine cloud.  Might've been cold
medicine...)  Thankfully, my last years of sneak-peeking included
"press seats," which were roped-off ahead of time and negated the
need for early arriving.  But those weren't the only problems.

Most "sneak peeks" are sponsored, by one or two or three local media
companies, usually radio or television stations.  Translation:  de-
layed starts, due to shouted announcements, cornball cheerleading,
and the requisite "shout outs" to attendee viewers slash listeners.
And a giveaway or two, typically t-shirts or ball-caps, as well as
pins, posters, drink holders, drink cups, sweatshirts, snow globes,
cassette tapes, compact discs, and paperback books.  (You should
*see* my closet, friends...)  Some were awarded to trivia winners--
which, when film-related, I was prone to winning-- others were tos-
sed to the hungrily waiting crowd.  (Was *is* it about free stuff
that makes us lose all sense of propriety, anyway?)  All this errata
was a terrible "time eater," delaying the start of films by five or
ten or sometimes fifteen minutes.  Add a thirty-minute early arriv-
al, plus ten minutes of trailers-- trailers that you've *already*
seen ten times over-- and an entire *hour* gets wasted on top of the
feature film's running time.  (One solution utilized more recently:
arriving "late," e.g. missing most of the "previews," but still put-
ting butt in chair in time for the opening credits.  Now, as to the
matter of base predictability of opening scenes and the necessity of
seeing versus skipping, we'll leave that for later essay...)

Thus began my movie weekend, with Friday, Saturday, and sometimes
Sunday already set aside for whatever films weren't "sneaked" during
the week.  Thus *also* began an increasingly honest amount of re-
sentment regarding same.  See, most people "become" a movie critic
because they love watching films.  So they watch *lots" of them.  Or
maybe *all* of them-- all of whatever lands in local theaters, mean-
ing good, bad, *and* ugly.  The "Dude Where's My Cars?"  The "Scary
Movies."  The Adam Sandler starrers.  And no matter the leanings of
a particular reviewer, as your "numbers" climb into the hundreds or
thousands, it becomes impossible to avoid a shift in perspective.
Simply, the more movies you see, the more you *know* about movies.
And, thus, the more readily you recognize flaws.  On a good day, e-
ven the most odious of films could be enjoyed on some sadistic lev-
el.  On not-so-good-days, such suck-fests simply glazed the eyes.
The mind wandered, the buttocks grew restless, and, at least for
*this* former film critic, the temptation to walk out grew stronger
and stronger.  (Here, have some numbers: in 1994, I walked out of
one movie.  In 1995, out of four.  In 1996, out of four.  In 1997,
out of nine.  In 1998, out of 11.  In 1999, out of 19.  In 2000, out
of 32.  In 2001, a partial year, out of 5.  See a pattern here?)

Expectedly, this inevitable "critical shift" also affects a person's
*base* enjoyment of movies.  Slight flaws can become glaring, over-
exaggerated distractions.  Or, on the flip side, below-average films
might strike a chord and be seen as far *better* than objectively
deserving.  Yours Long Suffering attempted to sidestep this problem
by assigning less-partial letter grades.  Ergo, no matter if I gush-
ed nor ranted in my *written* comments, I could still provide an
"objective assessment" with the letter grade.  Of course, this con-
fused readers to no end, each wondering why I seemed to genuinely
love or hate so many "B" or "C" films.  If it all sounds horribly
bleak-- the slow-draining of a long-savored pleasure, rest assured
that "great movies" still retained their power to amaze.  And not
just beloved old "classics" but those all-to-rare *recent* "A" ef-
forts like, oh, "Chicken Run," "The Straight Story," and "You Can
Count on Me."

So, no, endless reviewing wasn't entirely an exercise in diminishing
returns.  Rewards were reaped both big and small-- an honestly great
movie once every two or three months, or just a really good *scene*
in an otherwise exceptionally unexceptional film.  Plus, I derived
no small pleasure from the mechanical acts of writing, reviewing,
and self-editing movie reviews.  Equally enjoyable were the routine
tasks of running a Web site.  (So sue me, I enjoy certain repeti-
tive, detail-oriented tasks...)  Most fun of all, though, was the
mail.  Fan letters, which I'd read and usually respond to.  Compli-
ments were sweet, succulent strokings, but nowhere near as much as
fun as the disagreements.  Or outright blasts.  So much fun, in
fact, that I compiled and posted *compilations* of the most colorful
missives every couple of months.  (With sardonic asides, of course,
by Yours Parenthetical.)

Then came the waiting.  Following the posting of the reviews on Sun-
day or Monday, I'd wait to hear from friends or family members who
were mailed personal copies, hopefully chuckling at some in-joke or
odd comment targeted at them.  (Writers write for *remembered* read-
ers, says me.)  I'd wait to hear from the error-checkers and proof-
readers and other obsessive types who were so good at finding typos,
misspellings, and factual errors.  (For filmographies and the like,
I relied largely on the Internet Movie Database.  Fabulous site.)
And every now and then, I'd discover that the *wrong* review had
been sent and would hastily resend or repost the correct one.  (In
earlier years, truth be told, I also wondered about the "critical
consensus" and, after watching and reviewing a movie, would ask my-
self "am I the only one who liked / didn't like it?")

So passed the years of an Internet-based movie reviewer.  No pay.
Little glory.  Some gratis, notably in the form of sneak-preview
pass and a handful of "screener" tapes (or DVDs) at the end of the
year.  Got some major minor recognition.  And one helluva weekly
writing exercise.  Eight years and around 1200 reviews, pursued
every. single. week, even when on vacation.  Even when on trips.
And *especially* on holidays, when multiple major releases collided
at the cineplex.  And then one day in May, 2001, I'd had my fill.
Just like that.  I posted a couple announcements, notified a few
folks, and stopped going to the movies.  Just like that.  Oh sure,
I've been back.  Maybe a half-dozen times.  Even saw "Spiderman."
By my heart hasn't been in it.  My attention too easily wanes and
I'm bored after an hour.  Or less.  Nor have I been watching new
movies on *tape*.  They don't interest me, either.  Only the "old-
ies" have made my play lists-- favored favorites like "Blazing Sad-
dles," "Revenge of the Pink Panther," and "Airplane!"  Sold most of
my film books.  Cancelled most of my movie magazine subscriptions.
And *attempted* to turn that voluminous amount of energy into some-
thing more compelling.

Fourteen months later, the results have been relatively successful.
Instead of compulsively attending and reviewing movies, I'm compul-
sively collecting fire models, acquiring fire books, and researching
histories of local fire departments.  I still open Friday's paper
and turn straight to the movie listings.  The phantom limb hasn't
*completely disappeared*.  I'm still writing, too, mostly humorous
and topical stuff.  And, where Movie Hell Dot Com was once updated
every week, Legeros Dot Com now bears the brunt of my focused ener-
gies.  I was even given a DVD player for Christmas and have since
discovered the stress-releasing benefits of replayed comedy.  Like
Mel Brooks first appearance in "Saddles," Sellars as Clouseau as La-
trec in "Panther," or the airplane crew "on instruments."  Nearly a
world without movies.  I've even become calm when visiting the gro-
cery story, finally insulated to the oppressive barrage of video
posters promoting ill-remembered movie titles.  Nor do I cringe any
more when browsing Blockbuster.  Bad movies fade.  Bad experiences
are forgotten.  And only beloved friends remain.  Like Striker.  Or
Kato.  Or Heddy.  That's Hedley.

License Plate Covers

Don't know if they're legal, but they sure seem an effective defense
against revenue-generating schemes involving cameras, traffic sig-
nals, and flash photography:


The Night The Inmates Howled

"Gentlemen, you may call me a sentimentalist, if you will, and an
idealist, if you desire, but it is not upon these grounds that I am
appealing to you now," says State Fire Marshall Sherwood Brockwell
at the last North Carolina Legislature, concluding his latest appeal
for protective measures.  "I am appealing to you as a business pro-
position.  As sure as you live, if fire ever breaks out in institu-
tions like the State Hospital without an adequate sprinkler system,
it's a goner I tell you, for you'll never be able to stop the fire."
The State Hospital For The Insane is the preferred text of the for-
mer Raleigh Fire Chief and first head of the department, when the
RFD became paid professionals in 1912.  He has "begged, beseeched
and implored" successive legislatures to install sprinkler systems
in such institutions and, as entertainment at Rotary and Kiwanis
luncheons, he has carried his appeal all across the state.  Nor is
he above "pleading on bended knee" to budget commissions and legis-
lative bodies, some members of which have tears in their eyes when
he's finished.  But still no sprinklers at Dix Hill.  And thus the
exquisite irony in April, 1926, when Brockwell lent his seasoned
hand at Raleigh's biggest fire in years.  At the State Hospital.

Saturday, April 10.  The headlines of the five-cent "Raleigh Times"
trumpet "President of China Deposed," "Cake Eater To Pay Penalty In
Electric Chair," and "When Is A Pound Of Shot Worth Almost $2,000?"
(The latter's subheading reads "Faulty Scale Weight Case Reaches Su-
preme Court.")  Advertisements ask "Tired?  Run Down?  Eat SHREDDED
WHEAT, contains all the vitamins" and "Have you ever heard the
statement 'Oh, I don't want to go there for luncheon, I know their
menu by heart-- I want something different.' Our policy is to change
the menu.  CAROLINA CAFE."  There's a dirigible over France, some
dead British airmen, and one "Lieutenant MacReady" who failed to
break some record after having reached "an altitude of 34,000 feet."
And, at 12:55 p.m. that day, the first alarm for a fire at the In-
sane Asylum.  Flames are discovered "bursting from a small window in
the attic at the center of the north wing of the main building."
The wing that houses the men's wards.

[ To be continued ]

Copyright 2002 by Michael J. Legeros




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