It had been ages since I’d gone to the cinema multiplex – you know, the kind in the vast parking lot beside the mall. Usually, when we go out for a movie, it’s an art house in Concord or a volunteer-run series at the Music Hall in downtown Portsmouth.
But Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was showing, and we figured we’d better make it there fast. No telling how quickly anything that quirky, formalistic, and savvy would be playing. (As we juggled our schedules, we realized it would have to be Monday night, overriding another activity on my itinerary – as we discovered, if you’re going to hit the big-box of showrooms, that’s the night to do it. We practically had the rectangular cavern to ourselves.)
I’ll leave it to others to lavish praise on the witty plotting that continually turned in unpredictable yet seemingly inevitable developments; the impressive casting and stylized acting; the precise cinematography; or the marvelous interweaving of actual sites in Germany (the hotel interior was actually the atrium of a defunct department store), miniature models of varied scales, and special effects to create a sense of fantastic and delightful artificiality. Anderson, as his fans know, is a moviemaking genius with a voice and vision all his own. (For one engaging detailed look at the roots of the story, click here.)
For me, though, the outing also invoked a series of culture shocks. Now that I’m “retired,” income’s tight, I’ll admit. I’m spending much less than I did before, and gasoline’s toward the top of my out-of-pocket budget. So the current ticket price (go ahead and laugh, you debonair rounders, when I tell you it was $11 apiece for three) made me gasp silently. (I know a good Greek restaurant where we could have dined out for that.) (I’m I really turning into this?)
From my end, it’s hard to take the very interior and decor of consumer society reflected in these big-chain outlets. It all feels plastic, cake-frosted, impermanent, unnatural. No one would want to linger in the vast lobby (what’s the point, anyway?), and no matter how plush, the showing rooms are – well, showing room sounds like something you’d find in a funeral home, which may be a good parallel, except that in much of the country, the mortuaries are usually in some amazing Victorian mansions. Nothing cookie-cutter about them, unlike these concealed warrens. None of this matches what I consider a theater or concert hall or even a house of worship, the kinds of places I prefer to assemble with others.
The third shock came in viewing the trailers and commercials. I’m still offended to be bombarded with big-screen ads after paying what I consider to be inflated ticket prices, after all, but to be hit twice with a promotion for a new computer game was especially egregious, especially with its pseudo-documentary interviews with its “creators,” a handful of pretentious nerds claiming social value for violent nihilism. I’m sorry, their world vision leads nowhere but destruction.
Actually, it was the amplified violence repeated in the trailers as well that most aggravates me. What in the American psyche so fosters terrorism of this scale? What justifies the reveling in gore for so many (and at such a price, even before we get to the price on our psyche)? Here’s the road that deserves a sermon of hellfire and brimstone, indeed. Wake up, folks, will you?
No wonder I prefer intimate, small-scale, gentle, playful, European or indie productions! They, in contrast, have soul and reality.
Anderson, I must confess, goes well beyond the small-scale criterion, but he earns the right to do so. And he’s generous to those who contribute to the effort, from the visual artists to the payroll accountants. One of the things that kept going through my mind as we were watching, actually, was an awareness of the lavish investment he was expending in the process and the question of whether he’d ever make it back. Well, maybe it wasn’t any greater than those of the futuristic trailers we’d watched beforehand, but still … Hollywood and Las Vegas have more in common than I’d like.
Maybe their biggest gamble is in making works that demand to be seen on the big screens rather than on our laptops or TVs via Netflix.
If you were a moviemaker or investor, what would you do? Or, as a film buff, what are you doing now?