Sugar Water: Robert’s Rules of Order

Written by Film, Music, Sugar Water

I didn’t mean to take a three-week vacation from writing Sugar Water, but here I am with my first post for the month of April, which is already on its way out the door. But did you see that interview I did earlier this month? And those record reviews? And that Chart Attack! I wrote while Jason Hare’s in detox (again)? Those things didn’t write themselves, you know. (Or at least that’s what the computer program that actually did write them told me over and over again, but then I reminded the computer program that it doesn’t have emotions and shouldn’t be complaining.) I was also out of town last weekend, and I was in detox myself the weekend before that, but not because I have a drinking problem like Jason does — my problem is that I swallowed some toxic waste (again).

I also did my part for Record Store Day yesterday by going to Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Chicago and buying Office’s A Night at the Ritz and David Cross’s It’s Not Funny on CD. Then I set fire to an Apple Store to kill all the Apple computers that have iTunes on them, because iTunes is killing record stores. You should’ve heard those computers cry out in pain — until I reminded them they can’t feel pain. Anyway, Sugar Water had to be put on hold for a while.

Two weekends ago I went AWOL from detox for a few hours to attend a screening of the documentary Movin’ On Up: The Music and Message of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions at the Chicago Cultural Center. Movin’ On Up will be released on DVD next month by Reelin’ in the Years Productions, which specializes in music documentaries that include full, uninterrupted performances, either from decades-old concerts or TV shows, by the artist or artists who are being profiled. Movin’ On Up is worth seeing if you’re a Mayfield fan, though it would’ve been nice to see more archival interview footage of Mayfield, who died in 1999, talking about his songs.

Before I attended this screening of Movin’ On Up, the last movie I’d seen in a theater was David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, way back in September. I used to have Thursdays off from work, which is when I would usually see movies, but my schedule changed at the end of September, and I’m a little too claustrophobic and agoraphobic to brave the local cinemas on weekends, plus I can hear everything that every single person in the theater is saying. If there’s a pill I can take to turn down the volume of those voices for two hours, let me know.

The thing is, before college I never noticed anyone talking in the theater, and I used to go to movies like The Fugitive on opening night without ever feeling a sense of dread that I was going to be stuck in front of, behind, or next to the loudest couple in attendance. Back then not many people had cell phones, of course, but people have always talked in movie theaters. Even if they’re by themselves, they talk — I remember going to a movie on a weekday afternoon back in 1997 where it was just me and one other guy in the theater, and he talked to the previews. I think he was disappointed that they didn’t respond.

Now I’m curious as to whether someone said to me in my freshman year of college, “People are constantly talking during movies and they act like their voices don’t carry,” and suddenly a switch was flipped in my brain. I know that back in 2001 when a friend of mine was talking about great bass lines in songs and I commented that I never noticed those things, suddenly I was noticing bass lines after we had that conversation. Same thing with digital compression, which I’ve started noticing more and more on CDs recently, but I might’ve continued to not notice if I hadn’t said to Jason and Jeff Giles, “I never notice that stuff.” So, whoever said to me back in 1994 or ’95 that people talk all the time at movies, I want you to know that I’ve forgotten you but I’ll never forgive you.

I used to think that the sparser the crowd, the less likely the chance for people to run their mouths, but that’s not the case at all — people in small crowds tend to talk more because they think they can’t be heard if no one’s sitting directly in front of, behind, or next to them. Therefore I should go to movies on opening weekend when the crowds are huge and people are less likely to talk, right? Maybe, but when I’ve done that in the past, I’ve been quickly reminded that I’m “tragically single,” to quote the great film critic Libby Gelman-Waxner, and my peripheral vision keeps noticing dozens of cell phones lighting up so moviegoers can receive important text messages like “Where u @? Luv, Grandma.”

In the spirit of peaceful moviegoing for all, I’ve come up with a list of three rules that I hope will make going to the movies a more pleasant experience for everyone:

1. Do not bring your four-year-old child to a movie made for adults, specifically a documentary like Movin’ On Up. He/she will be bored to tears or, more likely, bored to whines, e.g. “I’m hungry” and “I want to go home” and “You’re an awful parent for dragging me to a documentary about Curtis Mayfield. Even if his children were named Dora the Explorer and Elmo and he used to be in a group called the Doodlebops, I would still be questioning your judgment.” Pay for a babysitter. If you cannot afford one, a locked closet will be provided for your child. Actually, that’d be cruel. Instead, a locked closet will be provided for you, and your child will be dropped in the “Lost and Found” box behind the concession stand.

2. Do not show up 25 minutes into the movie. Movin’ On Up was free, so those who showed up almost a quarter of the way into the film weren’t flushing money down the toilet like they normally do when they go to the local multiplex and arrive long after the coming attractions have ended and the movie’s begun. Besides, when you consider the staggered showtimes that most multiplexes schedule these days — for example, four movies taking up 21 screens and a blockbuster like Iron Man showing at 3:00, 3:05, 3:10, 3:15, and 3:20 — there’s no excuse for you not to change your plans slightly and go to the 3:20 showing instead of the 3:00. Because when you show up almost a half-hour late and take your sweet, sweet time sitting down in front of uptight people like me, you’re suddenly a coming distraction, and I keep waiting for the scene in our real-life drama in which you, the villain, meets a satisfying end. But if your head fails to explode or demons don’t drag you down into the deepest circle of hell, I’m fine with you simply leaving the theater ten minutes after you arrived. That’s what the couple in front of me did at Movin’ On Up they showed up 25 minutes late and left ten minutes later. But during those precious ten, the female grooved in her seat to the Impressions’ songs, talked to her boyfriend/husband/male escort, and turned around to look at whoever was coming into the theater each time the doors at the back opened up. Maybe she was expecting Mayfield’s ghost to make a surprise appearance.

3. Shut up. Shut your mouth. Seriously, shut up. Unless what’s coming out of your mouth is “Fire!” or “Rape!” or “I’m offering a refund to everyone who paid full price to see this disaster,” you have nothing important to say. And if the fire you’ve spotted is a small one, don’t be such a baby — put it out yourself, quietly, and inhale the smoke as quickly as you can so it doesn’t draw the attention of your fellow moviegoers.

Three simple rules, that’s all. And if you want to judge me for being the Adolf Hitler of moviegoing, that’s fine. I know I’m not perfect. As Curtis Mayfield himself said, “If there’s a hell below we’re all gonna go.” That’s where we’ll meet Hitler himself, who’s celebrating his 119th birthday today with all those demons I mentioned earlier. Happy birthday, H! Are you going to watch the rough cut of Tom Cruise’s new World War II movie, Valkyrie, for your birthday? I’ve heard rumors that it didn’t turn out the way United Artists was hoping and that’s why the film was first pushed back from its initial June release date to October, and now from October to next February. But you shouldn’t get to watch a good movie down there in hell anyway, Hitler; that would kind of defeat the purpose of the place. And now that I think about it, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater in hell would probably be justly ignored.

Curtis Mayfield, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go” (from 1997’s The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield)