I watch a lot of movies. There was a time when I thought I’d be in movies, but I’m past that now, just as I’m pretty sure I’m never going to walk on the Moon or play centerfield for the Yankees. Acting looks like fun, and pays well, too, but then I found out that you have to go to auditions. The first time I sat at a table and tried to sell things at a flea market, I discovered that I have a low threshold for rejection. I quickly reach that point where I’m tempted to grab people by the throat and demand to know what they’re looking for. That wouldn’t be a helpful reputation, I suspect. Word would soon spread that I’m a temperamental artist who’s hard to work with, and there goes my career.
Since abandoning the acting profession, I’ve settled into my new role as an audience member. The money tends to flow in the opposite direction, but at least I get to be the one who does the criticizing.
Not that my observations are harsh, or even significant. Most relate to minor details that most people would fail to notice, or choose to overlook. Here are a few.
1. It rains in every movie. It’s never a light rain, or a normal rain, either. It’s always a sudden downpour that appears to be located directly above someone’s head — or their house, if it’s an indoor shot. The drops of water are the size of small plums and threaten to dent the tops of cars. Apparently, film makers have this machine that simulates precipitation, and they’re required to use it in every movie in order to justify the investment. As far as I can tell, this is just another example of Hollywood extravagance. A garden hose would work almost as well. But heavy rain is dramatic, so the cinematic monsoons are likely to continue, and as always we’ll see very few films that take place in the desert, or on the planet Mercury.
2. There are also people smoking cigarettes in every movie. There’s usually no reason for them to light up, so you may not consciously notice it, but once you do, it’s startling to see how often it happens. I wonder if the tobacco companies are subsidizing the rain machine, and getting free commercials in return.
3. Most movies force us to read too much. I read all day, so when I sit down to watch something, I don’t want to be confronted with emails, text messages, Internet searches, and notes on crumpled scraps of paper. These fragments of information are always shown during a pivotal point in the story, and difficult to decipher on our relatively tiny television. This usually causes me to grow agitated, point to the screen, and yell out, “What did that say? Who wants to meet him where and for what?”
4. Subtitles are especially confounding. At the end of the film, the credits scroll up, and I see that many hundreds of people have worked on the production. There are grips and gaffers, prop supervisors and boom operators. There is a person whose job it is to load the film into the camera, and another who pulls cables around the floor of the set. These jobs are extremely specific. The hairstylist probably has his own hairstylist. I have to think that it must be someone’s responsibility to look at the subtitles and make sure they’re readable. If dialogue is important enough to translate, it’s likely to be somewhat crucial to the plot. But apparently, when a film slips over budget, the subtitle guy is the first to go, replaced by a blindfolded court stenographer. As a result, we get white letters superimposed onto a snowstorm. We also get characters rattling away in a foreign language while the English version flies by at the bottom of the picture, causing me to lean forward and again scream, “She called her mother when and heard what about whose sister?” This isn’t a major problem at home, where the rewind and pause buttons are always within reach. At the theater, however, it causes me to miss the rest of the movie because now my mind is preoccupied with formulating the indignant letters I’m planning to send to the director, the cinematographer, and the head of the production company, and maybe their hairstylists, too.
5. Chase scenes bore me beyond description. I usually find myself wishing that all the vehicles involved would slam into a wall or drive over a cliff, just so it would stop. Sometimes the chase is on foot, with people scrambling up ladders, across rooftops, and through dark alleys cluttered with barrels of trash. In most of these scenes, at least one of the people who’s driving or running is unfamiliar with the location, yet seems to know every shortcut and secret hiding place. I yell at the screen once more, but they’re all too busy dodging taxis, delivery trucks, and skidding buses to hear a word I’m saying.
6. Romantic comedies should have a running-time limit of ten minutes. This is how long it takes me to figure out who’s going to end up with whom. And believe me, I’m not exactly an insightful viewer. I had to watch The Three Stooges twice, because I missed most of the nuance the first time.
At the beginning of a romantic comedy, one of the main characters is engaged to someone who is rude, insensitive, and not a good listener. Don’t worry. They will not get married. Also, very close to the end of the film, the couple you’re hoping will be together will appear to break up and you might fear that their relationship is doomed. It isn’t. At the last possible moment, one of them will jump on a plane and go to Belgium, where the other person has been living for the past year, apparently without any social life whatsoever. They will kiss in the doorway, say something charming, and that’s the end of the story.
As the credits roll, there will be another short clip up in the corner, showing the couple now happily married with three kids and a dog. And who knows? Maybe someday my name will be among those hundreds that scroll by in a blur. I won’t be playing a main character, but more likely an astronaut or a baseball player. Or I might be the guy at the flea market, grabbing a customer by the throat. But no matter the role, I’m sure it’ll be raining really hard, and we’ll all be smoking cigarettes and sending each other important messages that you won’t be able to read. You can count on that.