We paid $20 to see Robots yesterday. It wasn't worth it. Nor was it worth the hassle to see it.
The day started nicely, despite the snow (!) that fell all day. We had a nice, reasonably stress-free breakfast, did some shopping, then hit a theater we'd never been to before -- the Washington Mall Cinema -- mainly because Robots was playing earlier than it was at our usual theater -- The Crown Center.
Upon entering the theater, we should have turned around and left. The concession stand made up the most of the lobby. Tickets were sold by an eighteen-year-old kid with a Java Man brow who could not annunciate to save his life. The bathrooms were filthy -- the urinals were stained with Jackson Pollock paintings. Bits of the ceiling were coming down. When we chose our seats and sat down, the entire row tilted and shook.
Then the movie started. First, we were assailed with thirty commercials, but that was fine because you couldn't hear them. All that came from the speakers was a loud, grating buzz. Indicating either bad speakers (all forward, by the way - the side speakers were not working) or a bad optical lamp (which means the film's optical track was not being read correctly). Either way, it was indicative of larger problems, so we decided to split and drive the five miles to our usual theater.
We went back to the Cromagnon counter-lad and asked for our money back. He stabbed a finger at a little sign by the cash register--which had been largely hidden by a cup when we'd first arrived. The sign said, among other things, "No Cash Refunds". "We give passes," he said.
"We're not coming back here," Amy said. "Ever. Where's your manager?"
"He's upstairs putting the movies on. He'll be down."
And then he started waiting on other customers who started to filter in, telling one man that Guess Who was a comedy, which made it appropriate for his nine-year-old. Amy, pissed, told the first lady in line, "If you're here to see Robots, there's a problem. Don't pay him or you won't get your money back."
"Just stand over there," the kid said to her, taking his life into his own hands.
"Who are you talking to?" the older woman demanded.
"Them," he said, jerking a finger at us. We had already stepped aside to allow the flow of traffic.
"Well, I'm not going to see Robots," the woman said, with finality that made no sense to me.
The kid muttered something under his breath that Amy didn't catch. "You really don't care, do you?"
"Lady, he'll be down but--"
"And you're too stupid to know how to properly deal with customers, apparently."
"Yeah, that's why I graduated with a 4.0," he said, in his own defense.
Amy sorta snapped at this point. "Whooooaaa! Big man!"
"Where'd you go to school?" he demanded, but she started laughing at him. Other people started to come out to complain about Robots, and the counter kid insisted the manager would be down soon.
At this point, the kid took off his uniform blazer and started flexing his well-developed biceps.
Now things started to click into place for me. Here was a kid who was making minimum wage at a job he did not give a shit about. He either had never been trained to handle irate customers--which we were--or he hadn't the mental capacity to defuse a situation. And, from the flexing, I gathered that he usually solved conflicts through intimidation--stepping out of the evolutionary table long enough to stuff little kids into lockers--rather than rationalization. And I knew we were defeated at this point. The manager was not coming down any time soon, and Amy was about ready to reach across the counter and rip bicep boy a brand new gaping one.
She asked for his name. "I don't have one," he said.
"Wow, you're incredibly rude!"
"You were rude to me first!"
Amy looked at him. "That shouldn't matter, I am a customer and this is not how you treat customer."
She asked the girl at the candy counter for the kid's name. "Why?" she demanded.
And around and around. Ten minutes went by and still no sign of the manager. It wasn't worth getting more and more angry, so I convinced Amy we should leave. "I'm calling your corporate headquarters," she said. The kid shrugged--which was all he could do. His ears were burning with the desire to do one of us physical harm, now that we'd exhausted all his other options. I was kind of hoping he would. Amy beating the living crap out of someone twice her size would have been vastly entertaining. (Trained kick-boxer and Eastern European temper, don't ya know?)
But while our confrontation turned into a scene, I realized nobody cared. They weren't getting involved. They'd been brought to the movies because it was snowing. Yowling kids were in tow of just-from-church grandparents, filing in to see A Lot Like Love and The Pacifier. These people didn't care that the theater was run by gross incompetence. They didn't care that the projectors were set on a lower wattage to "save the life of the bulb" (a complete and utter falacy of the theater industry). They didn't care they were paying to see dim movies and listen to blown speakers. They were the same people who demanded full-screen DVDs and Britany Spears CDs. We were amongst the lowest common denominator.
And the kids behind the counter didn't care either. They didn't care about the theater they worked in, gave no thought to the movies playing. As far as the theater went, if this was the way things were run, I could no longer question their policy of 'no cash refunds'.
Just ten years ago, I was in counter-boy's place. I worked for a couple of movie theaters owned by the same owner. We wore vests and ties, we were responsible for keeping the theaters clean, the bathrooms and the counters. I never ran the projectors because I was not in the Projector's Union, but I understood how they worked. (I had worked as a scab at a separate establishment, just as bad as the Washington Mall Theater, and had worked projectors, platters and breakdown tables). I would often accept double-shifts because I gave a shit about movies and the theater. I was paid $0.10 above the minimum wage at the time. But I never worked with a pair of kids like those I met yesterday. I have worked with my share of dead-eyed teenagers, but not at those theaters. If there were customers angry about something, I knew: "I'm sorry, sir/ma'am, but if you'll please be patient for a moment", or even "I'm afraid I'm not authorized to give you your money back, but if you'd accept a free pass", or "the manager should be down in just a moment". We were taught, 'please', 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry'. And not by the managers; by our parents!
On my way back to the car, it struck me: this is the business I wanted to be involved in. I want to make movies. For what? For studios that only care about the bottom line? For theaters that will show them on dim projectors and unsuitable sound to audiences who couldn't care less as long as they're "entertained"? So that I can keep people like counter-boy and -girl employed for their minimum wages, so they could be indifferent to the people who were paying their salaries?
It was an endless cycle of malaise and ignorance. Why the fuck did I want to be a part of that.
And the punchline of the whole thing? Robots was the most mediocre movie I've seen in a long time. Under-written and pandering, it was a rehash of Shreck right down to the dance number at the end (if not the story, then the structure). There was so little interesting about it, the movie began to erase itself from my memory as each scene progressed. And don't give me the "It's a kids' movie" cop-out! Did you see Monsters, Inc. or The Incredibles? What? Dreamworks is too good for story and character?
When I got home, though, I had a couple of nice emails waiting for me from people who had recently seen The Resurrection Game and had nice things to say about it. But I still wasn't satisfied. Why the hell was I hoping that all the head-to-wall beating I was doing would pay off? So I can get torn apart by internet gore hounds? So I could one day have a movie in a googleplex and watched by the slack-jawed banjo-playing mouth-breathers that make up the Least Common Denominator?
Ultimately, the answer was one of those Afterschool Special moments: I'm doing this for those who will appreciate it, but I'm mostly doing it for me. I want to create things that hadn't existed before I came up with them. I want to leave my own footprint in the sand that could stick around a few years after I'm gone. I want to make movies because I cannot not make movies. I'll never appease the LCD, and I have no desire to.
Counter-boy and -girl are in those jobs because they're just jobs. They need extra money so they can go do whatever it is they want to do. They exhibited no passion of any sort to me, so God only knows where their interests lie. At some point, they'll have to develop some sort of interpersonal skills or else they'll find themselves out of work more often than working, but I really, truly, couldn't care less about these two. Best of luck to you both--I'll never see you again. And if I do, I doubt I'll recognize you because for all your indifference towards us, you made very little impression on me. Such is the depth of your personalities.
To the unseen manager of the Washington Mall Cinema: I hope you're in the Projectionist's Union because they're coming your way soon, as are reps from the National Association of Theater Owners.
And to you who love movies, do not patronize a movie theater that keeps its bulbs dim and allows their speakers to grow fuzzy and faint. Demand your money back. Take the passes they offer and sell them outside the theater before you leave. Let the managers know that you want projectionists, not ushers who know how to push the start button. Let the chains know that you're paying for a service and that you demand that service be provided. Complain. If you don't get the results you want, ask to speak to someone else. Ask for corporate phone numbers. Call these numbers. Trust me: this shit matters and it's worth your time to do so! Otherwise, you're allowing the malaise of the LCD enter your world. And that club has more than enough members!