Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Moviegoing on Vacation
by Christopher Campbell
November 9, 2008
It was partly my love for Argentine cinema that influenced my decision to vacation in Buenos Aires and Patagonia last month. Yet I didn't watch a single film during the two weeks I was there. I'm just not much of a moviegoer when I'm on vacation. Sure, there's the occasional trip to the movies when I'm out of town visiting family, and then there was the time I went to Sundance, which was basically a vacation despite the fact that I was there working with a press pass (I somewhat covered the festival for a zine, but the trip was mostly a big holiday from my regular "day job"). However, when truly traveling, particularly in another country, I just can't find the time - or bear to make the excuse - to go to the movies at all.
The first, most obvious reason for not being a moviegoer on vacation is that there's so much else to do, most of which, unlike moviegoing, I can't experience back home. Like hiking across glaciers, watching protest marches around Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo and sampling as many helpings of locally produced beef and wine as I can before my stomach bursts. Of course, there are some differences with the moviegoing experience in other lands, but most of those differences only deter me further. For instance, there's the issue of certain movies not being presented in English, coupled with the issue that my comprehension of Spanish is terrible despite my many years studying the language in middle school, high school and college. If I'm going to spend two hours of one of my days away watching a film, it has to be a film made in Argentina (preferably something starring Ricardo Darín that isn't likely to ever show up in the US). But it's unlikely that such a film is going to be shown with subtitles to accommodate yours truly.
Even if I am interested in seeing something from Hollywood, it's possible that the movie is dubbed into the local language. This might not be true with all countries or all movies, of course, but it was probably the case with something like Beverly Hills Chihuahua (or Una Chihuahua de Beverly Hills), which was the #1 movie in Argentina while I was there - not that I would have ever wasted my vacation time seeing that. Looking at the rest of the top 5 films at the box office, I was confused about what most of them were. The second top grosser was listed in the paper as Noches de tormenta, which I thought was some generic horror movie, because I mistranslated it as "Nights of Torment" (actual Hollywood title: Nights in Rodanthe). The rest were the Argentine film Un Novio para mi mujer, which I somehow initially thought was My Best Friend's Girl (yep, I'm that bad with Spanish), Mirrors, which I got right as being "another" generic horror film based on its listed title of Espejos siniestros, and Appaloosa, which was called Entre la vida y la muerte. I probably could have learned what these titles were from posters and advertisements, but just looking at the marquee or newspaper listings left me feeling apprehensive (interestingly enough, the oddly named Quantum of Solace, which opened there last week, received no change in title).
I did actually visit one cinema while in Buenos Aires. But it was an old movie palace that had been transformed into the coolest bookstore I've ever seen (El Ateneo Grand Splendid - seen in the photo above). And I did honestly think about going to the movies once, because I thought I would be able to see the full version of Metropolis, a print of which was recently discovered in the archives of Buenos Aires' Museo del Cine Pablo Ducros Hicken. Unfortunately, my Spanish was bad again, and it turned out the film was only shown once, to journalists, a few weeks prior to my visit. Also, while I was in town the museum was closed due to renovations, so I couldn't even at least celebrate and pay my respects to the site of discovery.
Most of my vacation outside of the capital was actually in a place that had no cinemas for thousands and thousands and thousands of kilometers. A small, isolated Patagonian valley town, this touristy spot had its own microbrewery, but no place to see movies. The void makes sense, because there's plenty of Direct TV and wifi there and not enough year-round residents or visitors to make a cinema a lucrative business for the area. Still, one of the first things I thought about after falling in love with the Frontierland-like town was where I'd build my little movie theater when I move there, in order that I may have a similar, yet colder experience to John Pierson has in the documentary Reel Paradise. And with the advances in digital projection with satellite system delivery of films to theaters, it should be easy (though probably not cheap enough) to put a cinema in any once-thought-too-remote locale around the globe.
Going on a solely cinema-related vacation does cross my mind from time to time. I've always dreamed of going on a yearlong tour of cinemas, as MST3K's Kevin Murphy did for his book A Year at the Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey. Plus, the longer I'm a visitor to the website Cinema Treasures, the more I want to take a road trip to visit its many listed classic movie theaters (it's thanks to this site that I learned about the cinema-turned-bookstore). A month ago, I became incredibly jealous of hip-hop artist Prometheus Brown (aka Geologic of The Blue Scholars), who managed to supplement his latest concert tour with a mini tour of American movie theaters. When I went on tour with my old band, I was never able to squeeze in even a single screening, so I applaud Prometheus' time management skills and thank him for piquing my interest in a neat-sounding cinema in Oregon (Bijou Arts Cinemas).
But life is short, and as much as I am a "cinema-phile" in addition to being a cinephile, I've realized there are a lot of things I want to see in real life, as opposed to just in "movie-life." Like visiting Plaza de Mayo after watching Luis Puenzo's The Official Story or stopping by Mount Rushmore due to my love for North by Northwest. And it's not all places and things that I first saw in a movie, either. So, I'm not sorry that I went two weeks without going to the movies. Have you ever gone to the movies on vacation?
El Ateneo photo courtesy of mr. ëd on Flickr.