Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Baby Night in Synecdoche, New York
by Christopher Campbell
January 12, 2009
Of all movies to see with an auditorium full of crying babies, it just had to be Synecdoche, New York. Fortunately, this was my second time watching the film, which requires a good deal of attention. I usually become distracted when there's only one crying baby, let alone multiple crying babies. Shockingly, I actually came away noticing things in the film I hadn't spotted the first time around. How did this miserable moviegoing experience happen? By accident, of course. Sure, as "The Moviegoer," I've been curious about baby-friendly screenings, but I kept putting off attending one, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, I had only one night available to visit my favorite East Bay theater, the Cerrito Speakeasy. And wouldn't you know, that one night was "Baby Brigade" night.
The worst is that I didn't know this going in. While in line to buy the Speakeasy's delicious metal-bowl-filled popcorn and a draft beer (I got a pint of the somewhat locally brewed Boont Amber Ale), I noticed a woman with a baby. "I hope she's not going to see Synecdoche," I said to my two companions, neither of whom had yet seen the film. Then, while still in line, I noticed two more babies and got a horrible feeling in my gut. One of my party stated that she was pretty sure baby night was a different day of the week.
Oh, but this was indeed baby night, clear enough from the packed house of parents and newborns awaiting us in the auditorium for Synecdoche. I never knew so many people actually take advantage of these nights, but the theater was nearly full. We managed to find a few seats near a baby-less couple. They were likely as unaware as us, and they were nevertheless also going to bravely stick it out. Although the Speakeasy's calendar clearly notes on each Tuesday "Infants 1 year & under welcome," it's easy to miss that little note. Yet what are you to do when you've already bought your ticket and your alcoholic beverages?
Truth be told, though, it wasn't quite as horrible as you'd imagine. Within the first few minutes of the movie, at least five separate babies made a big fuss, and my friends and I weren't sure we could endure. But after awhile, most of the children settled down. In fact, there were only a few times when a baby or two made enough noise to distract me. And the parents of those babies were kind enough to carry their child to the outskirts of the auditorium and good enough to get him or her to quiet down -- for the moment, anyway. I've honestly had worse experiences in my local multiplex involving a single constant crier and his/her incapable (and inconsiderate) parent.
Still, there's no way I'll make the mistake of going to another of these baby nights, at the Speakeasy or elsewhere. And I shall remain critical of their existence. Are they even enjoyable for the parents? I guess they are, in theory, for those who are there with their remarkably silent infants, but the parents of the fussy kids could not have fully appreciated Charlie Kaufman's mind-bending film. Most baby nights feature lowered sound and brighter lighting, which simply aren't worth the benefit of being able to attend a movie without hiring a babysitter. One day I may have offspring, and I would love to bring them to the movies, but that doesn't mean I'm going to want to deal with other people's brats. Perhaps I'm just different from most people?
My companions and I ultimately were able to enjoy Synecdoche, New York, and in the end we managed to have a few laughs about our experience. I joked that when the lights went up, I noticed some babies had turned into old people (similar jokes might be welcome at a Baby Brigade screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). One friend said she truly believes that all those babies in attendance are sure to be screwed up for life after sitting through that particular film. Well, not to come off as a total curmudgeon, but it serves those kids (and their parents) right, if they're indeed bound for Synecdoche-induced therapy, for having nearly ruined my annual trip to one of my favorite cinemas in the country.