Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Asleep at the Reel

November 24, 2008

Asleep at the Reel

I used to think the worst moviegoing experiences were those in which the print or projector breaks mid-film and you're sent home with a readmit ticket and only a partial viewing. We've all experienced such snafus, more often perhaps in the age of non-professional projectionists, though modern practices have also allowed for quicker repairs. When I worked as a manager and projectionist, I had plenty of film snaps, tangles and power shortages, but I rarely had to cancel a show completely unless an outside technician or bulb replacement was needed. Usually the movie was back on screen in a matter of minutes.

I thought maybe the whole idea of film breaks and readmits would become a thing of the past once digital projectors were introduced. Maybe there'd be room for new glitches that come with the format, but there wouldn't be snaps. Or tangles. Or even scratches, for that matter. However, a recent mishap last week at a press and industry screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at the Director's Guild of America theatre in Los Angeles is proving that digital projection is not exactly the fault-free savior of film exhibition that some have thought it to be. Barely 25 minutes into Button, the image froze and the film stopped playing. And after a few attempts to get the Oscar-contender running again, the audience was told that it would not continue, and they were dismissed, left to wonder what else to do with the remaining hours they'd set aside for the screening. And when they'd find time to try and see it all over again.

That experience must have been terrible, but at least there was something to blame. And while the time lost may be translated into financial setbacks for some of the viewers, there was no direct money lost or wasted by the audience. This is why the actual worst moviegoing experiences are those in which you fall asleep. Whether it's just a quick doze or a nap that lasts through the majority of the feature, any kind of shuteye is a frustration for the moviegoer. Unless you have cash to burn and don't really care about movies, falling asleep for even a few minutes is guaranteed to ruin your enjoyment of the film at hand.

The first disappointing snoozes for me came in film school, when I was still not accustomed to either watching foreign films in the early morning or watching silent films at all. I would doze off in anything from Greed to Nights of Cabiria. On a bad day, I couldn't even keep my eyes open for an engaging American talkie like Casablanca. At the time, though, it didn't seem too big a deal. Not until I began paying off the student loans and professionally leaning more towards film studies than film production did I realize how truly upsetting it was that I'd missed so much of so many great films (this was before DVDs came along).

My first immediate frustration came during a midnight screening of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I fell asleep around the midway point and was probably only out for two or three scenes, hardly enough to become lost in such a lengthy and straightforward story. Yet I awoke feeling groggy and annoyed at myself and then ended up taking the blame out on the rest of the film. To this day, I still haven't rewatched the first LOTR installment, instead continuing to dismiss it as something I'll always dislike. To be fair, I stayed awake entirely through the second and third films and wasn't quite into them, either. It's still initially my own fault for dozing off and thus being unable to fully appreciate the film.

Who likes to accept blame for anything entirely, though? Especially something that has us losing money and time, as well as the disadvantage of lacking a complete and objective experience of a movie. My favorite thing to blame is the heat inside the cinema. This is particularly useful this time of year, when I walk through NYC in below-freezing temperatures and then quickly transition to a warm, dark auditorium. The temperature change will almost always get me, and so I hope that even in the depths of winter that a theater will keep the A/C blowing. Unfortunately, they rarely do, and so I find myself snoozing at some point during a Carole Lombard double feature at Film Forum, as happened last week.

Though I've already got the heat and pitch-black auditorium to blame, I'll also go ahead and fault the contrast between the snappy, laugh-out-loud tone of My Man Godfrey and the slower, talkier, theatrical comedy of Twentieth Century, during which I decided to close my eyes, just for a moment, and listen to the dialogue at a point when not much was happening visually. I woke up minutes later wholly irate. Not just because I felt like I'd missed something important, but also because my contact lenses were so dry that one of them immediately popped out and I had to continue viewing the film with one eye shut.

There is no certain circumstance to these unwelcome and unexpected naps. I'll nod off in anything from an 8AM film festival screening to an afternoon showing of Transformers, during a silent film or an eardrum-bursting action movie, with film prints or digital projection (though not yet with 3-D). And each time there's really nobody or nothing else to blame but myself. Even if it's partly genetic (my mother can't stay awake during any movie) or more common in the winter, there's no blaming the film or the cinema, no getting a refund or unfairly giving a critique that the movie was too boring. There's only allowed the continued disappointment with my own attention level and drowsiness and the occasional questioning of my chosen profession and favored pastime. And sadly, this worst kind of moviegoing experience will continue to exist regardless of advances in projection technology or changes in format.

Sleeping photo courtesy of vsqz on Flickr.

Find more posts: Editorial, Opinions



I feel for you I feel asleep during Fellowship as well...same with Gattaca...sometimes the films are just too long or that you need more sleep before heading into lengthy movie

Christopher Marc on Nov 24, 2008


LOL, this reminds me of my university lectures. If I want to catch a little shut eye between classes there's nothing quite like a chemistry lecture to get you dozing fast. Unfortunately I actually have to take the course next semester ;o

jman571 on Nov 24, 2008


I fell asleep during the 4.5 hours screening of Che at TIFF this year, although I blame the fact that it was on the second last day of the festival and I was exhausted from seeing other things all week. Still, no matter how tired I am I can usually stay awake if I'm engaged as an audience member. I only tend to fall asleep if I am indeed genuinely losing interest.

Liz on Nov 24, 2008


This is something I've always found odd about some people I know. It doesn't matter how good/loud/funny/action-packed a movie is, they often fall asleep if it's sometime after sundown. And by some people I mean the gf. And my movie-buff cousin as well. Doesn't matter how slow or boring a movie is, I rarely fall asleep, unless I'm sleep deprived from the get-go, which is why I missed about 20 minutes of The Life Aquatic. But I really believe that technical difficulties are more likely to ruin a movie for me than a quick nod-off. Especially those that are recurring throughout the movie, like a line in the middle of the screen, or the bass being muffled, or a constant clicking sound (like when I watched Speed Racer on IMAX). It takes you out completely, which is why my Star Trek trailer-watching experience was recently ruined.

Alfredo on Nov 24, 2008


The only movie I ever fell asleep in was Zodiac, but I can see what you mean about never giving the movie another chance because to this day I still don't like that film...maybe it had to do with me already knowing the ending so my mind couldn't rationalize staying awake.

peloquin on Nov 24, 2008


the seats are so comfortable. who wouldn't want to fall asleep. Hahahaha

darrin on Nov 24, 2008


If you have a chronic problem with falling asleep and being tired, I'd seriously ask your doctor about either sleep apnea or to see if you have any other kind of breathing obstruction that might make you snore like a deviated septum. Aside from staying up too late, I used to fall asleep alot during slow movies and it was partly because of these kinds of things which, though I was sleeping the whole night weren't allowing me to get enought restful sleep. I'd definitely check it out.

AD on Nov 24, 2008


You could always just start going to support groups. I hear that works for some people. Try going to the Testicular Cancer meetings on Wednesdays, or Leukemia on Fridays. You'll be sleeping like a baby in no time, and you'll have no problem staying awake for even the longest and slowest of films. Or try chewing some Bavarian root.

Tyler D. on Nov 24, 2008


I've fallen asleep during every midnight premiere I've been too except Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight

Kail on Nov 24, 2008


While I agree digital cinema isn't the fix-all to technical difficulties, it does eliminate the painstaking film scratches that the gentleman in the fourth comment noted. As a film-slinger (renaming the position of Projectionist to Film-Slinger) who's theater has recently made the swap to digital from 35 MM, I will testify that the hassle is definitely lessened from a working standpoint.

Trevor on Nov 24, 2008


I went to see Saving Private Ryan a second time in the theaters and fell asleep about 40 minutes in. Theater staff had to wake me up 30 minutes after the movie ended. My friends had left me.

Tyler on Nov 24, 2008


A good friend of mine also fell asleep during Lord of the Rings. When he woke mid way through his comment was, "Man... and they're still walking." I lolled in the movie theater.

Darren on Nov 24, 2008


You had to cancel shows to change a bulb? 15 min. to cool and 5-10 min. to change only sets ya back 1/2 hour tops. Most audiences are more than willing to wait that long to finish their film. And it's easy to make that time up by starting shows 10 min. or so late. If, as you say, you had plenty of film snaps & tangles you must have been doing something wrong. In 16 years I've only canceled three shows that I recall - all due to catastrophic equipment failures. I've never scratched a print either... But I'm pretty fucking good at what I do - I can't review movies or write worth shit - and I have a low tolerance for opinions other than my own.

Human Horn on Nov 25, 2008


So funny you write this right now. I'm currently in Film School and those "History of Film" and "Political Documentairy" lessons sometimes will knock me down for a couple of minutes. Its not that i'm not interested in it. I actually am interested in it, but lissening 8 hours long to the teachers lectures and watching one or two old silent films is sometimes just too much! Most funny thing is that when I do reopen my eyes and look around me 70% of the students are watching the movie with the eyes closed. About the film snapping and bulb replacing. In the three years I am projectionist we had never to cancel a show because of that. Bulbs never failed during the show, and film snaps allmost never happen. Only reason canceling a show would be if some idiot dropped the film, or that it fell of the Non-Rewind system (and even if it fell of the Non-Rewind it could be fixable within 5 minutes).

Rickmeister on Nov 25, 2008


I feel you man I fell asleep at a Fellowship of the Rings screening too It was near the end though because I tried my darndest to stay awake but couldn't keep it up any longer

Jaf on Nov 25, 2008


This is an extremely stupid article. Please stick to writing interesting pieces on this website like you normally do. I am pissed I wasted my time reading this... Drink some fuckin Mountain Dew if you can't stay awake. Don't write about it.

Ronald, The Boy on Nov 25, 2008


Ok...I dont understand people who fall asleep in movies. Took my dad to see Tim Burton's Batman. He was out in 20 mins. When i go to see a film i want to see it. I'm interested. Falling asleep show that A. You arent getting enough sleep or B. You arent interested in the movie When i go to see something...I'm rested. I'm ready. I'm excited.

Heckle on Nov 25, 2008

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