Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Beneficial Companions
by Christopher Campbell
February 2, 2009
Sometimes it's important, or at least worthwhile for my moviegoing experience, to see a particular film with a particular companion. For example, when I went to Doubt, it was essential to my enjoyment of the film that I sat next to a woman who'd gone to Catholic school in the '50s and thereby related completely with the setting and events on screen. She laughed loudly at certain moments depicting the customs of the parish and the conduct in the classroom, scenes she recognized from her youth, and afterwards she praised Meryl Streep's performance as being quite familiar. "The reviews I read criticize her for going over the top with a caricature," my companion said, "but I had many teachers who were exactly like Sister Aloysius."
If I had seen Doubt alone, I still would have appreciated and enjoyed the film, especially the performances from Streep and the rest of the Oscar-nominated cast. But as someone without any familiarity with the Catholic Church or its school system, past or present, it definitely heightened my experience to see it in the company of an expert on the subject. A month later, when I finally had the chance to see The Wrestler, I was hoping to see the film with two friends who were big fans of professional wrestling. Of course, both had already seen the film, having rushed out the moment it opened. I ended up seeing it without them, because as much as I like the accompaniment of experts, I also just as much prefer to see a film with someone who hasn't yet seen it. A favorite part of moviegoing for me is seeing the reactions of fellow moviegoers, whether they are my companions or other members of the audience.
Anyway, The Wrestler is a great enough film that it didn't require my seeing it with my more WWE-familiar pals. Only once did I become distracted enough by something in the film that I wished I could've asked my friends about it right then. But my question of whether it's common for wrestlers to cut themselves with hidden razors during a match for added blood appeal could be answered anytime after the show. Not that I would ever be that guy, who constantly turns to his companion to make even whispered queries. No professional moviegoer in his or her right mind would admit to such a foul. Right?
Okay, it happens, but I assure you that I am a tactful whisperer. Quiet and scene-appropriate, I swear. And it's pretty rare that I'll bother asking questions at all, because if it's a good enough movie, I shouldn't be confused. Meanwhile, any curiosities I have, regarding things such as the bloodletting in The Wrestler, are politely reserved until the post-film conversations. This past weekend, though, I went to see Notorious, a movie involving subjects I'm quite unfamiliar with (despite having seen Biggie and Tupac, only because Nick Broomfield is one of my favorite documentary filmmakers), and I found it somewhat alright to occasionally turn to my Biggie-fan companion and inquire as to who certain characters were.
Notorious is not a movie I would run out to see if it weren't for the moviegoing experience involved. I like the music, but I never followed the rapper's story, and I honestly wasn't even aware Notorious B.I.G. was married to Faith Evans, an artist I only really know by name and not by work. However, I had the benefit of seeing the biopic at a multiplex that's really close to Bed-Stuy (and Clinton Hill, if you prefer the claim that that was the Wallace's correct neighborhood). Although I caught the movie a couple weeks after it opened and likely missed the really big Biggie fans and prideful neighbors, it's definitely a bonus to see a movie near to where it takes place and with an audience so familiar with the subject and setting. The best I could be as an expert was to note that a particular art installation on a particular Manhattan building's façade did not exist in August 1995, the year it's shown prominently in the film. In fact, not even the building itself existed in Biggie's lifetime, but I'm just a stickler when it comes to location relevance.
I also appreciated being able to see Notorious with a specific companion who is pretty familiar with the music, the artists and much of their publicly aired stories. A lot of the movie is geared for people who already know at least a little bit about Biggie's life and songs. So when a character is introduced in a flash and all you get is the first name on her nametag to go by, you should nevertheless be able to recognize that she's Lil Kim (as portrayed by Naturi Naughton). And when you see a pre-rap career Christopher Wallace (played excellently by Jamal Woolard) wearing a red and black lumberjack's coat and hat, you should realize it's both a faithful wardrobe choice and also a reference to the lyrics of "Juicy." Fortunately, I didn't feel so bad about asking my friend "who's that?" when Evans (Antonique Smith) first appears. Already, a moviegoer behind us had been asking her companion the same question whenever a new character was introduced (at least I could recognize Kim, Diddy and 2Pac when they showed up). Funny enough, though, the first answer I got was the era-appropriate mistake of "Faith Hill," and then a quick correction, "err, Faith Evans."
If you don't know any former Catholic school students, any pro-wrestling fans or anybody familiar with '90s hip hop, here are some other current moviegoing experiences you can have with the benefit of a particular companion: see Milk with someone who lived in San Francisco in the late '70s; see Gran Torino with a lovable racist; see Slumdog Millionaire with someone familiar with Indian cinema, especially with the films of Amitabh Bachchan; see He's Just Not That Into You with a date you're not that into; see The Class with someone who speaks French (there's a language issue that's significant to the plot and it may help to know French rather than to simply go by the subtitles). Just don't forget to enjoy the movie.
Good article Chris. Very insightful.
Ryan on Feb 2, 2009
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