i had occasion here to write about the last time I watched Wait Until Dark, the 1968 thriller starring Alan Arkin and Audrey Hepburn. I’ll stand by everything I wrote there, but this week brought another interesting experience with the same movie.
FSU has a very nice Student Life Center, with a stadium-style movie theater on one side and a smaller theater in a room across the hall with folding chairs, DVD projection, crappy sound and, as of this visit (I hadn’t been in a couple of years) two separate screens, side by side in the same room.
I guess the extra seating is courtesy of the place getting more popular. On my two previous visits, there was one screen and maybe twenty people in attendance. Both sides of the room were packed for this one, maybe a hundred people total.
I didn’t learn anything new about the movie itself and the viewing experience was, as I expected, less than ideal. But the time I spent trundling down there, hiking from the nearest parking lot (no sense expecting a government institution to do something logical like stick parking spaces near the campus movie theater and, as a long ago habitue of the previous rat-trap theater I can assure you it was ever thus), was nonetheless well spent.
What I was mostly interested in was finding out how an audience of college kids would react to an old fashioned thriller.
They reacted alright. In spades.
That wasn’t entirely a positive thing, mind you. Apparently, the new kids are conditioned to respond to every strong emotion with a single emotion: Laughter.
Terror on the screen? Good excuse to laugh.
Rage? Psychosis? Romance? Unexpected plot twist?
Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.
I may have forgotten a turn or two, but, trust me, the response was the same.
Frankly, the movie’s strongest element, which is Hepburn’s nuanced portrait of a women being subjected to gradually mounting terror, was completely lost. If I hadn’t seen the movie before, I would have walked out having no idea how she handled the part because, every time she emoted, there was…laughter.
Up until the last ten minutes.
During the last ten minutes, they started screaming because they were having the be-jesus scared out of them. I don’t exactly know the reason the response was so intense. I mean, it’s a good movie and an effective chiller, but I didn’t expect any reaction to be that extreme and that universal (I might have been the only person who wasn’t screaming). But I suspect it had something to do with seeing a real person actually terrorized. It’s not something that’s ever happened much in the movies and I doubt very seriously it’s happened at all in the lifetime of today’s twenty year old college kid.
I don’t put a lot of faith in anecdotal evidence. If I did, then I’d have to conclude, for instance (on the basis of an opening day viewing of The Break-Up with a theater full of black women), that Jennifer Aniston has cachet in modern Black America on a par with James Brown in the sixties. Maybe she does, but based on everything else I know about that subject, I’d have to say that it’s more likely there are times when an audience is just in the mood.
This felt like more than that, though.
It felt like the kids who have been socially conditioned to laugh at everything were afraid for Audrey Hepburn.
So maybe her performance got through after all.
I may not have to entirely give up on the future. And, believe me, that’s a relief. Because with ten minutes to go, I was ready to do just that.
Tuesday night is Psycho, incidentally. In the big theater.
Can’t wait for that.