Thursday, January 14, 2016

Movies and Buses

I don't drive, so when the weather is too cold or slippery for me to bike, I'll ride the bus home from a movie. I sometimes wonder why I don't see more of the folks I see at a movie on the bus afterwards. It's a similar experience.

You have to wait patiently for the bus to arrive just like you have to wait for a movie at a theater to begin. You sit in rows with strangers and everyone is facing forward. You have to remain patient if people act out or are disrespectful of the enjoyment of others. You share the sounds and smells and just plain presence of those other people, and that makes the experience so much richer. Getting some place by riding in a car is like watching a movie on TV - you can start whenever you want and can pause somewhere along the journey, but it's lonely. You don't get the rich experience you get when you share the movie or the journey with complete strangers.

One of the earliest cinemas was called "Hale's Tours." It was a room disguised to look like the inside of a train car. The screens were the windows, and images of faraway places appeared in them as if you were traveling, but you were really in a movie theater. This was one of the many models that could have influenced the form that movies would take, but it didn't have much of an influence. Now it's more like you watch movies while you are travelling, on planes, trains and even SUVs.

The view from a bus seat can be like watching a movie. Street scenes pass you by but you keep a distance that you don't have if you were walking on that street. Many buses in the twin cities even have two rows of seats that rise up in back. I called these "stadium seating" buses.

The shared experience, that community of strangers, is what makes the experience of watching a film in a theater so special, whether that film is shown digitally or on celluloid, that doesn't matter as much as the warm bodies around you, and how their presence affects how you view the show.

Riding the bus is like that too, but it doesn't seem that this is the reason that most people ride the bus. Maybe it's about money, maybe it's environmentalism, but few might say that they ride the bus to be around other people.

I don't recognize a lot of fellow moviegoers on the bus these days, but a few years ago I would sometimes see Terry Blue on the bus. He was a very dedicated watcher and critic of films. I remember him always in the back row at the Oak Street Theater. I usually sat near the front, but I could still hear his raspy voice across the theater before the movie started and as the credits rolled.
He was always talking about and judging movies. He put together his "Cobalt Blue" list of his favorite films every year, and was also curious about what other people were seeing, both to boast that he had already seen it, but also maybe to find out if there was something that he hadn't seen yet.

I didn't talk to him at theaters as much as I talked to him on the bus. I'd see riding the bus every now and then, maybe returning from a movie, maybe going to one, or just getting around. On the bus he could expound about one movie or another until one of us had to get off.

He was one of the six or so people at the Parkway Theater the night that my animated feature, "Wargoon Flishe" played there in 2007. Although the shared experience of watching a movie with a theater full of strangers can add layers of insight and delight to a film, watching your own movie in a gigantic but nearly empty theater can be fairly heart-breaking. And to know that one of those people was the very critical Terry Blue made me want to run out of the place before it even ended.

But I stayed. And he walked up to me after the show to tell me how much he liked my movie. It sounded like he really meant it.

I haven't seen Terry Blue on the bus for years, or at a theater. He passed away almost five years ago.

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