The Vagabond Cinephile’s Lament

I am a movie guy, which should come as no shock to anyone that’s known me for more than five minutes. I like almost every genre, and I like previews, I like popcorn, and I like that delightfully squicky feeling you get when the rubber sole of your sneakers gets more traction than it should on the coke-splattered floor. I normally get to the theater at least once a week.

At least when I’m home in the U.S. and can rely on at least a few options rolling out every week.  But alas, I also like travel and that can clash with my cinephilia. On short jaunts abroad it’s not really a problem because I’m so busy trying to squeeze in the sights and sounds of a foreign place that I don’t need the familiar experience of a theater (although I do kind of like to see movies in strange places too). But when I’m in someplace for a longer period, I start to miss the trickle of watchable films that give me something to do every lazy Sunday afternoon.

Say what you will about the Hollywood machine, it is consistent. And while the vast majority of films that find wide release in the U.S. are vapid and culturally bankrupt at best (Hello, Disaster Movie!), at least they are part of a wide enough sample that awesome films slip through. And though my body is abroad, I still read all the same film blogs and review sites that I did back home, so I am well aware of the pace of American releases.

Here in Sydney, it seems like the big blockbusters come out not too long after their U.S. release (thanks to the time zone difference, I actually got to see The Dark Knight earlier than I would have backhome. Greetings from the Future.) which was a pleasant surprise, but otherwise it seems like they trickle out anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after their initial American release. This is not as bad as when I used to live in Cape Town and it seemed like only the most juvenile and family-friendly of films made the trip across the Atlantic, and only then at a glacial pace. The usual turnaround time was about 5 months, which wasn’t so bad after I had been there long enough for the lag to catch up. Sydney is quicker, but I still find myself wanting to see all the real new releases.

I have tried to fill in the gaps by watching more Australian films, but the pace of the Aussie film industry seems much more subdued than its American counterpart. There just aren’t as many Australian films coming out in Australian theaters. I have (mostly) liked the ones I did manage to see. I only wish there were more of them. At all the Sydney theaters the fare is almost entirely American films. This true of even the more indy ones, although there is also a healthy sprinkling of foreign (meaning neither American nor Australian) films. But every week, the opening of new films is a trickle compared to the American gush. The output of South African film-makers, which I thought was sparse makes Australia’s seem like slackers.

Another thing that bothers and confounds is me is the insistence of assigning seat numbers when you buy movie tickets. Why? What purpose does this serve, other than to slow up the lines at the ticket counter? I don’t need to pick my seat out before I walk into the theater. My seat choice is a calculus based on a complex range of factors, including but not limited to: number of people in theater, proximity to screen, proximity to children/likely talkers, not sitting next to a stranger if I can help it, etc. By making choose beforehand, I am pretty much guranteed to end up with a seat wedged in between two families of garrulous bathroom users with collicky babies. And God help you if try to sit somehwere other than your assigned seat. If someone shows up with that other seat, they act like you are trying to steal their car and I end up bouncing around before the ushers come in and force me to my hastily chosen seat.

It’s one of the little, intensely personal alienating effects of living abroad. In the long run, the rewards far outweigh the costs. Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather have the adventure of being here than the comfort of trotting out to the local AMC. But still…

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