July 30, 2006

Incident at the Arclight

Being late for a movie is a big deal to me. As far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty sure Woody Allen is this way too), you've missed the whole movie if you've missed the fade-to-black right after the "and now, our feature presentation" message, and right before the first frames of the feature film -- usually the hollywood studio company's logo and fanfare. I hate even missing that.

And so when I saw what the traffic was looking like to cut across town from our hotel in Beverly Hills to the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood to see a 730pm screening of MIAMI VICE last night, I knew we there was no way we were gonna make it. Wheels rolling from the hotel at 705pm.

We had a few close calls as we zig zagged on side streets so as to avoid Sunset Boulevard, but eventually we made it to the theatre, turned right on Ivar, left into the parking garage, up five levels behind a shiny 1969 GTO belching out vintage sixties exhaust. We found a spot about as far from the theatre as possible, ran to the elevator, waited forever for the elevator, got on, noticed people were getting on at each floor as we slowly went down, so we got off and ran down the stairs instead, beating the elevator. Racing through the crowded plaza and into an even more crowded Arclight lobby.

We found what looked like an employee and asked, where do we go if we've already bought this, at which point I handed her a printout of Arclight tickets purchased online. She said "that's your ticket, let me scan it" and with that we flew down the stairs, not knowing which auditorium was showing MIAMI VICE (it would be, of course, the furthest one down the hall). We run in, and we hear dialog. Movie dialog. The movie's already started.


The Arclight has ushers. Supposedly. There were no ushers.

We noticed a distant and dim flashlight way up in the far back on the other side of the theatre. The usher. We waited and waited. Movie's rolling by, we are missing huge gobs of introductory scenes.

Like Quentin Tarantino, we go to the movies to watch the movies, not to see an audience watching a movie. So, like Quentin Tarantino or any movie nut, we like to sit right up front. At the Arclight, even the first rows are comfortable and there's no neck-straining. The ideal movie nut establishment.

Unfortunately, the theatre was PACKED, jam-packed, every seat taken.

Fortunately, we had reserved seats.

Unfortunately, they were in the dead center of row B, the second row.

Fortunately, a squint of the eye revealed the seats were still empty!

Unfortunately, there was no center aisle in row B. Row B consisted of some 100 seats shaped in a semicircle. The only way to get into the middle of all that humanity was to start at the extreme end of the semicircle and climb over 50 annoyed people while repeating hushed excuse me's and pardon me's past every other person.

But just before we reached our seats, I noticed the backpack. And the bearded man holding the backpack between his feet.

Now, I don't know what it is, but in all my moviegoing experiences, and there have been an awful lot of them, I have never had a good movie experience when sitting in the same row with someone with a backpack. I don't know what it is. They start pulling out McDonalds food. They pop open a can of Budweiser. They go to sleep and start to snore. They start mumbling or fidgeting uncontrollably. Something about moviegoers with knapsacks, duffel bags, backpacks, suitcases, big shopping bags.

I sat down next to him so my wife wouldn't have to.

We begin to watch the movie. We don't know how it started or how much we missed.

The movie runs over two hours.

At about the hour and a half point, the bearded man with the backpack starts scratching his beard. Loudly. Or, his beard was so crunchy that when he scratched it it gave off a loud scratching noise. Out of the corner of my eye I took a look at him. Baseball cap. Long scraggly beard. He's wearing a coat. Two coats. He's slowly sipping from venti Starbucks cup. I am skeptical that it's coffee in the cup. The way he takes slow, meaningful sips from it. As if it were some fine fine Night Train or Wild Turkey. I notice the smell. A whiff of alcohol. But worse, deep, deep body odor. The kind of smell one encounters with someone who has not washed in, oh, a month or more. The kind of smell one gets when one has slept outdoors on sidewalks or on park benches for longer than is recommended.

I go back to watching the movie.

Soon he's scratching his beard again. And then his face. And then his head. And then he reaches down his neck. Suddenly he's scratching everywhere, not unlike, indeed, exactly like, the openening scene of A SCANNER DARKLY. This guy has the bugs. And they are crawling all over him. And my elbow is touching his. And no doubt it's only a matter of moments before the bugs spread to me. He keeps fidgeting, scratching wildly. Lice? Ants? It's as if he's being nibbled away by ants. He mumbles and stops.

I go back to watching the movie.

As the action scenes heat up, I hear a strange sound to my right.


And then again.


It's the man. He's sputtering. It's like he's stifling a cough, or just spitting air out of his almost closed mouth. "Pfffft."

There seems to be a correlation between the intensity of the scenes on screen and the frequency and loudness of the man's puffy outbursts.


I turn and look directly at him. His eyes are glued to the screen. He makes another sound. "Pffft." Louder this time. I am sure he knows I am looking at him. I see his beard move as he makes his puffing sound.

Two people in row A directly ahead of the man next to me turn around, wondering what the sound is from behind them.

"Pfffft. Pfffft. Pffft."

Bad guys are getting killed with high-caliber weapons on screen, and the booms and crashes of the sound system rattle the theatre.

I do not notice these things.

I notice the "Pfffft."

"Pffffft." "Pfffftt."

I feel the puffs of the man's air on my right arm. I feel spittle land on the hairs of my forearm. I grow more uncomfortable, leaning over to my wife while trying to concentrate on the movie.

"Pfffff." "Pfffft." "Pffffft.."

I cannot concentrate on the movie. I am now thinking about tuberculosis. Cholera. Thyphus. Consumption. Scabies. Rickets. Scurvy. I am sitting next to a pirate straight from the brig of the Flying Dutchman, I just know it.

Big shootout scene onscreen. Tense drama. Gripping suspense.

It matters not to me.

"Pffftt." "Pffffft." "Pffffft."

He's really puffing away now, louder than ever, with more spittle.

I recall the movie theatre scene in the film OUTBREAK. I think about all the particles of malignancy floating in the air as my neighbor sputters away.

My wife is wondering what's going on. I turn to her and soundlessly mouth the word "homeless". She acknowledges while the man continues his Pffffts.

I turn to look at him again, wondering if he is going to get sick. It's really disturbing having someone sputter and spit and mumble and sratch and occasionally take another swig from whatever is in that coffee cup.

His eyes are transfixed on the screen.

I turn back to watch the movie.

Suddenly the man speaks. Very determinedly. Very nastily.

He says, "if you look at me one more time I am going to bash your fucking face in."

He never moves his head. His eyes are still fixed on the screen. He is speaking to me.

Meanwhile, a huge spectular gunfight is going on onscreen. But I can't even think about that as this homeless man with his backpack containing who knows what has just threatened me with physical harm.

I notice he's stopped his puffing.

But I've stopped caring about the movie.

Suddenly, get stands up.

Tries to, anyway. He can't quite get his balance. He reaches down and gets his backpack. He reaches down again and grabs a duffel bag. He reaches down again and pulls out a rolled up sleeping bag. How he managed to squish all that under his seat I don't know.

I wonder what he is going to do. Is he going to bash my face in? Is he going to produce a weapon? I am contemplating self-defense. I am contemplating how my wife and I should climb over the backs of our own chairs and escape.

Now he's standing above me. With all these bundles in his hands and hanging from his shoulders. Mumbling. He leans to the left, as if he is going to try go exit the B row by crossing in front of me. He cusses and mumbles some more, then, reconsidering, turns and starts climbing over the people to the right, cussing and mumbling and talking louder as he gets further away. Eventually he makes it to the end of the row, and to the far wall. Now he's doing the full mumble grumble nonsense with a few "fuck" and "fucking"s thrown in. He walks out of the theatre.

Other moviegoers around me notice he's gone and are talking to themselves about the incident.

The movie goes on for another fifteen minutes.

It was a pretty good flick.

Might see it again.

Somewhere other than LA.

Posted by brian at July 30, 2006 08:01 PM


Been 15 years since I've been to a movie theater. Can't thank you enough for this horror story. I ain't never going back, ;-)

Posted by: bub at August 3, 2006 07:06 AM

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