Yes Shirt, Yes Shoes, No Seat
I didn't get in to the "Renfield" world premiere, but the line outside was nice.
"This area is going to be filled with Lyfts in a few minutes," was said aloud. This wasn't too hard to believe, really, as the portion of this uptown New Orleans neighborhood had been covered with young out-of-state cinephiles and film fans just moments prior. The hangers-on who hadn't made the walking trek to nearby bars and coffee shops, made a few taps on their phones and, until their rides came by, would continue to make small talk and jokes, some awkward and filled with impatience, and others with a sense of camaraderie. After all, people waiting in line for a movie premiere share a common bond, one that is only strengthened when in a friendly city such as the Big Easy.
Outside of the Prytania Theatre, people wrapped slightly around the block, with pass holders - from press to filmmaker to all access kinds - dressed in either vamp-like gothic costuming or wearing shirts and hats that referenced favorite films. In my Superman Converse sneakers, slim-fit Wal-Mart jeans, and open-button dress shirt, I just smiled quietly, as the group inched closer and closer to the entrance. At my front was a filmmaker, whose movie would be playing the fest later that weekend. At my back, there was a couple and another filmmaker, engaged in conversation about their favorite horror and science fiction flicks. It was amusing to hear their takes on the Alien series and their interpretations of specific details from A24 studio projects. Here I was, a critic, with nothing to say but with every smirk to give.
I chose this 7 PM showtime at this venue on this opening night of the Overlook Film Festival, because of the parking convenience and the overall atmosphere of the event to be. If I didn't have to pay $10 to park downtown and if I could see the same film in a more comforting neighborhood setting, then I most assuredly would do just that. Sure, I could've seen this movie, Renfield, at an earlier time across town at the other theatrical presentation, but having been there and done that with many press-only screenings and small crowd seatings, I yearned for a lively night with lively people.
An hour before, I was crossing the Causeway bridge from the metro Northshore of the city, thinking of what was to come. The trailer for this horror-action-comedy suggested goofs and buckets of blood and mayhem, elements that ought to make casual moviegoers blush with interest. As a writer who has seen plenty of corn syrup and ketchup in his time, I still get excited by such a promise, and why wouldn't I? On this night, however, I had something more I was seeking: being in a movie theatre at all.
It wasn't just that the film's star, the eccentric semi-local romantic actor of the shamanic Nicolas Cage would be attending, but that I would be in a packed room for the first time since the pandemic quarantine. I had been to the movies on many occasions in the aftermath of the relaxed health & safety rules of course but always socially distanced and a little nervous. This time, there'd be little room space and much more for stress. I had bought a mask online specifically for this evening, with a design that the festival programmers would, in my hope, get a kick out of - the logo for the virtual festival that they had put on when we were all stuck at home. That was my "costume," I suppose, practical as it was, providing some protection from coughs and sneezes.
And yet, when I first approached the line, I took it off and placed it in my breast pocket for later. Social pressure? Maybe a little. I was enjoying the evening air a bit much and didn't want to miss its cool freshness. Upon entering the theatre, the mask would go on, I swore.
Festival volunteers casually check on us all as minutes turned to a full hour turned to late showtime. Mr. Cage had already appeared on the makeshift red carpet, though the hubbub was hard to pick up on from where I was standing. All I could hear was the wonderful discussions of the people around me, and their excitement over being at a fun premiere for a fun locally shot movie at a fun local theatre.
Mere moments before the Lyft drivers came by, a volunteer with an earpiece and microphone connected to her person, announced "Seats have been filled. Sorry.” My press pass, for the first time in my career, meant nothing. To be turned away sucked, but to have the professional exclusivity dismissed was more of a real bummer.
I love going to the Prytania Uptown. It feels like a safe place, more so than any other theatre I've visited in decades. Safe in that I can decompress and focus. Zen almost.
Renfield would play again at the downtown venue that evening, we were told. "That's in twenty minutes though," I think I heard. But it wasn't really the movie that we were missing out on seeing, as it was coming out theatrically later in the month. No, we were denied another night of sharing in that feeling of joy that only movies can deliver. Movies in movie theatres that is. The kind of feeling that matches bodily produced serotonin, and then some.
Making my way to the Causeway, I stopped for some chicken nuggets and fries. Would it fill up my unfulfillment? In a way, it helped. The line out front and to the side of the Prytania was awfully friendly and very cheery. We were excited to be around one another and to be together for a new movie. It didn't play for most of us, but there was much talk and many smiles still. In the midst of it all, I'd look up at the faded moon as the sun began to set. I missed a movie but caught the sky. For this shut-in, that means a lot. For this writer, that's something to convey. For this critic, well, maybe there's more to it than just a glimpse upwards. Or maybe the moon is sometimes just the moon.
In my opinion, a movie is rarely "just a movie." And even if it were "just," what a thing to be. Talk about a lift.