I’m eating something off the kids’ menu, leaned over the table as the vivid colors dance across the screen.
I. Village East by Angelika, New York, NY (2021)
There is a cardboard cutout of Alfred Hitchcock holding a dead goose in his hand, which is supposed to entice me to sit in the director’s chair beside him and have my photo taken. I decline, beelining for the stairs.
I’d been here once before, but never in this room. The ceiling glitters gold. A nearly hundred-year-old chandelier hangs over my head. Its light dances across my skin and the screen in front of me glows red. The setup feels like a fishbowl: we are layered on top of each other in semi-circular rows. There are remnants of the theater’s past uses: box seats, a stage. On the screen, Marion Crane stands with the silhouette of Norman Bates towering over her. Beneath them reads “Hitchcocktober,” the name of Village East’s annual October showings of Alfred Hitchcock movies. I was barely able to buy my tickets to this showing of Vertigo before they sold out, nearly two months in advance.
Lights dim and the host walks out on stage. We hear the history: this event has been going on for years, with 2020 being the exception—a dark moment in movie theater history that we don’t dare talk about. The opening credits of Vertigo roll onto the screen and we all watch in awe, hypnotized by the endless swirling; 35mm film makes the colors so much crisper. The crowd cheers when Madeleine (Kim Novak) appears on screen for the first time. When Midge reveals that she painted herself in the Portrait of Carlotta the whole crowd lets out a collective sound of disgust. At the bell tower, people gasp, even though I’m sure they all knew this was coming.
II. AMC Methuen 20, Methuen, MA (2018)
When is it acceptable to sip a strange blue substance through a plastic straw? Only when in large red recliners listening to Nicole Kidman tell you that this is the place for magic.
Positioned between an Old Navy, a European Wax Center, and a Gamestop, there is a building with painted blue ceilings, abstract gold columns, and twenty movie screens. The heart of the operation is a large snack bar. It is a fortress, a testament to the fortitude of AMC. On all sides, digital signs tell me that it is going to be eight dollars for a regular popcorn, somehow convincing us that we may as well get the combo with a drink for thirteen. It is fully equipped with multiple large popcorn machines, nacho cheese dispensers, and spinning metal racks of hot dogs. It’s a minimum of five dollars for any candy, even the chocolate raisins.
The light glows blue on my armrest as I lean further and further back. They’re taking a long time to turn the lights off and people won’t stop talking. My friend tells me he felt something move under his seat; I’ve heard rumors about this before but I try to ignore it. I pour my M&M’s into my obscenely large popcorn: this is the perfect movie theater snack. The combination of the saltiness of the popcorn, sweet liquid butter, and the chocolate from the M&M’s comes together magically.
The three of us are the oldest people in the theater at this Incredibles 2 premiere/double feature. I’m on the edge of seventeen, they’re on the edge of seven.
The first Incredibles movie ends. There’s an intermission so that all of us kids can stretch our legs. My friend can’t find his car keys, so we start looking. When looking in the crack of his seat he finds chewed-out leather and stuffing. I realize that I have to continue sharing a seat with the mice for another two hours. We never found the car keys but1
the intermission is almost done.
Incredibles 2 does not disappoint. It’s a feminist film, the mom doesn’t have to stay home and take care of the kids, she can be out saving the world. Until, of course, this all goes wrong. I am sure that I would have been more excited about it if it had immediately followed the original but this will do.
III. Regal Union Square, New York, NY (2022)
It’s the beginning of freezing February and I am pushing through slush trying to get to the movie I’m nearly ten minutes late for. After journeying up two escalators, employees clad in black and orange search my bag, poking around the candy I bought at CVS minutes before. Sadly, this is a Pepsi-branded theater so I am forced to go without a drink. This gives me enough time to make it in while the trailers are going.
This is my first time here and I am realizing that this may be much more intense than I prepared myself for. The setup is akin to a rollercoaster: in every row, there are sets of four seats with hanging footrests on the bottom. You cannot recline in these, you are clearly not meant to relax. I feel maybe there should be restraints—a seatbelt, at least—but there is nothing. The trailers end and the ride begins.
There is a low rumbling beneath me as my chair moves along with the movie. On my armrest, there is a button asking me if I want water sprayed on me–I’d rather not. People cheer as the Quidditch World Cup begins, it’s the start of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As soon as the action hits everyone is thrown: forward, then backward, then to the side. Popcorn is going flying as the sound is crescendoing. Someone screams—hopefully they were holding on to their drink.
When I heard 4D I assumed the other senses might include some gentle movement, better sound, maybe a smell or two. This is a volatile machine. If I had never seen this movie before I’m not sure this would have been a great viewing experience.
IV. Angelika New York, New York, NY (2022)
This room is particularly long, twenty-six rows with no decline. I shuffle in, happy to sit along the aisle. The Angelika logo rests on the screen preemptively, asking us to silence our phones. The trailers start and my boyfriend pulls out his phone; technically it didn’t say not to do that. He doesn’t want to watch the trailers, they reveal too much plot, he says.
For some reason, I have decided today is the day to try movie theater nachos. There is a comforting feeling to them: I am pulled back to days of checkered floors and styrofoam trays. I am not disappointed.
I’m not sure what used to carry me to the movies. Somehow the films’ marketing must have gotten to me, or they were simply additions to one of my favorite franchises. Now, I go to the movies just because I want to be there. I had seen the trailer for Tár and somehow this led me here for Angelika’s half-off Tuesdays.
I’ve lived in New York for a little over two years now and I’ve come to love how everything is so interconnected. We are slightly underground, the subway causing the entire theater to shake. I listen to it rolling onto the Broadway-Lafayette stop, it pairs beautifully with the sounds of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. There are a million things going on in my life, but as I am sitting in these seats all I am thinking about is Lydia Tár and how I never appreciated classical music before now.
V. IFC Center, New York, NY (2022)
People climb out of the West 4th subway station, fighting their way down the sidewalk while I try to fight my way to the doors. On the sidewalk rests the poster for My Policeman on a small metal easel.
We’re directed to a small theater with suffocating brick walls. IFC is still stuck in the days of general admission seating so I try to quickly decide what the best spot is. This is the room where they normally hold their events, a small stage resting below the screen. My appetizer has been prepared for me; I sit down and enjoy. Trailers are just a light snack. If they’re done right they don’t reveal too much of the plot and entice me enough to pick them for my next movie.
The audience is sparse: it is me, some other Harry Styles fans, and a few old men. It is entirely different from the viewing experience for Don’t Worry, Darling where people laughed at his acting. This time, he’s serious. And I can’t stop myself from crying.
VI. Chunky’s Cinema Pub, Haverhill, MA (2008)
Directly off the highway, there’s a small gray building. Inside we trample on sticky linoleum floors. There is a small concession stand, which no one is bothering with. The theaters are small and sparse, but it feels so grand. Long black conference tables are surrounded by a mix between poorly upholstered car seats and reclining office chairs. We are handed laminated menus covered in cheesy movie puns: “wizard of ozzarella sticks,” “kevin bacon burger,” and “adam sampler.”
My parents are half paying attention but I am in awe. I’m eating something off the kids’ menu, leaned over the table as the vivid colors dance across the screen. An animated panda is learning that today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.