far too much writing, far too many photos

I’m heading out to the movies later, so I thought I’d write a little bit about what’s it’s like to go out to a film here, ‘cause there are some interesting differences compared with the experience in the States.

Madrid loves films. Some days it seems like there are moviehouses everywhere you look. There aren’t, of course – it just feels that way. The same way it seems that every single person in this city is always using their cellphones (teléfonos móviles) – they aren’t, of course, it just seems that way. The phone thing seems that way a lot of the time, though. During my first trip here, in Feb. of 2000 (see weblog entries for August 4 and 5), on the bus into the city center from the airport, almost as soon as the bus got underway the person sitting next to me got a call on her móvil. That set the tone. More than once, it’s felt like I’d gotten trapped in a telephonic Hollywood, er, thing – I’d walk out a door, someone would walk by talking into their móvil, I’d turn around, there’s be someone else doing the same. I’d turn again, there’d be someone leaning against the wall, cellphone to their ear. I’d walk away, someone going in the other direction passed by, talking into their móvil. I’m not kidding. Like a musical number from a film.

In fact, I saw a French film here last winter (the title? La Bûche, I think, referring to a of traditional French Christmas dinner dessert) whose first scene took place at a funeral, a large group of people standing around the grave as the casket is lowered into it. A cell phone starts ringing, a well-dressed man looks around guiltily, apologetically, reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone, realizes it’s not ringing. A woman pulls hers out, it’s not that one either. Within seconds, everyone is pulling cellphones out of coat pockets, briefcases, handbags, until they all realize that the ringing phone is actually inside the casket.

Great scene, only slightly exaggerated from the reality here.

But back to going to the movies in Madrid. First of all, just going is usually worth the price of admission (not always – I made the mistake of going to see “15 Minutes” because DeNiro was in it – mama, what an atrocity!), ‘cause the price of admission is so low. The most expensive theaters charge 900 pesetas, which translates to about $5.00. Less, depending on the exchange rate. Many theaters have a day during the week when they knock 250 or 300 pesetas off the price (el día del espectador — the day of the spectator). And some are just cheaper. All the time.

Madrid has a bunch of multiplexes, though most of those have theaters with large screens. And there are some beautiful old movie houses – huge, with seriously sizeable screens – still open, still working, still packing ‘em in, depending on the film. There is one theater over in the western Madrid barrio of Arguelles – a big theatre with just one screen, nice and large. Comfy seats (most of the theaters here have comfy seats). With interesting films passing through. It’s where I saw Crouching Tiger, etc. (called Tigre & Dragón here). They charge 500 pesetas. That’s $3.00 or less. I was talking about this with a Spanish friend about a week ago, and he said when Spaniards from other cities come to Madrid they complain that the prices are too high. Everything’s relative. It’s nice to be in a country where prices of $3 – $5 for a film are considered high.

One weird phenomenon: most movie theaters here have numbered seats. It’s like going to see a play or musical in the States or the U.K. They print the numbers on the tickets, ushers with flashlights take you to your seats. And in general, they want you to stay where you get seated. If the theater’s nearly-empty, people move, and even then some ushers get miffed about it. (That’s life.)

A little over a year ago, in Sept. of 2000, I went to see a Spanish film over in el barrio de Salamanca, the ritzy neighborhood northwest of here. My first time going to see a film here, I think. I found the theater on la Calle Serrano, a large, busy one-way thoroughfare that channels traffic south through Salamanca into the city center.

There weren’t many people in attendance that night — twenty, twenty-five tops. Maybe thirty. And we’re talking about a theater with hundreds of seats, three aisles, a rear mezzanine. A large, impressive moviehouse, all done in beautiful old wood, kind of a restrained art-deco look, if I remember correctly. With an enormous screen. There was literally no one else in the lobby when I entered, but they had rules and they made me follow ‘em. I had to go in one particular door, I had to take one particular cordoned-off route to the box office. After I picked up my ticket an elderly usher with a flashlight took my ticket and appraised it before leading me into the theater to my seat. Rows and rows and rows of empty seats filled the space, a sprawling expanse of empty theater, a handfull spectators sprinkled carefully around one little section of it instead of spread apart so they wouldn’t block each other’s vision or bother anyone else with noise. And they kept watch over us until the movie started. Strange.

Before the films, they don’t have the advertising/trivia-questions slide-show that I’ve seen in the States far too often. Here, most theaters I go to show about ten minutes of trailers and TV-style ads (some are actually TV ads, others are a cut above) before cranking up the main attraction. The ads bothered me at first, but it quickly became one more opportunity for language practice so I got used to it. Now, when I go into a theatre that just shows a couple of trailers, and the obligatory www.movierecord.com ad (the local clearing house for what’s playing/showtimes), it feels like something’s off. Not bad, just unexpected.

And the movies themselves – the selection here goes all the way across the spectrum, from the trashiest American product to the most rarified international stuff, with everything in between. Some films that opened today:

The Pledge (American, dir. Sean Penn, w/ Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Sam Shepard and more)

Juntos (Together — Swedish, dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Ghosts of Mars (American, dir. John Carpenter)

La Pianista (Austria-France, dir. Michael Heneke, w/ Isabelle Huppert)

The Score (American, dir. Frank Oz, w/ Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and a poor outing by Marlon Brando)

Original Sin (American, dir. Michael Cristofer, w/ Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie)

I Love You Baby (Spanish, dir. A. Albacente y D. Menkes)

The Anniversay Party (American, dir. Jennifer Jason Leigh & Alan Cumming, w/ same, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow & more)

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (American, dir. Kevin Smith)

Clara y Elena (Spanish, dir. Manuel Iborra, w/ Carmen Maura, Verónica Forqué.

There are more, but you get the picture. Some films already playing here:

A.I. (American, dir. Spielberg)

Amelie (French, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, w/ Audrey Tautou)

Amores Perros (Dog Loves — Mexican, dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (rerival — American, dir. Roman Polanski, w/ same & Sharon Tate)

The Diary of Bridget Jones (British, dir. Sharon Maguire, w/ Reneé Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth)

Fausto 5.0 (Spanish, dir. I. Ortiz, A. Ollé y C. Padrissa)

La Stanza del Figlio (The Bedroom of the Son — Italian, dir. Nanni Moretti, w/ same & Laura Morante

La Inglesa y El Duque (French – Dir. Brian Helgeland, script by Eric Rohmer)

Lucia y el Sexo (Lucia and Sex – Spanish, dir. Julio Medem, w/ Paz Vega)

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (American, dir. Woody Allen, w/ same & Helen Hunt)

Better than Sex (Australian, dir. Jonathan Teplitzky)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (American – dir. John Madden, w/ Nicholas Cage & Penelope Cruz)

Moulin Rouge (let’s not even go there)

Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens – Argentinian, dir. Fabián Bielinsky)

The Others (Spanish, dir. Alejandro Amenabár

The Pact of the Wolves (French, dir. Christophe Gans)

Salir del Armario (Out of the Closet; simply titled The Closet in the States – French, dir. Francis Veber, w/ Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu)

Visionarios (Visionaries – Spanish, dir. M. G. Aragón)

Most out-of-country fare that comes through gets dubbed, but not all. There are a dozen or more cinemas that show voz original con subtitulos (original voice with subtitles). Lots of Spaniards go to v.o. films. Me, too, ‘cause I pretty much hate dubbing. I’ve gotten used to it on television, where there’s basically no alternative unless you have a stereo TV, which here supposedly gives you an option of receiving dubbed programs in original language. That’s what I’ve heard anyway – I have yet to see it in action.

And one last thing – Spain is a country with a population of about 40 million. Small compared to the States. But they have a huge number of film festivals. The season seems to start in the summer with the festival in San Sebastian, up in País Vasco. Then there’s the Sitges (Barcelona) Film Festival, which specializes in films of the fantastic. There’s one just ending in Valencia, and one just beginning in Valladolid. Then, really, they’re all over the country. It gets so it’s hard to walk without tripping over one. (A slight exaggeration, that, but only a slight one. There really are scads of them, maybe far too many.)

And if a film wins big at the Cannes or Venice film festivals, that seems to have an impact here. As much, I’m starting to think, as if one wins big at the Academy Awards. At least when it comes to media coverage. I don’t know how it translates as far as box office. I don’t really know much, come to think of it.

And that might be a good place to stop. I’m off to see a film with a friend.

Be well.

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