The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Night at the Movies

It's movie night in Lyon. It's after 9:30 at night and you're walking down Rue Edouard Herriot in the 2nd, all the stores closed but the restaurants still full. You're tempted to stop in at the Grand Cafe des Negociants for a p'tit verre, but you're a little short on time.

Earlier in the week, you scanned Lyon Poche for films marked with "VO" next to the title--for version originale, meaning that the dialogue is in English (or German or Chinese or Hindi) with French subtitles, because concentrating on translating means you miss some of what's happening onscreen. Plus listening to French for two hours gives you a headache. Fortunately there are always plenty of films in VO, from Hollywood blockbusters to arthouse fare. You don't get to see many movies, what with the kids and all, and your babysitter having moved back to England, so you try to be a little selective.

You reach the theatre, which is easy to spot from down the street because of all the people hanging around outside. That's where the box office is, right out on the street, and besides, there's no lobby. Scanning the board, you ask if Boulevard de la Mort is indeed playing tonight, thinking to yourself how much more awesome that title is than its American one. You pass your EUR7.50 through the slot in the glass, take your ticket, and join the small crowd hanging around reading the movie reviews posted under glass in the hall.

At about 10, people start to wander inside. A kid dressed in jeans and t-shirt rips your ticket, says "C'est dans la salle en-bas," and nods toward a descending staircase.

You do not buy a 44-oz fountain cherry coke.
You do not buy a $6 bucket of popcorn with extra butter.
You do not buy a box of Jujubes.
You do not buy Rasinets.
You buy nothing, for there is nothing to buy. For there is no lobby.

Descending the stairs, you enter the screening room and take a seat in the fourth row of about ten. The theater seats are essentially like those in the US, except that the floor is flat rather than sloped, never mind stadium-style. You hope that no one tall sits in front of you. The room slowly fills, and people talk softly. You are pleased that there are no ads or insultingly inane trivia questions flashed on the screen. You look up at the arch-vaulted stone ceiling and estimate its construction as about 1700. The top of the screen has a notch in it to allow an arch to pass through. The theater's cellar location means that the room is cool and comfortable, which is a relief since there is no air conditioning.

The couple sitting next to you is discussing Kill Bill vol. 2, or perhaps recounting a particularly trying visit to the in-laws.

The lights dim and the film starts without fanfare. There are no trailers, no "Please refrain from smoking" (nobody is smoking, for the moment), no "Let's go out to the lobby" because, yeah, there isn't one.

For the first part of the film, you can't help instinctively reading the French subtitles. You are amused at the French translation of a typical piece of Tarantino dialogue: "M-----f----r, you best get yo' skinny white ass off that car!" becomes "One should not sit there!" Some strange quirk of a Hays-code-like rule means that French subtitlers do not translate profanity... no matter what kind of depravity is being shown on the screen.

You find that at times you are the only one laughing.
You wish you had smuggled in a drink. And some popcorn.

The film ends, and there is applause mixed with some what-the-hell-was-that laughter. You walk out to the street and slide behind the wheel of your twitch-perfect '71 Challenger R/T with the Magnum 440, Flowmasters and stripe-delete... well, actually, you just walk on home.

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