It may not surprise you to learn that, since 1995, I have written down every film that I have gone to see in a theater. In retrospect, I probably should have logged where I saw each film and who I was with. But for now my memory is still strong enough to recall most of these details. Of course, over those 17 years I have seen many extraordinary films, and for that reason alone those outings were worthwhile. But there were times when the event itself transcended mere "moviegoing" and became a unique treasured memory. This is why I still go out to the movies.
- STRANGERS ON A TRAIN at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1999. Though LACMA's film program has since seen its budget and its glory drained, back in the late '90s I went there all the time. What made this screening of my all-time favorite film especially enjoyable were the unexpected introductions by Alfred Hitchcock's daughter Pat and actress Kasey Rogers (a.k.a. Laura Elliott), who both played key roles. The packed audience erupted with applause after the jaw-dropping merry-go-round climax, and the evening had a poignant tone to it, as it was reported that the film's leading lady Ruth Roman had died that very day.
- RESERVOIR DOGS at CalArts, Valencia, 1992. The CalArts film program was moribund for much of my time there, and most of its visiting artists were boring experimental video artists whose heyday was over more than a decade beforehand. Enter Julien Nitzberg, a grad student with a flair for lowbrow cinema. He helped program much more interesting guests such as John Woo, Rudy Ray Moore, and a newcomer named Quentin Tarantino. The motormouth filmmaker had just signed a distribution deal with Miramax for his debut feature Reservoir Dogs, which he presented to an appreciative CalArts audience only a couple of weeks after he premiered it at Sundance. A star was being born, and I was there.
- THE STATION AGENT at the Library Center Theater, Park City, 2003. Speaking of Sundance and stars being born, I've only attended the festival once, in January 2003. I had not purchased any tickets in advance, so I only caught the movies that had rush tickets available minutes before showtime. They were mostly terrible, but I did snag one of the last seats to The Station Agent. It was everything you dream of going to Sundance for: seeing a great little movie on the big screen for the first time, with a wildly positive response. (It later won the Audience Award.) Star Peter Dinklage, who came for a post-screening Q&A, couldn't have known then how far his career would go.
- DUNE at the Century 22, San Jose, 1984. When I was a teenager in Cupertino, I organized a number of get-togethers at movie theaters for all my new friends whom I had met online in those pre-Internet days of BBS's and 300 baud modems. My great triumph, inarguably, was Dune. Though David Lynch's sci fi head-scratcher was a dud, the meetup I arranged for its opening night was epic. Months in the planning, over 60 "modem friends" showed up to join me for the festivities. I was so high on adrenaline that a cough which had been nagging me for weeks mysteriously disappeared on that day - December 14 (when my mom also let me cut school) - only to return on December 15.
- BATTLE ROYALE at the Egyptian, Hollywood, 2001. The Japanese cult classic about schoolkids forced to murder each other has gotten a lot of buzz lately, thanks to its plot's similarity to the blockbuster Hunger Games. Unreleased in the U.S. for a decade, the American Cinematheque actually screened it in January 2001, less than a month after it premiered in Japan to boffo box office. Director Kinji Fukasaku, who died just two years later, was in attendance, and told the capacity crowd (through an interpreter) that we were the very best audience he could have hoped for. It was a special night for a truly amazing film.
- TIMECODE at the Directors Guild Theatre, West Hollywood, 2000. Mike Figgis's somewhat unsuccessful four-camera experiment remains, thus far, the only "Hollywood" premiere that I have gone to. It screened at the short-lived Yahoo! Internet Life Film Festival, along with my first feature Foreign Correspondents (invited only because I'd raised money for it over the Web). Though it was an informal, "business casual" affair, celebrities were in abundance (Nicolas Cage introduced it; Jodie Foster sat right behind me), and it was fun to see the pretentious, curly-topped Figgis flip out ("Stop the film!" he cried, to deaf ears) and sprint to the projection room when his movie started and its audio was slightly off.
- DEJA VU at CalArts, Valencia, 1990 or 1991. This is an obscure Polish comedy from an obscure Polish filmmaker named Juliusz Machulski. (Well, he's quite famous in Poland, I'm told.) So why am I listing it here, when I can only barely remember what the story was about? Because of its wonderfully unorthodox presentation: as the film had no English subtitles, the bilingual Machulski (a CalArts grad) stood next to the screen and provided "live dubbing" for all the dialogue himself!
- CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND at the Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, 2000. Though most of the special events on this list involved live filmmaker/cast appearances, there was no such luck at this screening. The Cinerama Dome was about to close (it would reopen in 2002 as the centerpiece of the 14-screen Arclight Hollywood, which introduced the $14 movie ticket to Los Angeles) and the floundering theater decided to run a few old chestnuts such as Close Encounters, another of my all-time favorites (which premiered at the Dome in 1977). The theater still had its original '60s/'70s decor; coupled with one of the quintessential blockbusters of the '70s, my matinee experience was almost overwhelmingly nostalgic. I should also note that one of my earliest filmgoing memories was at the Dome, when my family visited LA in 1975. We saw The Return of the Pink Panther, which inspired me to draw countless fictional Pink Panther movie posters for at least a year.
- CITY OF GOD at the Music Hall, Beverly Hills, 2004. I close with a testament to the enduring power of a good movie. Despite its rave reviews, I was not compelled to see City of God for almost the entire year(!) that it played in Los Angeles. I finally went when it had just weeks left in its successful art house run. It was pouring rain that night, and the power actually went out at the struggling Music Hall when there was still a good 40 minutes left in this 2 hour, 11 minute Rio de Janeiro-set crime saga. I was given a free ticket to see it again, and I was so blown away by what I saw, and so excited to see how it concluded, that I returned the very next night and watched the entire film from start to finish.