Nine Cities I’ve Gone Out to the Movies in

London’s ICA, where I’ve seen many films

There's not much point in writing this list, but I do hope it will inspire you to go out to the movies when you are on vacation. I really enjoy doing this, even though it seems counter-intuitive to the whole point of traveling, since you can see the same movie back home... right? Well, maybe, but seeing a film in a strange city, especially one outside of the United States, gives the traveler a real insight into how ordinary folks who love the movies go about their fun on a typical Saturday night. Plus, it's a nice way to unwind after a hectic day of sightseeing, weird restaurants, and language difficulties. I highly recommend it.

  1. Hong Kong. We're now long past the "Golden Age" of Hong Kong cinema, and while regional movies still get cranked out, their theatrical runs are shorter and shorter. Those Hong Kongers just love their DVDs! But I was there at the tail end of the golden age, and saw Tsui Hark's wonderful Green Snake back in 1993, which is also when I first encountered a system where you can choose your seat in advance. (This trend hit the States in 2003 when the famed Arclight opened in Hollywood. I'd still rather just find a seat inside.) In 1998 I returned and caught a sub-Wong Kar Wai art film called Hold You Tight, and was incredulous at how local HK audiences giggled at sex scenes.
  2. New York. I've seen a few movies in Manhattan, but the one I will remember most is the overrated Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved, which I caught for $1 back in 1994 at a second run theater. Why do I remember it? Because some sketchy looking, possibly homeless dude a few rows up lit up a cigarette and puffed on it in the middle of the film, which I'd never seen before or since, and I thought, "Only in New York."
  3. Oslo. In 2003, I was in Norway for a film festival in Haugesund, and saw a bunch of movies there, but that doesn't count. What counts is returning to Oslo with my cousin Birgit and catching a couple of flicks with her in town. Oslo is insanely expensive, but this one movie theater wasn't so much, and since by then I was a real film snob who saw no reason to see a film I could catch back home, we saw two American pictures which never had theatrical releases stateside - Larry Clark's sexually explicit Ken Park (no US distrib would touch it) and Ripley's Game, a sort-of sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring John Malkovich, which went straight to cable over here.
  4. London. I applied this same "why see something I can see at home?" theory during my several trips to London, and so I caught the not-bad thriller Mute Witness (straight to video in the States, but worth watching) at a cheap theatre, the Japanese art film All About Lily Chou-Chou at the ICA, and Tom Tywker's disappointing Heaven all the way across town in Hammersmith. Why? I'm not quite sure.
  5. Washington, DC. I was in the Capitol in 2003 and decided to see the twilight screening of Secretary in Dupont Circle before having dinner with a friend. Those Washington squares in the audience squirmed stone-faced through the proceedings, while I found the film quite funny. I wonder if there were any congressmen with interns in the room?
  6. Einbeck, Germany. There's a reason an American doesn't often go out to the movies in most European countries south of Scandinavia: all the Hollywood films are dubbed, and none of the local films are subtitled. Cosmopolitan Munich is better about this, and while I was there visiting my friend in 1994, we caught a few undubbed American titles such as Reality Bites, but in smalltown Einbeck, up in Nord Deutschland, another friend took me to see The Client, with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, and it was dubbed. My limited German barely helped me through this talky film. But it did make me realize how much of a performance is in the actor's voice, and how dubbing absolutely ruins a movie.
  7. Seattle. Although in truth I could name a good 15-20 also-ran cities for this list, and thus places like Atlanta, Detroit, Stoke-on-Trent, and Mobile didn't make the cut, I can't neglect Seattle because I've seen so many movies here. In the '80s, my dad lived up there, and visiting him for one- or two-week stretches quickly became boring for my teenage self. So I saw, among other late '80s titles, Drowning by Numbers, Married to the Mob, Tucker, and Distant Voice, Still Lives. In 1996 I saw Fargo there and was appalled at the sniggering twentysomething audience. (Seeing the film again in LA was much nicer.) Ditto the documentary American Movie. I have since come to the conclusion that Seattle moviegoers are smug hipster jerks.
  8. Auckland. One funny thing about my trip to New Zealand in 2002 is that I got to watch the Oscars with a large audience in Wellington, who hooted and cheered when the first Lord of the Rings film picked up a couple trophies. (I think half the crowd worked on it.) But the only film I saw in a theatre in NZ was the so-so Eurotrash romance Gloomy Sunday, which interestingly played in US art houses over a year later. (It was a word of mouth hit here in LA, running for several months on one screen.)
  9. New Orleans. I did a lot of solo traveling in 2003, which meant a lot of movies as there was little else to do during the evening. So instead of getting trashed on Bourbon Street while I was visiting the pre-Katrina New Orleans, I caught Kill Bill, Vol. 1 at the local art house. Strangely, it may have been the one non-Californian moviegoing experience that felt exactly like seeing a film in Los Angeles. You'd think it would be different. With cajun popcorn, at least.