Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Couldn't Make It

At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills last week, there was a screening of John Smith -- an hour-long segment for the Showtime version of Ira Glass's This American Life. The screening was hosted by Ira Glass, and all the tickets were sold within an hour or so, so they added a second screening on the following day. The bad news was that Ira Glass wasn't there on the second day, but the good news was that the tickets were half the price and they weren't all sold within an hour.

I was planning on going with my friend A, but because of quotidian vicissitudes, A couldn't make it, and I ended up going with my friend J instead.

I was only at AMPAS once before in my life. I don't remember exactly when, but it was to see a pre-release screening of Platoon, so that'll give you an idea of how long ago it was. I was going out with some woman at the time and she got the tickets from a friend of hers. I met him, and he seemed like a jerk.

We didn't sit near him or talk to him after the movie, so I'm basing my assessment of him on the three or four seconds it took to shake his hand. A few seconds may not seem like a lot, but you can sometimes learn a lot about someone by shaking his hand. For example, if you're shaking someone's hand but you're looking over his shoulder, scanning for other people in the audience you might know, then you're just going through the motions. That's what this guy did, and that's what made him a jerk. I don't remember much else from that night, but I remember that insincere handshake quite vividly. Keep that in mind the next time you're shaking someone's hand.

Things never went too well with that woman I was seeing, and that friend of hers was a total jerk, but at least Platoon was good. I think it may have even won an Academy Award.

Anyway, you don't care about any of that, so I'm going to write about today's actual topic, which is seeing the Ira Glass thing at AMPAS.

The first thing I noticed when we got inside the building was that we couldn't even get to our seats without going through security gates. They didn't have anyone waving a portable wand all over you like they do at the airports, and you didn't have to remove your shoes or belt, but I did have to empty my pockets into a little plastic tray.

The guard noticed that I had one of those miniature Swiss Army knives on my key ring, and he told me I'd either have to take it back to the car, or I could check it with him and pick it up from the main desk on after the show. I didn't think there was time to walk all the way to the car and back, and it wasn't even my car in the first place -- it was J's -- so I decided to check the knife with him. It seemed like they were making a lot of fuss over a little knife, so it made me glad I decided not to bring a duffel bag full of semi-automatic machine guns with me.

We got past the gates and took our seats, but before the show began, the woman who introduced it told us that no gum chewing was allowed in the theater. That didn't bother me so much because I never chew gum, but J had some, which she discreetly removed from her mouth and wrapped in a piece of foil paper. It's not like they were going down the rows looking inside everyone's mouth, but J has a healthy respect for the law and was willing to comply.

As for the program itself, I'm not going to review it. But I liked it a lot, and J liked it a lot, and it seemed like everyone else in the audience liked it a lot as well.

So it was an evening well spent, but before we left, I had to retrieve my weapon.

It came as no surprise to me that I wasn't the only person who had to check his weapon. When I went to pick it up at the main desk, I saw an array of tiny knives and other sharp objects. The guard was explaining to some other guy that they weren't worried that audience members would use their knives to harm others -- it was more a matter of preventing people from slashing the seats with them. He went on to explain that chewing gum wasn't allowed because people had a habit of sticking their gum to their seats.

To be honest, I didn't expect that they'd have that kind of problem at AMPAS. I could see slashing the torn and faded vinyl seats of a dirty graffiti-covered bus that runs through the inner-city ghettos, but not the seats at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I know this is going to make me sound like some kind of elitist, but I didn't think AMPAS attracted that sort of crowd.

Slashing seats and sticking gum under the arm rests is never appropriate, but I think it's a lot more appropriate on an old bus than in a well-maintained theater in Beverly Hills. But the people at AMPAS wouldn't have paid all that money to buy security gates and hire security guards unless they had a good reason.

Of course, I'm hardly an expert on the matter, since I've never slashed a seat with a knife. It just doesn't seem like it would be that much fun, especially with one of those tiny Swiss Army knives. It might be kind of fun with a really sharp chef's knife, but I wouldn't go out of my way to try it. Shooting holes though a seat with a semi-automatic machine gun might be worth trying, but it's probably very noisy, and it would make a big mess, and when you were all done, there'd be one less theater seat in the auditorium. So I think we should leave the seats alone. We should sit on them -- they exist for our comfort, after all -- but we shouldn't harm them. But that's just my opinion, and as I said before, I'm hardly an expert on the matter.