Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Celluloid Mayhem at the Uptown

Uptown Theater

Here’s a simple slice of mayhem that took place over thirty years years ago, at a theater outside of Seattle that my father and I had visited for a screening of the latest Monty Python comedy Life of Brian.

I’d been having a rough time in high school—having moved to the area nearly a year earlier, but still having some difficulty getting acclimated to my academic surroundings—so my Dad decided to treat me to a night on the town to cheer me up, an evening out which included dinner and a movie of my choosing. Having discovered Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus a year earlier on our local PBS affiliate, I more than happily opted for Life of Brian as our theatrical offering, which was playing at a small single-screen cinema called the Uptown, in the Queen Anne Hill district northwest of the Seattle downtown area.

We parked a few blocks away and walked along a quiet street to the theater; it was a Wednesday evening in winter, lacking snow but with a sharp chill in the air, and the movie had already been out a few months, so when we ducked inside a few minutes before showtime, we weren’t too surprised to see that the theater was less than half full. We found a pair of seats towards the back, on the left, and settled in. And just when the movie was starting, two women seated on the other side of the auditorium, about a dozen rows in front of us on the right, began a conversation between them that was more than disruptive, and far beyond the acceptable level of unwritten noise-making policy in a theater setting.

I don’t remember ever having experienced this before, or maybe I’d been too young to remember or care, but I was shocked that these two foolish females would just be talking during a movie, not caring at all for anyone around them, as if they were sitting in their living room or chatting at a local bar (my father pointed out that maybe they’d just been to a local bar). This went on for the first twenty minutes of the film, continuing even though people around them were shushing and politely asking them to tone it down, and I wondered if my Dad was going to take matters into his own hands; I’d seen him deal with obnoxious moviegoers in the past, and was fully prepared for him to leave his seat and take care of the problem himself.

Well, he never got that opportunity. Several rows in front of us, a bearded man in his thirties suddenly stood up, and from across the auditorium and loud enough for everyone in the surrounding neighborhood to hear, yelled at the two noisy women, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The unexpected exclamation startled me, but what made the moment even more dramatic was that, seconds beforehand, nothing at all had been happening on the screen, so the theater auditorium had been dead silent, seemingly to accommodate the man’s explicit reprimand. Then, all at once, the place erupted with cheers and applause from the more-than-grateful crowd, most of whom were probably ready to make the same declaration themselves. My Dad and I exchanged glances and chuckled in amazement at what we’d just witnessed. The yapping traps of the women clamped shut immediately, the stern-faced man sat back down, and we never heard a peep from either of those two inconsiderates again.

Since then, of course, it’s become a lot worse at movie theaters, and I’ve had my share of run-ins with idiots who refuse to keep their loud mouths shut, or who find it acceptable to chat on their cell phones, or allow their kids to play with neon-lit toys in their seats (yes, that actually happened to me recently), but not since that night at the Uptown have I experienced such a thundering request for silence, or one that garnered such spontaneous audience appreciation.

Trust me, I have not forgotten those four magic words. And I’m patiently waiting for the right opportunity to resurrect them for use once again.

Life of Brian newspaper ad - 1979

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8 comments on “Celluloid Mayhem at the Uptown

  1. billwhite1951
    11/17/15

    I used to live right around the corner from the Uptown, so your story resonated in a special way with me. This never would have happened in the early sixties, when admittance was restricted to adults in order to maintain a classy (and quiet) atmosphere.

    • Todd Benefiel
      11/17/15

      Very cool that you lived so close to the Uptown…right now I’m walking distance to a multiplex, but would love to have an old-time theater just around the corner. I only saw that one movie there…maybe someday I’ll go back and visit it again, now that it’s been fixed-up. And while I’m in Seattle, I’d go visit that awesome Cinerama theater as well.

      • billwhite1951
        11/18/15

        I saw all the Cinerama movies there in early sixties, as well as 2001 and other big screen classics. I left the states three years ago and haven’t been to a real movie theater since.

      • Todd Benefiel
        11/18/15

        We had a Cinerama theater in San Diego, but the closest I ever came to seeing a Cinerama film there was Brainstorm in 1983, which had moments that were shot in Super Panavision 70. And though I never got the chance to see a movie in Cinerama, I did once see one in Sensurround!

      • billwhite1951
        11/19/15

        I visited San Diego a few times in 78-79 when I was living in Los Angeles. I saw Dawn of the Dead at a multiplex there on opening day, and the theater was filled with screaming girls who fled the theater to vomit in the bathrooms. Today, families gather to watch equally disgusting things on the television. My niece lives in San Diego now and loves it there. What was the Sensurround movie you saw? Midway?

      • Todd Benefiel
        11/20/15

        I wonder if all those girls vomited over the ‘top of head sliced off by helicopter blade’ moment? And the Sensurround movie I saw at the old Loma Theater in Pt Loma was…Earthquake. Man oh man, were those earthquake sequences loud. I remember the gigantic box speakers lined up under the screen, and we could hear a ‘click’ whenever the Sensurround sound was about to kick in…a signal for my younger brother to quickly cover his ears and pray his eardrums wouldn’t burst.

      • billwhite1951
        11/20/15

        They started puking right at the beginning, when the zombies were getting their heads shot off…..I never saw Earthquake in Sensurround. That would have been much better than Midway.

      • Todd Benefiel
        11/20/15

        I didn’t realize until now that there were only four Sensurround films ever released: Earthquake and Midway, plus Rollercoaster and Battlestar Galactica. And reading insights from fans, it seems that Earthquake was regarded as the best film for Sensurround use.

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