Ms. 35 offers helpful advice and answers to your etiquette questions related to NYC's moving image culture. Have a burning question about navigating the exciting world of New York City moviegoing? Unsure of how to conduct yourself during a communal experience? Feel like you're… in the dark? Send your inquiries to Ms35@screenslate.com !
Dear Ms. 35,
I love cinema and hate rocking the boat. But we're marooned between Holiday and Awards Seasons right now, and I find myself stuck in conversation with people who want to talk intensely about movies I either hate or, maybe worse, have no interest in seeing.
I’m not trying to be a snob, but the idea of paying $15 for La La Land when so many blink-and-you'll-miss-it repertory options abound on a nightly basis... the only reason I'd go is to get myself some talking points. Should I only hang out with cinephiles, or just change the subject to Trump instead?
Water Cooler Judex
Dear Water Cooler,
Your entreaty is but one chapter in a story that begins at the Dawn of Civilization, for this inquiry has befuddled mankind since the first ochre paint-smear hit Lascaux. Although Ms. 35 was not present c. 17,000 BC, she’s certain for every Neanderthal kvelling over the hot new cave painting, just as many nay-grunters were kvetching about “Bull Hunt” genre classics.
As our knuckle-dragging forbearers argued around rudimentary firepits, the conversation inevitably arrived at this impasse:
“No, thing bad. This thing good!”
How else to account, twenty millennia later, for descendants of these proto-philes trying to decide which movie to see on a Friday night? Weighing your options against a constantly-shifting line-up of rarities, revivals, and retrospectives is exhausting enough without buzz-sprinkled new releases thrown into the mix.
For the fastidious filmgoer, price is no small consideration. Why blow $15 on Zack Snyder trailers and “dad movies” when you could treat yourself to a feature-length film (or films) and bodega treats at your local microcinema?
Format alone could be an easy tiebreaker—a film print is not only expensive to ship, it requires skilled labor at nearly every leg of its journey from Archive X to Movie Theater Y. “Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it repertory options” evoke a shooting star, or spun-sugar pièce montée. Clearly, you’d prefer an elaborate dessert to a mere package of Twinkies.
Newsflash, Water Cooler: plenty of people like Twinkies. Some Twinkie-chompers may well be among those you respect and admire. Even you may fondly recall this childhood treat. But should you attempt to recapture past joy, two outcomes await - either you’ll genuinely enjoy another golden spongecake, or upon tasting cream filling will be overcome with revulsion, realize your palate has changed, and vow never to taste another.
But Twinkie-refutation doesn’t necessitate becoming a Stylite—far easier (and more polite) than insulating yourself from fellow civilians’ film queries is to engage them. When people converse, 99% of the time what they really want is to expound on their opinion, and allowing them to involves a brief chat without having to spend hard-earned time or green on middling movies. For gifted practitioners, Verbal Judo is often employed to flip the conversation back—but it takes a true master listen in earnest.
If Bob from Accounting demands to know your take on Passengers in the breakroom, say you’re “still mulling over that twist!” and ask Bob what he thinks. A young cousin gushing about Jackie wants to hear how it moved you? You’re “still processing”—what did he think? They’ll be flattered and satisfied, and you’ll pick up a few talking points for your next coffee date.
At the southernmost rung of the conversational ladder is the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” approach, developed at the Sorbonne in May ‘68 and still beloved by hypebeasts the world over. If you actually fear disgrace from someone who thinks Arrival was groundbreaking (a Lady Scientist with Mom Problems, you don’t say), take your pick from the carnival prize bin of Hot Takes online. Hell, in a pinch you could Google in the bathroom (don’t get caught!), stepping out with clean hands and a fresh off-the-rack opinion. And lest you think there’s shame in that game, a great man once said ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal’ (a line itself stolen from T.S. Elliot). [I thought Martin Scorsese said this? —ed.]
Like America’s favorite* snack cake, new releases possess an indefinite shelf life. When the hosannas fade and the last step-and-repeat has been safely tucked away, this year’s Best Costume Design winner will languish on the virtual shelf of VOD platforms. Elaborate scientific research shows a direct correlation between Award Season and walking-dead head cold season. No better way to enjoy the latest “we found God in Space!” epic than through a NyQuil haze—that’s the kind of buzz that never gets old!
Now for a twist to rival Shyamalan—as you dread idle chatter about popcorn dullery, so too do your colleagues dread monologues on film obscurities. While you’re effervescing about Werner Schroeter, they’re silently gnawing their arms off to get back to their Entertainment Weekly. Extend the same politeness you’d hope for from them, then seek out cinephiles who freak how you feel. Your vibe defines your tribe—someone out there’s bound to match your enthusiasm for VHS-only-released Hong Kong lesbian action films, and will be glad to parry opinions all evening.
Realize too, there may be more crossover than you think—that Peruvian glitch pic showing in a traphouse film collective today could just become an Oscar winner tomorrow—then you’ll all have something to blather endlessly about.
See you at the movies,
*Ms. 35 reps Sno-Balls, obviously.
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