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Sharing the big 'Gotcha!'

Sure, a DVD in the den is fine. But the most memorable film

August 21, 2009|Michael Phillips

We forget sometimes just how much a movie interacts with a crowd.

The other week, I visited Michael Moore's film festival in Traverse City, Mich., where writer-director Paul Mazursky was being feted.

At the downtown State Theatre, with Mazursky in attendance and Jeff Garlin doing a Q&A afterward, the festival presented an excellent print of Mazursksy's debut feature, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" (1969), a film I'd never seen with an audience.

In the post-show talk, Mazursky told a story about how the studio execs, nervous about the comedy's then-daring sexual content and unsure of the sly social satire (to say nothing of Robert Culp's wardrobe), knew they had it in the bag when they held a sneak preview in Denver. The turning point, Mazursky recalled, came in the key early scene between a sexually frustrated Elliott Gould and his distraught wife, Dyan Cannon.

"You wanna do it like that, with no feeling on my part?" Alice (not in the mood) asks Ted (in the mood).

After an exquisitely judged pause, Gould deadpans: "Yeah." And everybody broke up -- women, men, ushers, everyone.

That moment detonated a huge laugh in Traverse City in 2009, same as in Denver, 40 years earlier.

A few weeks later, I'm back in Chicago and someone asks me about my most treasured memories of seeing movies with a big crowd. It was a good question.

The most explosive burst of laughter and applause I've ever heard, midfilm, was for Buster Keaton's waterfall rescue sequence in "Our Hospitality" (1923) in a revival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, in the mid-'80s. I've never forgotten it.

Best scream therapy? Seeing "Jaws" in summer 1975 and "Carrie" in fall 1976, when my high school-addled hormones were screaming every second of every day to begin with.

Late show, Capitol Theatre, West Racine, Wis.: Some friends and I are on the sidewalk, in line for "Carrie." The 7:30 show's about to break when, from inside the theater, we hear this freakish roar, hundreds of people shrieking in terror and then laughing at their own screaming, and then the doors open and everybody comes out and some of them are still screaming, because the ending of "Carrie" -- the grave-site visit finale, with the little flute melody playing on the soundtrack as Amy Irving leans down with the flowers -- is the "Gotcha!" ending to beat, still.

Well. By the time we got into the 9:30 show and began watching Brian De Palma's maliciously manipulative classic (I love it still), we'd forgotten all about whatever was coming at the end.

Until the end came. And the screams were louder than they were the summer before, when "Jaws" played for weeks and weeks and weeks.

It is a wonderful thing to see a film at home, with the distractions coming only from people you know or from dogs that need to go out. It is more wonderful to me to see a film with others.

--

Michael Phillips is film critic for the Chicago Tribune

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