Jeff Smith 11:59 p.m., Feb. 8
4th row center: Exercising with Mussolini in Sensurround™
What do you do when an earthquake strikes in mid-movie? Remain seated!
Sunday, April 4, 2010. What better way to spend an Easter Sunday than by once again watching the Nazis fall from power?
Easter dinner with the Elliotts was a yearly tradition. (It's phrased it in the past-tense because David and Valerie just recently pulled up stakes and moved on to rainier pastures in Oregon.) While the little woman stayed home glazing the ceremonial ham and Peeps casserole, Dave and I sidled over to Landmark's Hillcrest Cinema.
There was no press preview of Vincere. Five minutes into the branded DVD screener, and it became clear that this one cried out for a big screen viewing. (Don’t they all?)
Directed by noted Italian filmmaker, Marco Bellochio (Fist in Pocket, China is Near), Vincere tells the story of Mussolini’s mistress and her futile battle to get her sex-crazed lover to acknowledge the child they had together.
One hour or so into the feature -- and at the precise moment when Il Duce is about to address Hitler's masses -- the house began to pitch, the seats to twitch. And a low-frequency rumble reminiscent of Sensurround nearly put us in a ditch.
The ghost of Jennings Lang must have been watching over us.
Of the 30 or so people in attendance, David and I were seated closest to the screen. After a 20 seconds, a cowardly Elliott rose and made a beeline for the aisle. "This one could be serious," he said over his shoulder. While smoothing a wrinkle in my brown shirt, I shouted back, "Are you crazy? Mussolini's talking in Nazi. We’re just getting to the good part. I'm not budging!"
I didn't. The earthquake hit precisely at 3:40 p.m. The auditorium waggled for 1:29 seconds, and measured 7.2 on the moment magnitude scale. (There's never a Richter around when you need one.) In retrospect, I probably should have died that day. For a guy like me, there isn't a more proper send off than being crushed to death in a movie theater earthquake.
I can see Lickona's headline: "God digs hole for Marks."
On a similar note, Hillcrest regulars may have felt something akin to an earthquake on more than one occasion. Many times, and in different auditoriums, I have experienced what feels like a mini-quake. For years, I had myself convinced that the quavering was the result of a bus or flatbed truck rumbling down 5th Ave.
A few weeks ago while grabbing a smoke before a movie, I mentioned this phenomena to a friend. A Landmark employee seated on the bench outside the front door overheard our conversation and begin to chuckle.
"You know what I'm talking about?" I asked.
"Sure," he smiled. "It's coming from the 24 Hour Fitness exercise classes."