Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Bagdad's unlucky Friday the 13th

Horror fans were treated to a bit of bad luck last night, if they attended The Bagdad Theater's screening of Friday the 13th, Part 3 in 3D. A combination of poor staffing and a subpar presentation was enough to give even the most forgiving audience member a bit of a headache.

For starts, the film started 45 minutes late. So, if you bought your ticket early, grabbed your snacks and got in your seat before the movie was scheduled to begin, you could have spent over one hour waiting for the lights to dim and the movie to start. All you could do was wait, talk with your friends (unless you attended the screening alone) and watch the endless ads for various McMenamin locations and events.

It wasn't a problem with the staff that caused the delay, but rather, the lack of people working in the theater. Tickets could not be purchased in advance, so you had to wait until the doors opened at 7:30 pm to be admitted. The front of house staff consisted of one ticket taker, one guy handing out glasses and three overworked snack bar attendants. The second bar for beer and snacks was closed. And the line was stretched around the block.

Perhaps they weren't expecting such a crowd, but it was 8 pm on Friday the 13th, and this is a movie celebrating the day. And anyone with any familiarity with the genre offerings around Portland should know that we'll turn out en masse for just about anything. So someone at The Bagdad underestimated the crowd, yet it looked like the second bar had recently closed. It would have made more sense to keep the second bar open until everyone was in their seats, rather than assume no one would turn up for this film. Bad move on the part of The Bagdad management team, but the people working were great, so don't blame them!

The second problem was more with the film itself. Or, the digital presentation of the film. We all know theaters are moving to digital projection, as most studios are foregoing 35mm presentations and moving into the digital age. And I'm not going to complain about that. It's going to happen, whether I like it or not, so better to enjoy the screenings of obscure genre films in any format. But for 80s 3D movies, this is a big problem.

I'm not a tech geek, so here's a VERY brief summation of the process. In the 80s 3D revival, only one camera was used to process a 3D image. In the 50s, 3D images were created using two cameras, and two projectors were needed to show the images. Any misalignment, whether from the projectors or an audience's members head positioning, lead to "ghosting" or multiple images "appearing" on screen.

The single camera process reduced that shadowing. By capturing the two images needed for 3D imaging in one camera, it allowed one projector (with the proper lens) to present the image to the audience. Using cheap polarized lens glasses, the audience was treated to a crisper, cleaner 3D experience. Maybe not as good as the digital images presented in theaters now, but much better than the experience through the red and green lens glasses.

But the single camera image (known as over/under) can not be translated to digital imagery. But red/green 3D can, so when I saw the screen flash a Blu-ray mode signal, I knew this presentation would be nothing like the version I was back in 1982.

And it wasn't. Hell, I could could have stayed home and watched the DVD version of the film.

Look, I don't care what the staff at McMenamins might say. I was there in '82 and the 35mm version is far superior to the digital copies. And somewhere, in all the publicity, the audience should have been told this would be a digital presentation.

I know it won't matter for some. But we should be told all the facts about the movie we're seeing, especially if it's a film made prior to the digital age. If you plan to show a digital copy, that's fine. But some of us might prefer a 35mm print, and we have the right to know what we're going to see before we buy our ticket and sit down in the theater. And we might surprise you, and show up anyway.

But we deserve to know in advance, especially in Portland. Any city that wants it's food labelled non-GMO deserves to have revival films labeled "non-35mm."

As for films starting 45 minutes late, well, you really need to work on that.