January 9, 2015

With dormmates snowed in, a guide to keep them cinematically engaged

It's cold; no one wants to leave the dorm. You think you will, but you won't. This leaves two options: drinking and holding house movie viewings. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to write about the former, so I will focus on the latter. If you have been put in charge of organizing house movie nights, then you have been given a sacred duty. You are literally the only thing between your housemates and potential alcohol-related disaster. As a failed house movie czar of years past, I'm here to give you some tips to keep people unproductively sitting in front of a large screen (as opposed to a small screen).

Have faith in your audience...just not that much faith

Look, we all got into the University of Chicago. We are all smart, well cultured consumers and also generally have an open mind to entertainment outside of the mainstream. So you should absolutely not feel obliged to stick with conventional crowd pleasers; go for some cool, high-brow films. However, there are limits.

Maybe you're a film studies major or just a huge film buff. That's great. But no one shares your passion for 1920s German Expressionist cinema. I know this from experience. Some films, though they lie outside the mainstream, still feature prominently in the zeitgeist of student film discourse. Identifying these films is essential.

Some examples: Quentin Tarantino is infinitely popular among people (particularly men) our age. Stanley Kubrick might have had that 30 years ago, but I wouldn't count on it today. Showing almost any Hayao Miyazaki film will earn you the adoration of your housemates. Showing a film by French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard may result in defenestration.

A good rule of thumb is that the older a film is, the less likely it will fly. But the best thing you can do is listen and be attuned to your fellow students.

Have a friend who knows how to get films from questionable sources

If you know how to do this yourself, then there’s really no problem. Those of you among the technologically impaired, however, may find that your ease of access to films is greatly diminished and fail to meet your housemates' requests. Your fumbling attempts to navigate past ads for Asian singles and muscle supplements might pay off...or maybe you'll just get a virus and have to pray that the TECHB@R can actually fix it.

So the best thing to do is place all that risk on your friend. That's what friends are for, after all. That guy in your dorm will find a movie more quickly and in higher quality than you ever could. If you're lucky, they might even donate their own computer to the cause, saving you from the virtually non-existent risk of penalty from the University for illegal downloads.

Scheduling: You can’t win, so stop trying

Logic would dictate that if you are trying to run a movie night then you should create some regular schedule based on the times people seem to be mostly free. You put a poll on Facebook, find a day and a time that seem reasonable, and get to work. You get your first movie, get all set up, one.

Now, every house is different,.Some (especially smaller, more tightly knit houses) tend to really rally around things like a movie night, and you get a great turnout. Others need a little more prodding. You can pick the best movie, bring snacks, whatever. Sometimes, people are just not gonna be in the mood for a movie. I have found that spontaneity is the best cure for this particular problem. If you and three or four others want to watch a movie at a given time, put it on and announce it on Facebook. People will flock to that, even if (especially if) it's 11 p.m. on a Tuesday because people are weird.

Bad movies can be great, but only in moderation

Everybody loves a good bad movie.  It's something of a college staple to put on something like The Room or a latter-day M. Night Shyamalan movie and laugh together. It’s a great bonding experience. Controlled substances may or may not be a factor.

But like junk food and other forms of hedonism, bad movies are bad for the soul. There is ultimately a reason we label these movies as "bad" first and foremost even if we might call them "good-bad." Plot holes, bad acting, poor image and sound quality will wear on your brain after a while, killing brain cells and increasing your risk of early dementia. I have no scientific data to back this up (other than my GPA), but I do believe it is best to only deliberately watch bad movies every few weeks at most.