Sophomore year, I bought a student film pass to BAMPFA. For the low price of just $40 a semester, I could go to as many movies shown at the renowned Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive as I wanted. Once or twice a week, I would sit upstairs in Babette, order a black tea and pull out a highlighter, reading texts on great theater or literature as I waited for my film to begin. One weekend, it was Pedro Almodóvar; the next, Akira Kurosawa. Every Wednesday, I tagged along to the screenings at BAMPFA for my friend’s avant-garde film class, taking notes during the Q&A afterward while my friend snuck out the back. I gushed about Chantal Akerman’s “Sud” the next Thursday and called it a “meditation on the South,” stealing the words right out of the film curator’s mouth.
This summer, I decided it was time to check off a new box on my list of manic pixie dream girl jobs and apply to work at a movie theater. I picked one to apply for exclusively because the theater accepted applications online and I was not interested in going in and asking if they were hiring. The theater had “artists” in the name, and I didn’t research it very carefully beyond that.
In my interview, the manager asked me what my favorite movie was. I hesitated, stammering, “I think I would have to say Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice.’ ” I pontificated for a few moments before catching sight of his name badge that read, “Favorite movie: JURASSIC PARK.” “Or ‘Tootsie,’ ” I added.
“Hm, eclectic,” he said, not looking up from his paper, on which he continued to scribble notes.
My first day of work, a high school colleague of mine gave me a tour around the theater — popcorn maker, cheese dispenser, broom closet, ICEE machine. He finally opened the cabinet underneath the concession stand and pointed at the rat traps.
“That one is just the classic trap, so … kkkchhhh,” he said, making a cutting motion across his throat. “And that one is just a glue trap, so they just get stuck there and starve or something, I guess.” From behind me, another voice piped up: “Once I saw one get stuck on the glue trap, and it just kept screaming and screaming, and I just shut the door.” I imagined these two guys hiking up their pants by the belt buckle and spitting at my feet. “Yer hoity toity Turner Classic Movies BS ain’t no good around these parts,” they would say, rolling a toothpick from one side of their mouths to the other. This, as they say in the movies, is when I realized I had made a mistake.
The first thing I was asked by all my new colleagues was what my favorite movie was, and the second was why it wasn’t “Avengers: Infinity War.” When I returned the question to one of my co-workers, he told me that it was an impossible question to answer because he had different favorites from different genres. I nodded in agreement. But he went on.
“Like, if we are talking comedy, ‘Deadpool 2’ is for sure my favorite, but I also loved ‘Infinity War’ for an action movie, and ‘Solo’ was fantastic, too.”
I wanted to ask if he had ever seen a movie that he couldn’t watch with his employee discount, but I was honestly afraid of the answer.
On my lunch break the third day of work, I watched the first half of “Ocean’s 8,” on my lunch break the next day, I watched the second half of “Ocean’s 8,” and by lunch break on my third day of work, I had run out of movies I was interested in watching.
Nearing the end of my summer, I have seen one entire “Mission: Impossible” movie. I have watched “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” five times. I have seen most of “The Equalizer 2.” I have seen most of “Deadpool 2.” I have seen a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie. But I have not been to a movie at BAMPFA all summer.
I walk past it every day and peer inside. I see the concrete floors and pretty curators with sharp features and big glasses. I see the names Bergman and Antonioni in neon lights up on the electronic marquee. I don’t see rats or fingerprints on the glass. I don’t see boarded-up outdoor staircases that people used to poop in, and I don’t see candy counters with the paint peeling off. But I also don’t see Daniel or Leilani or the old woman with bright-colored berets who buys two tickets for one day and smiles widely as she tells me she’s just using a cane today and not her walker. I don’t see huge groups of people to herding back into the theater to make sure they don’t miss the little scene in “Mamma Mia” after the credits or kids who literally jump for joy when I tell them there are 20 minutes of previews and they haven’t missed any of “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.” And at my movie theater, I definitely don’t see any people slipping out early to avoid the Q&A.