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The Familiar Five: Reflections on a Summer Movie Marathon

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It was interesting to see how people responded to the notion of seeing five movies in theatres in a single day. My initial instinct was that it was madness, an opinion shared by many others; others thought it wasn’t a big deal, remembering Oscar marathons or film festivals where they sat in theatres for just as long if not longer. What everyone could agree on, however, is that it’s decidedly abnormal, which is why I jumped on the chance to attempt it once I realized it was temporally possible.

I saw four movies back-to-back in January of 2011, the first time I had attempted such a marathon, so this was not entirely unprecedented. However, this felt like a different experience, and not just because I was adding a fifth movie to the equation. Adding a fifth movie was indeed a challenge, necessitating more scheduling juggling to get the timing to work and forcing an earlier morning, meaning that I’d more likely be sleep deprived. However, it also depends on where the movie marathon is taking place, both in terms of cost and nearby amenities. My previous marathon took place at a theatre with discounted Tuesday tickets and nearby fast food for lunch; this marathon took place at Madison’s AMC 18 Fitchburg, which also has inexpensive matinees but is isolated to the point I had to walk fifteen minutes beyond where a bus was able to take me.

There’s an argument to be made that all this preparation—the Large Popcorn bag you keep refilling halfway because you know you’ll eat it all if they give it to you, the two orders of overpriced chicken tenders constituting meals, the snuck-in water bottle you refill in the water fountains, the Ziploc bag of ginger cookies, the brief bit of fresh air to keep sane—overpowers the movies themselves, already at risk of seeming lost as you jump from film-to-film, genre-to-genre over the course of the day. At the same time, though, there’s something nice about losing yourself to the movies for a day, rather than watching a movie distracted by what I’d been doing before or what I need to do after. I may have been tired by the time I reached my fourth and fifth movies, but I was also squarely in the moviegoing mindset.

My particular moviegoing mindset is also particularly tuned to marathons. I’m not someone who has incredibly strong responses to movies: I like seeing movies, and I like discussing movies, but you’ll rarely see me take a hard stance on whether I liked or disliked a particular film. This is not to say that I’m not critical of films (I can’t shut that off), but rather that I’m more likely to treat their consumption as a sort of cultural participation rather than evaluation. Seeing five movies in one day is the natural progression of losing an hour watching trailers on Apple.com, jumping from genre to genre in order to get a big-picture view of the cinematic landscape.

Admittedly, it’s a big-picture view of the big picture landscape, focused mainly on films with wide distribution, big marketing budgets, and big box office goals. That’s where my filmgoing tends to focus itself, both because it’s the kind of movie experience I grew up on and because it’s the type of movie I find most easy to participate with (not to mention the easiest films to find in multiplexes with cheap matinees). It’s also the type of experience that tends to play well in marathons, a lack of subtlety better opening up space to place the films within different cultural or industrial conversations.

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