Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apologies & WTF?: AIR DOLL | Kendall Square | Theater 2 | Thursday, June 10, 9:30pm

I want to write something kinda sharp and biting about the state of moviegoing, an extrapolation from my experience tonight at the Kendall... But, I'm just not feeling it. And maybe a case for something like that isn't really in what happened tonight. Perhaps tonight was just a minor cluster that happened to me and me alone.

Well, me and at least one other moviegoer (sorry).

So, I'm just gonna tediously replay what happened and didn't happen...

So, I went to the Kendall for the last scheduled show of AIR DOLL tonight, the 9:30pm show. Online listings noted that it was a limited engagement ("Must End Thursday, June 10!") and digitally projected ("Digital Projection, One Week Only"). I really wanted to see this for its quirky premise (I'll include the listing blurb at the end of this post), direction by Hirokazu Kore-eda (AFTER LIFE), and of course, its air doll star, Bae Doona (THE HOST, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE). The DVD starts up and right away things look wrong. The picture is stretched wide (or squashed short). I like my movies and television, but I do not have a command of proper aspect ratios for the different formats of each. I don't know what (mis)combination of source and projector settings would produce this effect—the picture filled the wide screen properly, but its content was distorted. In any case, a couple minutes into it, I made my way to the other side of the theater, where, before the lights went down, I saw another patron sitting on the aisle, and asked if she thought that the picture looked stretched. She told me she wasn't sure, and I told her that I thought it looked off and that I'd go talk to someone about it. I left the room and approached the woman usher who tore my ticket and the projectionist, who was standing nearby against the wall. I asked if they could check the aspect ratio of the film. She couldn't be sure, but the projectionist assured us that it was displaying as intended. I couldn't believe it. Like I said, I don't have the jargon down, and I ended up pressing him by asking, "So the picture's displayed correctly, at 100%?" and he told me yes.

He wasn't budging. The woman took him at his word. I retreated back to theater number two. Tried to let the visuals and story and quirkiness of the film make me forget the distortion... Wasn't happening. After another couple minutes of trying to endure Bae Doona's carnival-mirrored features and figure, I couldn't. I left to go talk to someone and found the woman and the projectionist again. I asked if they would just have a look at the picture and tell me it's correct. The projectionist seemed a bit put out by my insistence that it looked off. He talked about how it's the last screening of the film, like that mattered somehow. I told him—I know, so you've had it at least a week... and it's played like this the whole time? No one's said anything about the picture? And he answered—No, no one's had any problem with it.

That is frickin sad. The Kendall Theater in Cambridge has apparently been projecting this film in a distorted form for a week and not a single moviegoer said anything.

Frickin sad.

The projectionist (I'm sorry I don't know either of these persons' names, I go to movies at the Kendall often, but y'know, I keep my head down and try not to get in anyone's way) explained that the manager set the projector up just so and the settings apparently are not to be adjusted.

The woman was game enough to humor me and check out the picture. I think she saw what I saw, but had to defer to the projectionist. I explained to her that I couldn't watch the rest of the film because the distortion was so distracting and she told me I could get a refund at the ticket desk.

So, I went back to my seat to get my stuff, was frickin annoyed that I still had a bag full of popcorn and most of my barrel of Diet Coke still to go. Blerg. Right then, the woman in the audience I'd queried when I left to ask about the picture the first time was making her way to the exit. I wish I'd caught up to her to ask what she thought and also to apologize—I think that my asking her about the picture sort of "broke" an otherwise decent movie experience for her.

Then again, I hope she carries my snobbery with her to the rest of the movies she sees. =)

In the lobby, the projectionist explained again about how the settings were adjusted as per the manager's directions. He lamented the fact that people didn't see anything wrong with the picture. I know that people DO get used to screwed up aspect ratios, trying to fill their wide screen TVs with standard TV pictures, but for what was up there on the big screen in a darkened theater to be acceptable? Frickin sad.

I don't know what to make of the projectionist's defensive attitude. I want to think that he was given crappy orders and was told he had to follow them, but I really wonder if he noticed. I mean, for a WEEK this went on and he didn't bring it up.

Granted, no one else apparently had a problem with it so y'know, maybe it's just squeaky wheel philosophy in action, right?

Have I mentioned how frickin sad that is?

Frickin sad.

So, I ended up at the ticket desk asking for a refund/replacement. Of course, AIR DOLL was one of last movies to start up tonight, and everything else was already rolling. I looked at my ridiculous sized popcorn and soda, reviewed the options, and decided I'd try my best to save this outing and see the rest of MICMACS again (I saw it at the Boston premiere as the IFFB closing night film)! I had my heart set on AIR DOLL-ness, but I really can't complain about the cinemagickal filmmaking of Jeunet and the troupe he gathered for MICMACS.

To the woman whose AIR DOLL experience I may have ruined with my question: my apologies.

To the other patrons in theater two: could you really not see/sense/recognize the weirdness of the picture?

To the Kendall manager: REALLY? C'mon, REALLY?

The premise of Air Doll seems silly at best, salacious at worst: an inflatable sex doll comes to life. But in the sensitive hands of internationally-acclaimed director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, After Life, Nobody Knows) the story becomes a magical meditation on what it means to be human. Lonely middle-aged waiter Hideo (Itsuji Itao) relieves his solitude with the company of an air doll: he chats with her, dresses her, and has sex with her every night. One morning after he has left for work, the doll suddenly comes to life and, dressing up in her maid outfit, goes out to explore the world with the wide-eyed wonder of a small child. Beautiful Korean star Bae Doona (The Host) is mesmerizing as the come-to-life doll, fearlessly naked both physically and emotionally. Mimicking the speech and actions of her neighbors the air doll learns to fit in, and soon lands a job working at a video store, where she begins to fall in love with a sympathetic co-worker (Arata). Yet every night she goes home and pretends to be a doll for Hideo, who has not noticed any change. Her soul is pure, but one of the first things she learns as a human is deceit. "I found myself with a heart I was not supposed to have," she says.

Keep on keepin on~

1 comment:

Larry Kyrala said...

Seriously? the projectionist had no clue? You were completely right, if the picture looks distorted, the aspect ratio is off. Unfortunately, there are a HUGE number of formats ( for the source media (some vary by country!!) -- the question is: how do the source formats get transferred to DVD? This is also a mess of different formats depending on region, etc. (PAL, NTSC, HD, etc.) and not all dvd players anticipate every different format. Some highend ones have manual settings for aspect, but setting correct aspect ratio doesn't mean filling the screen 100% -- each screen has it's own aspect ratio -- so much like a tv, it's a decision about whether to fill and clip, (pan and scan is usually out), or letterbox either way. Sometimes people assume foreign films "look bad" because they don't understand these issues -- they think that's just the way it is.