The Rumbling

I’m polishing my review of Anton Corbijn‘s The American, which I saw last night at the AMC 19th Street. But I first need to explain the absurd circumstances it was shown under. This is one of the quietest films I’ve seen in in my life — George Clooney raises his voice slightly once or twice, and nobody ever shouts — but during the entire thing the dialogue was competing with and mostly losing to an unusually loud air-conditioning system in the theatre.

Remember the next-to-last scene in the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven, inside the Las Vegas chapel where the Rat Pack is attending a funeral service for poor Richard Conte? They’re sitting side by side in a pew and they hear an odd persistent noise — something blowing and rumbling. “What’s that sound?” one of them asks, “The deceased is being cremated,” an usher says. That was what I was listening to throughout the entire film last night, only two or three times louder. I had to cup my ears to hear some of the dialogue.

If there’s one film I’ve seen this year that really demands first-rate sound and a sense of absolute dead quiet in the theatre, it’s The American. And it was shown in the noisiest theatrical environment I’ve encountered in years if not decades.

It was almost as if someone at Focus Features had decided to ruin the viewing experience as best they could without being too overt about it. (I’m not suggesting this, of course.) I can imagine the meeting when they decided on the best plan. “We need to diminish The American with New York critics, but how?” a publicist might have said. “What if we hire a couple of guys to agitate the crowd?,” a colleague might have suggested. “You know…get them to talk loudly at the screen and maybe start a fight in the middle of the show?” Too blatant, the first guy would say. Something more subtle. “I’ve got it!” an assistant could pipe in. “We show it at a theatre with a noisy 1962 ventilation system that rumbles so loudly people won’t be able to hear some of the dialogue!” Brilliant, says the first guy.

37 thoughts on “The Rumbling

  1. MrTribeca on said:

    It shouldn’t be a factor of course but out of curiosity – where were you in the theatre?

  2. Short of screening this movie in a tomb, I’m not sure there’s a theater in the United States equipped for how quiet it is. Saw it at the Angelika in Dallas, with its perfectly humble HVAC system and about twenty or so other viewers, whose mere inhalations and sighs rendered the (minimal) dialogue inaudible. They should play this movie at yoga classes.

  3. My experience with seeing a movie in NYC has always been from screen size, lighting, sound and the unexplained odors. NYC is great for live theatre but sucks whjen you want to see a movie in a quality cinema.This has been an on going issue for at least thirty years. I thought you knew this when you moved there.

  4. Jett and I were sitting in the second row, across the aisle from N.Y. Times critic Tony Scott, his wife and his son.

  5. Sounds like I’m brining my hearing aides to this one. Usually the little ear bugs are just for thick accents (Sherlock Holmes), ear-plugs for too-loud press screenings (Die Hard 4), and trying to figure out what Danny Glover is yapping about in Shooter.

  6. I still want to see this film, but it sounds like (nudity aside) they designed it specifically to put people to sleep.

  7. at least they didn’t install the urinal on the opposite side of the screen like a theater in Raleigh. During the quiet moments, you get to hear a symphony of flushes.

  8. That theater is right near where I work. Even though it’s literally a two-minute walk away, I usually avoid it anyway. It’s the lack of stadium seating that pisses me off the most. Always guaranteed to get some large-haired douche sitting in front of you and obstructing the screen.

  9. I have it on pretty good authority that Focus had approached Scott, hoping to hire him to start a fight with YOU in the middle of the screening, to be followed by a cage match between his son and Jett, but Scott demurred because Focus was low-balling him on the fee.

  10. I was at the same screening as Jeff. Oddly enough, I’ve not had this problem at the 19th Street AMC before, but it’s as if they picked the one specific auditorium with a genuinely awful/loud AC system. Like, it was clearly broken.

    I heard most of the dialogue, but it was a struggle. I plan on going again when it opens Wednesday at the Ziegfeld, perhaps THE best venue in New York City to see a film (presentation-wise).

  11. Then again, I did see Julia Roberts there once, at the back door, waiting for someone to let her in for an advance screening of THE MEXICAN. She had her back to me, so I didn’t know it was her, and I told her where the main entrance was. She thanked me, flashing that million megawatt smile, which is completely blinding in person, even moreso than on screen (particularly a 19th St. screen).

  12. To echo Mr. Gopnik’s implication, I think it’s a film that will repay repeat viewings. Even notwithstanding the crappy presentation last night.

  13. Between the (lack of) marketing and the slipshod presentation for critics, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Mel Brooks once made a movie about this exact situation. By any chance, was Gene Wilder sitting near you, hysterical and wet?

  14. sounds like (nudity aside) they designed it specifically to put people to sleep.

    I’m the opposite. The louder a movie is, the more my brain numbs itself and the more i am apt to fall sleep. A Transformer film is like red wine and turkey to me. I have unsuccessfully tried to watch each film on 3 separate occasions apiece; fell asleep every single time.

  15. Also I’ve always loved how they’re walking in front of their own marquee at the end. That movie was filmed 20 minutes at a time during hangovers.

  16. Will see George this w/e. The screen will be bright,

    the theater will be quiet and the the experience will be grand. I will get popcorn and a soda.

  17. I sat towards the back, Jeff, and it was just as bad. I loathe that theater, and this picture deserved better.

    Interestingly, most of the screenings I’ve been to there have been for horror pics or fratboy comedies, where you get the sense that the studio doesn’t really care about the presentation but just wants to paper the all-media house with some kind of loose, laid-back Village-y crowd.

    Don’t know why “The American” got booked in there; it’s not as if it’s a week heavy with screenings.


  18. I agree with the comments here… this was the WORST theater to show this movie in. I would have even gone with the Bedbug AMC on 42nd Street over this because I was also at the back and the AC was louder than the movie most of the time. The last time I had such a bad experience with ambient noise was when I saw Good Night, and Good Luck at the aforementioned AMC opening weekend and the AC kicked on during one of the quiet dialogue scenes and the theater nearly jumped.

    I didn’t love this movie but it would have played better at the Universal Screening Room or really any other screening room because the silence could be appreciated.

  19. At my screening, the audience was unusually loud for whatever reason. People were hopping up and running out of the room without any thought at all to the noise they were making. Disturbing.

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