It was getting dark, and the air outside had turned from cool to frigid as my roommate and I waited for one of our Slovenian friends to pick us up at a bus stop near our apartment in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
We only had to wait a few minutes, but in the cold it felt like forever. The excitement of what we were about to do was palpable. We were, for the first time in months, going to the movies.
When I first arrived in Slovenia in the fall, I’d managed to see several screenings of documentaries and other excellent independent films at an old-fashioned theater, Kino Dvor, in the city center. And Kino Dvor has its own charm: balconies, red velvet curtains, a small shop selling books on film theory, and a bar/café at the entrance.
But this time? We were going the Movies, with a capital M. We were going to the huge theater called Kolosej at BTC, a sprawling series of shopping malls and entertainment complexes that I’ve heard is the biggest in Europe.
It was mid-January, and we were finally going to see Harry Potter 7.1. Though it came out just a few days later here in Slovenia than it did in the U.S., most movies come out much later. Black Swan is arriving this week, and I won’t be able to catch the King’s Speech until February.
And so the reason I hadn’t really been to the movies much in the fall becomes clear: movies just come out later here, and I’d already seen what was showing in the fall months prior in the U.S., with the exception of the Social Network, the one movie I’d somehow missed before I left home.
No matter: by mid fall, we were able to catch the opening screening of the Social Network in a packed theater that must have had a few hundred seats at minimum. And forget the previews, commercials, and quizzes theaters back home play on-screen before the show: at Slovenian premieres, all the stops come out, and on the opening night, a well-known comedian entertained the crowd with Facebook jokes for 20 minutes before the show.
As Harry Potter played on, I was grateful that Slovenians prefer subtitles—with the exception of children’s animated features, which use dubbing. There’s nothing more disappointing, I’ve found, than successfully translating the T.V. guide, finding an American movie to watch on a Saturday afternoon, and then realizing it’s on the German channel and George Clooney or some other actor is spewing foreign words in a voice that isn’t his, which is also not in sync with his mouth. (Luckily, for English-speakers in Europe, there are many channels from several different countries to choose from, and it’s possible to find a subtitled movie most of the time).
In any case, being in the hushed dark theater and listening to my neighbors chatting in Slovenian about the translations of the subtitles made me think back on a book I’d recently read, called Story by writer and professor Robert McKee.
He wrote: “When you think about it, going to the movies is bizarre. Hundreds of strangers sit in a blackened room, elbow to elbow, for two or more hours. They don’t go to the toilet or get a smoke. Instead, they stare wide-eyed at a screen, investing more uninterrupted concentration than they give to work, paying money to suffer emotions they’d do anything to avoid in life.”
I guess that’s what I love most about the movies: that inexplicable desire to do what McKee says. And it’s not about escapism, living through someone else’s life on the screen. It’s for the love of a good movie: getting lost in a story because you care about the characters, not because you’re bored with your own life.
I can hardly wait until next week, when I have plans to see the just-released Black Swan at Kolosej with friends.
That’s because despite the wait, Kolosej still has the familiar giant screens, American-style popcorn (sold in much smaller portions), and even a café in the lobby for tea and sandwiches before the movie starts.
There are a few improvements, however, of which American theaters could take note. Ticket prices are half of what I’m accustomed to paying, and there are seat numbers stamped on your tickets—which you can choose on a computer monitor when you purchase them—that ensure you’ll never have to search a crowded theater for a block of seats together even on the most crowded of nights.
Published this week in the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press and Villager Newspapers in New England.