So, I guess that is the first “WHATNOT”… which is basically my ROBBLOG.
Well, after 17 years of slaving at the Ol’ Salt Mines (as Fred Rutherford would say to Ward Cleaver), I have found unemployment to be exceptionally weird; it changes lots of things. For example, I never need to stop anymore in the evening and wonder if I should have “just one more drink” (I usually go for it), I get to sleep until I wake up EVERY morning, and all the elementary school moms already know that I am the Dad that can always be there. After all, where else do I have to go? Book Fairs, classroom volunteer, emergency babysitter… I am there ALWAYS. Sadly, no “Mr. Mom” sexual-electricity between me and the other stay-at-home parents, but my fingers remain crossed.
Anyhow, there are things that NO amount of unemployment could ever change. I still love Ebbish (which is what I call The King of Rock and Roll), I am still the same “Old Queen” that you know and love (by the way, there is a criminal lack of classic musicals available on Blu-Ray. I’m just sayin’…), and I still have an amazing, almost Michael Phelps-ian knack for screwing up gifts for my wife Cary. Longtime listeners will remember how I gave her the same white gold cross necklace for Christmas TWO YEARS IN A ROW. I am an ass. That said…
Cary’s birthday was this week. Now, about two months ago (I still had a job) I was watching (not surprisingly) Turner Classic Movies (TCM; channel 256 on DirecTV, which is like Mecca for those of us who were born in the wrong decade…). They ran a brief promo for a ONE NIGHT ONLY SPECIAL EVENT. I leaned forward in my easy chair for a closer look.
Well, I already knew that 2009 marked the 70th anniversary of the ZENITH of the Hollywood studio system... which meant that 2009 also marked the 70th anniversary of both Gone With The Wind AND The Wizard Of Oz. Now, you may be wondering, “How much of an OLD QUEEN is my old buddy Robb?” Well, so much that I pre-ordered my Blu-Ray’s of BOTH of these two classics last year, because I knew that the 70th anniversary editions would be out in time for Christmas ’09. The releases hadn’t even been announced yet! I think that I have owned every release of GWTW since it came out on Beta in the mid-80’s. My checkbook was ready.
So, the ONE NIGHT ONLY SPECIAL EVENT was a big screen showing of WIZARD in a real theatre. Popcorn and everything. They were gonna show the classic flick, totally restored, in Digital HD, and they promised me that it would look like it did when it hit screens 70 years ago. EXACTLY. A remarkable, precise duplicate of the original print from 1939. JUST the way it looked when it first released. ONE SHOWING ONLY, in ONLY 100 theatres in the whole country. And, they had the amazing courtesy to schedule it on my wife’s birthday. Terrific.
My shirt never touched my back as I ran to my computer and bought tix for the whole family. My mind spun gleefully as I imagined talking to my kids about “the good old days” (before DVD’s… Hell! Before VCR’s!) when WIZARD on TV was the cornerstone of my television year. So, I bought the tickets (10 bucks a pop). I even paid the convenience charge of 2 dollars per Spewak… but I didn’t find it convenient whatsoever.
Mrs. Spewak was delighted with the tickets. I actually felt that I had succeeded this year with her birthday present… suddenly being her unemployed husband wasn’t a total disappointment.
We had an amazing dinner at Coastal Flats (if you’re ever in the DC suburbs, check it out… tasty.). I asked the staff to “embarrass my wife” but I was told that even though it was her birthday they “don’t sing”. Instead, they brought her a banana pudding with a candle on it. Still, the evening was cruising along at “successful.”
We got to the theatre just in time to secure a block of seats together in the 5th row… not bad. The theatre was filling rapidly with lotsa noisy kids (which is OK, because it IS a kid’s film, and it’s not like I needed to hear the dialogue to follow the plot), but the thing that bothered me off the bat was that the auditorium was hot. I put it at 75 degrees or so. Hot and humid. Yuck. And being shoulder to shoulder in a filling theatre made it worse. But I wasn’t going to complain and ruin the Birthday… no sir, not me.
So, finally the program started. It kicked off with a brief documentary about the film hosted by TCM Host/Historian Robert Osborne. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this swishy grande dame of classic cinema, but to see him 40 feet tall on the siver screen and gliding across the floor and lisping to me that, “We will be off to see the Wizard in a few minutessssssssssss…” was truly a sight to behold. That’s when the trouble started.
The video and the audio started to drop out. Like a bad You-Tube video. Like a dirty DVD. The audience laughed at first… then the booing began. I actually remained calm at first, after all… this was just filler, not the movie that we all came to see.
We soldiered through about 15 minutes of this tedious, jumpy documentary, and I saw something that really blew my mind. There, on a MOVIE SCREEN in 2-foot letters:
“Windows XP Has Encountered a Problem and Needs to Shut Down”.
I felt my jaw drop to my chest in disbelief as I watched the familiar exercise of a computer restart play out on the biggest monitor in town. Slowly. About 200 phones come out and start taking pix of this unusual sight. It was surreal, and I also notice at this time that at the bottom of the movie screen, the “Start” button was about 2 feet lower than the computer clock. So, not only was the movie screwed up, but the projector was crooked. The walk on the yellow brick road was going to be uphill this time…
So, they restarted the computer, the lights dim… and the lame documentary starts from the beginning. Bad. Instead of seeing the movie, I see Queen Osborne come swishing towards me again, except now we’re 30 minutes behind schedule and worst of all… it’s still having the same audio/video skipping problem.
At this point, the head teenager who runs the theatre announces:
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we’re having some technical difficulties…”
He goes on to explain that after another computer restart, they will skip the documentary and begin the feature presentation. Exactly what I wanted to hear! So, I settle back in my seat, try to ignore the screaming toddlers and my sweaty brow and imagine what it would be like to check my Facebook page on a movie screen. I imagine it would be great. Amazingly, Cary is still smiling.
Lights dim. Nervous anticipation. Audience claps. The familiar MGM logo fills the screen. Leo the lion opens his mighty jaws and says: “Ro. Uh. Uh. Oa. Or.” The picture drops out. Same problem. Lights Up.
“WINDOWS IS RESTARTING”.
I turn to Cary and say, “If I have to watch Robert Osborne sashay on that screen one more time, I’m going to kill myself.” She smiled… and asked if I wanted to go home. I nodded, and the kids were on board with it too.
I got all my money refunded (even the convenience charge) and some free passes for our wasted evening… but I still had to apologize to Cary for another present that wasn’t. She claims that she was happy just to get out of the house, and I almost believe her.
I do have a lingering feeling of disappointment that we (especially my kids) got shut out from seeing that restored print, JUST AS IT WAS FIRST SEEN 70 YEARS AGO. What, if any, progress have we made? I was left wondering… how did MGM manage to show the film in 1939?
They must have had a Mac.