"You know, you don't have to do this. I know it's out of the way and playing at an inconvenient hour. We can always cover it next week or on DVD. I'm giving you an out," my editor Keith offered sympathetically, mercy in his eyes. I was officially being offered a reprieve. I didn't have to travel to the farthest reaches of Northwest Chicago to see Uwe Boll's Postal at the Portage, a beautiful old-time movie palace/revival house that doesn't even play new movies on a regular basis.
But the die had been cast a long time ago. You know the role friends, family, love, community, religion and public service collectively play in your life? That's kind of the role bad movies play in my life. I was born into this. For me, seeing and writing about ridiculous movies isn't just a job; it's a sacred calling, a passion, a solemn duty. So the prospect of traveling an hour and a half to see Postal was strangely appealing, even thrilling.
When I arrived at the Portage for the five o clock screening of Postal, the man selling tickets seemed bewildered. "How, uh, did you find out about this screening? I mean it's not even listed in The Reader," he inquired bemusedly.
"I'm actually reviewing this for The Onion" I spat out defensively, eager not to be mistaken for someone who would shell out ten dollars for a Uwe Boll movie purely of my own accord. "Incidentally, how did this come to play here? Did Boll rent out the theater or something?" I asked earnestly. "Damned if I know. I just know that it is playing here," was the ticket-taker's flummoxed reply.
I bought a grape Fanta and a medium popcorn saturated in butter and salt and entered the theater. Now the Portage is absolutely huge. It's epic, majestic even. It seats about fifteen hundred. The complete absence of patrons made it seem infinitely bigger.
I was the only person in the entire theater. There were literally three times more people working the showing than attending it. Moviegoing–that consummate group activity–had suddenly become something weirdly private. I was being treated/punished with a private showing, for my eyes only. Whenever I am in a completely empty theater I feel a strange compulsion to take of all my clothes and run around naked. Otherwise what's the point of having an entire theater to yourself?
Back in the A.V Club's prehistoric day back in Madison it wasn't unusual for me to be the only person in a theater. Keith and I used to attend the first Friday afternoon screening of whatever was opening at Eastgate. Let me tell you, there is nothing in the world lonelier than being the only person at a showing of Steel, though it's not quite as sad as the time I saw Detroit Rock City at Eastgate and the only people in the theater were a doughy middle-aged couple in full-on KISS make-up. They were clearly expecting a mass display of devotion from the KISS Army, if not a surprise appearance from Gene Simmons and company. Before the film played I had to fight the urge to go over to them and quietly empathize "My God, I'm so sorry." Their big night out at the movies had to be soul-crushingly disappointing in so many different ways.
But back to the foolishness at hand: it was utterly, utterly surreal being the only person in a 1500 seat theater watching a Uwe Boll movie. Watching such a tacky little bit of pop culture ephemera in a sacred cathedral of film was like a black velvet Elvis painting occupying an entire wall of the Louvre: it was a terrible waste of a beautiful space.
When I got up to use the bathroom halfway through the film, the guy working concession quipped "Do you want me to stop it for you?" then inquired how it was. "Almost inconceivably awesome" I enthused. I may have been joking. I've gotta say though: I really didn't hate the movie. I was anticipating an unwatchable insult; what I got was a strangely watchable insult. There was a hellzapoppin, anything-goes free-for-all element of the film that kind of snuck up on me. A C- might be a little generous side but if every hack filmmaker had the personality and persistence of a Uwe Boll the film world would be a much more entertaining place. Not a better place, necessarily, but definitely a more colorful and enjoyable one.
When I left the theater the projectionist came down and asked me what I thought of the film. I told him that I had expected something far worse and he abashedly confessed "The opening scene, you know, where the terrorists are arguing about the exact number of virgins they'll receive in paradise, it's almost, you know, kind of," and then, measuring his words very carefully continued "mildly amusing". This seemed to surprise him tremendously. Heck, it surprised me as well. This strange interaction summed up the whole experience of seeing Postal: Boll may not have made a movie that was, you know, good, or clever, but he certainly provided an utterly singular cinematic experience. You gotta give the guy that much.