In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Chris Lay, associate publisher
I’ve managed to live my life such that I have somehow mostly avoided ads for the My Pillow line of products. Sure, I hear it talked about on podcasts sometimes, possibly even in the form of ad copy read by the hosts of whatever show I’m listening to, but I’ve more or less dodged the gaudy infomercials with their pitchman and their earworm jingles. More or less, that is, until I sat down last Saturday for an IMAX screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the New Vision Fitchburg 18.
Now, you may be thinking that I’m grousing about how many ads run beforefilms, but you’d be wrong.
Within the sci-fi epic’s runtime of close to two and a half hours, director Stanley Kubrick mercifully included an intermission, during which viewers can take a break from the mounting tension onboard the Discovery One and make a bathroom or snack run, or just bathe in avant-garde composer György Ligeti’s haunting harmonics. It was right here, during a ready-made and somewhat iconic intermission that didn’t need anything else to fill it up, that the cinema lovers at New Vision Theatres decided to bombard everyone with a slew of straight up TV commercials for everything from the aforementioned My Pillow to Progressive Insurance.
Now, there are some notable bits of product placement in the film itself, including unobtrusive background cameos promoting Howard Johnson’s, Hilton, Pan American, and Whirlpool, but what happened last weekend was about as charming as getting whumped with a tapir bone. The commercials went on for at least 15 minutes (it felt…possibly longer than the intermission as included in most theatrical and DVD versions of 2001), with each successive blast of inane branding becoming increasingly absurd given the context. I feel like a sucker for not requesting a refund, but we stayed for the whole film, so to do so would have been like asking for your money back for a rudely interrupted meal after you clean your plate.
Given the increasingly rare instance of a film’s runtime warranting an intermission, I doubt that I’ll have to deal with this again. But I feel sorry for anyone else who had to put up with the steaming pile of bullshit that New Vision shoehorned into the middle of an otherwise sublime cinerama experience. (The theater company did not respond to requests for comment.) It’s worth noting that friends living in two separate time zones who caught 2001‘s IMAX run told me they didn’t see ads during their intermissions. Kubrick, a notorious control freak—who once left 15 pages of instructions for people who took care of his pets when he was traveling—can’t have wanted people to experience the 50th anniversary of 2001 this way. By the time you see this, the film will be gone from the theater. I hate to say it, but I’m happy to see it go, so that New Vision Theatres won’t inflict this particular version of the film on any other hapless moviegoers.
New this week:
On the podcast, Chris Lay reads aloud one of our favorite art stories of the year so far.
Paul McCartney announces a Madison arena show.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Madison 365 reports on a Sun Prairie Wendy’s manager who called police on a group of black teenagers. Renowned experimental duo Charalambides will play an October 16 show at Arts + Literature Laboratory. Judd Apatow has announced a run of stand-up shows from November 2 through 4 at the Comedy Club on State. The UW-Madison Center for Limnology is doing some fascinating blogging about flooding in Madison.