On New Year’s Day I drove from Chilmark to Edgartown, from Peaked Hill to Main street, listening to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch alone in my car. I parked a half block before the movie theatre, got out and enjoyed the Currier & Ives wonder of Christmas in Edgartown, happy to see the lights aglow. I took a picture of town hall then headed inside and up the stairs. The cinema owner shook his head, surprised the theatre was only half full, commenting as he handed me my ticket stub that other New Year’s Days had more of a showing. I bought myself a small popcorn and proceeded to the cinema on the left, found a seat on the aisle half way to the screen, and nestled in while nodding to a couple of familiar faces. No butter on the popcorn; straight up and making me happy.
I noticed no background music playing after the talking had gone on too long. No shorts, no local ads or movie teasers. The screen remained blank and there was no word from management. Audience members slowly began to notice the time, and that the film, Philomena, was not yet showing. The movie should have had us by now in the throes of Judi Dench’s brilliant performance, but still the blank screen remained. A local radio station began to play 25 minutes after the scheduled screening should have started.
“Happy New Year’s, folks,” the owner said, as he made his way backwards down the mid-aisle. It pained him, he said, to have to hand out red emergency tickets, good for any show, but the projector just would not start. I hung back as did others caught up in the fray of this unusual social hour. What else was there to do, try and catch the next show if the machine would start, or check out the evening screening at The Film Center in Vineyard Haven? For me it would have to be another day since my son was returning home on the 6 p.m. ferry.
Today is Jan. 4 and I am heading to Philomena in Edgartown for a 3:45 p.m. show.
The road from home to the end of Music street still has icy patches and a sloppy layer of slush oozing toward the two-foot snow-banks where there once were newly painted white lines. Thankfully from West Tisbury to Edgartown the road is clear. I am hopeful that the temperature will not drop below freezing while I am at the film. Alone in my car and still listening to The Goldfinch, the light is magnificent, with bold large clouds, gray, white and pink accents. It is easy to find parking. I retrace my steps to the theatre, walk back upstairs, hand over my red emergency ticket, forego the popcorn and make my way inside, looking forward to the film.
A friend and her sister are across the aisle from me eating a giant bucket of popcorn. I sit and notice a text from my Katama girlfriend, “on my way 3:47 p.m.” Background music is playing, but again no ads, no teasers. There are others like me who are back a second time. There is a film playing in the cinema on the left side this time, not the same as before, but nothing is happening on this side. Forty or so minutes after the published screening time, the owner lets us know that Philomena is one tough girl. It is a digital film and needs someone to enter a code, but the code is “not taking.” It does not seem to work. He offers everyone emergency tickets and apologizes, adding that even the Film Society had issues with this film.
Again I hang back talking to others like me who had tried before. I joked about lightning never striking twice and was told that was incorrect, as conditions dictate the feasibility of lightning. About eight minutes later the owner returns to the eight of us left in the theatre and asks if we’d still like to see the film now that everything seems to be Go. Everyone is happy to return to their seats and get a nearly private showing. The owner said he’d been down to the parking area, but everyone had cleared out already.
The film, without question, was worth waiting for. To top it off, the temperature at 6 p.m. was holding at 35 degrees so driving home was not a big deal.
Valerie Sonnenthal is a resident of Chilmark.