The Art of Almost Attending

By  · Published on April 1st, 2016

Nothing gets the blood flowing quite like a solid filmmaker retrospective, and this weekend, the Film Society at Lincoln Center in New York City is kicking off a doozy. Starting on Thursday, March 31, and running through the following Thursday, genre fans will be treated to a complete retrospective of the films of Sam Peckinpah. This series draws on previous programs at the Locarno Film Festival and in Parisian arthouses and will take a complete look at Peckinpah’s career, ranging from the director’s well-known pictures like The Wild Bunch to the less-screened cult hits like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. All told, twenty-two films will show in the next seven days, and I cannot wait to tell people how close I was to attending any of them.

I pride myself on my ability to almost attend screenings. Since I live in New York, I’m on the email lists for all the major arthouses and independent theaters in the city, and every month is a smorgasbord of incredible programming that I can later admit I thought real hard about going to. I’ve just missed screenings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the IFC Center, and the latter happens with a frequency I’d find alarming if it wasn’t so totally not my fault. I’m particularly excited about the opening of Metrograph, an independent theater dedicated to Hollywood classics and art film distributors. Much to my great joy, Metrograph opened off a subway line that’s notoriously unreliable, ensuring that no one would bat an eye when my “attempts” to visit end in commuter tragedy.

It’s important not to confuse this with laziness. A great deal of craft goes into almost attending film screenings. First, there’s raising awareness. When choosing which movies to almost attend, I am sure to mention repertory screenings and film programs on social media as early as possible, thereby demonstrating to my audience that I circled these dates on my calendar and were one of the first to really think heavily about attending. “What an incredible program!” I might say, using exclamation points to disguise the fact that I never really had any intention of staying out that late, and that I’d much rather spend a Friday night in my underwear watching old episodes of Rick & Morty on Hulu. You might even raise the topic with others to really sell the lie. “Can you believe that the New Beverly is playing Jaws 2 and The Omen II back-to-back?” you could mention to a friend, knowing full-well that that shit’s three hours long and ain’t nobody got time for that.

It’s also important to memorize the transportation routes to your local arthouse theaters and to jump on any delays in service or accidents as a valuable reason to skip a night at the movies. “I’m so pissed that the N train wasn’t running to Manhattan on the weekends!” sounds like the perfect excuse, even if it doesn’t quite explain your decision to order GrubHub at the time you were supposedly “en route” to the movie theater. You can also blame your office for keeping you late at least once a week, never confessing that the last hour of your workday was spent browsing Twitter and using Google translate to learn how to swear in new languages. You would’ve been all over that Ozu retrospective if it weren’t for that last bit of paperwork. Ain’t bosses the worst?

Thanks to the ease of video-on-demand, you now have the ability to almost watch movies without ever leaving your apartment. This typically takes one of two approaches. If you prefer never to select an actual movie to watch, you can instead bounce between the various streaming platforms on your television, giving lip service to every out-of-print Criterion upload while regularly switching back to Netflix to see if their titles have changed in the last five minutes. A truly gifted cinephile can keep this approach up for hours; by the time they’re ready to pretend like they made a decision, they’ve already used up all the time they had allotted to watching a movie. Meanwhile, more decisive fans can simply identify the low-brown action film they know they’ll end up watching – Broken Arrow for the tenth time, say, or the first half of Soldier – and pretend that they’re saving Grey Gardens for a time “when they can really focus on the movie.”

It’s not all fun and games, of course. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you end up accidentally attending a repertory screening. In this scenario, try to make sure it’s a film you’ve previously seen – thereby protecting you from learning something new during valuable “me time” – and be prepared to talk as little as possible about the movie itself. If a friend wants to know your opinion – either as an affirmation that you enjoyed it or to expand their own cinematic horizons – be sure to suggest that this particular title was “overrated” in the filmmaker’s oeuvre and that the film you really wanted to watch is the one playing the next evening (and, of course, you have a conflict). This should hopefully cement your reputation as someone who loves to go to movies without actually requiring you to make the effort to, you know, go to movies.

Every major city in America features an abundance of movie screenings each day, and it’s important for all growing cinephiles – regardless of location – to develop their own reputation for almost watching an incredible number of films. Hopefully, these few steps have helped explain the best way to skip screenings at the last minute, pretend to work late, or decide that the time to get to the theater just isn’t worth the quality of the film. By following these few easy steps, you, too, can have all the benefits of a sterling reputation without ever once putting your video game streaming schedule in jeopardy. Godspeed, and my condolences in advance that your bus was suddenly pulled from service, convincing you it was time to just head home instead.

Godspeed and you’re welcome.

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)