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We apologize for the inconvenience


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Sometimes life is bitter, but sometimes it's really sweet. This weekend the Associated Press reported that an audience of parents and children at a multiplex in Holtsville, New York, were expecting to see The Last Mimzy, a gentle, PG-rated fantasy in the Spielberg tradition, but instead got a face full of The Hills Have Eyes 2, an R-rated sequel to the gruesome 2006 hit about cannibalistic mutants in the New Mexico desert. "There were kids that were crying, there were people trying to cover the kids' eyes," reported one audience member. The movie opens with a woman in chains giving birth to a deformed child, which left at least one little moviegoer traumatized. "My wife is eight months pregnant," his father told the AP, "and he's been asking, 'Is that what mommy's going to have?'"

After I finished howling with laughter, I began to remember some of the projectionist horror stories from my college days. A classmate of mine once screened a 16-millimeter print of The Rules of the Game but forgot the middle reel. Despite the fact that there were 40 minutes missing from the center of the story, people still came out of the theater proclaiming it a masterpiece. Then there was the time I screened a four-reel print of All the President's Men and followed reel one with reel three. I figured out my mistake after about 15 minutes but was too embarrassed to make an announcement and simply halted the show and went back to reel two. No one seemed to mind until I repeated reel three again, then all hell broke loose. Luckily the door to the projection booth locked from the inside.

But what if the fiasco in Holtsville was no accident? Imagine an elite corps of prankster projectionists, forcing people to widen their horizons a little. We know you've bought a ticket for 300, but instead here's a lovely new print of All Quiet on the Western Front. Sure, all your friends at school told you to see Meet the Robinsons, but we think you should see Alphaville. Why waste your time on Wild Hogs when instead you can watch Husbands? And there's no way in hell we're going to let you see The Reaping until you've watched Day of Wrath.

Then, when we've finished with the multiplexes, we infiltrate the art houses. We apologize for the inconvenience, but this afternoon's screening of A Man Escaped will be replaced by Chained Heat. Of course you've always wanted to see Black Narcissus, but tough luck—tonight we're screening Black Sunday. And we understand that you've cleared your entire day to experience the seven-hour Satantango, but to spice it up a little we're going to slip in a few reels from Blood on Satan's Claw and Tango & Cash.

The whole thing reminds me of that scene from A Night in Casablanca in which Groucho Marx, playing the manager of a posh hotel, orders that all the room numbers be changed. "But the guests!" protests one of the owners. "They will go into the wrong rooms! Think of the confusion!" Groucho replies, "Yeah, but think of the fun!" A fine sentiment—I don't think I've had so much fun in all my years at the Reader.