New from Sarah Welch-Larson on Substack: 2: Zoom Movies

One of the stranger side effects of living through the ongoing pandemic, for me, has been realizing that I’m a much more social person than I thought I was. I never thought I’d miss going to the grocery store multiple times a week, or dropping everything to drop in on a friend, or lingering over a conversation with the owner of the local bookstore. Unplanned interactions used to make me break out in hives. Now, my time is much more carefully guarded, and I’ve fallen out of practice with making small talk, and still I crave it more than I would have thought possible.

Enter the Zoom movie party. I’ve done this a few different ways: watching a movie on a platform with a chat window; jumping on a video call before watching a movie at home to get an introduction to the film, and then rejoining the call when the credits roll to discuss the movie afterward; and just keeping the video call rolling for commentary and conversation while we all watch the movie together at home. That last method is the trickiest to pull off—it’s hard to balance the sound properly so the movie and the conversation don’t drown each other out, and it’s especially difficult to sync up multiple copies of the same movie with other people so that we’re all truly watching the same thing at the same time. If you’re not careful, you’ll hear the same dialogue from other participants’ copies of the movie echoing throughout the call. You can’t pause once you’re all rolling, because re-syncing properly becomes almost impossible. But done right, this is the closest I’ve been able to replicate watching a movie with others in person.

This past weekend, I watched Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead with friends via video call. Some of us had already seen it, but I hadn’t, and the mix of anticipatory “don’t go in there!” remarks alongside the knowing laughter from the ones who were already familiar made me feel like I was back in the movie theater with a rowdy audience. The communal experience made me appreciate the movie that much more. Hearing someone else yelp alongside me as we watched the characters battle demons was a reassurance: yes, the movie oozes camp and guts, and no, I’m not alone in reacting the way I do. The film’s genuinely disgusting—someone gets stabbed in the leg with a pencil, Bruce Campbell gets doused in syrupy red blood multiple times, and there’s a sequence in which corpses decompose rapidly in claymation, and Raimi shoots it all square-on in the middle of the frame with the fascination and glee of a middle schooler poking a dead animal in the woods with a stick. I loved it, because I love practical effects, but I’m not sure I would have appreciated as much as I did without watching it with my friends’ voices in my ears, pointing out well-framed shots and well-timed cuts and exclaiming with me whenever Raimi gets really gross. I might have been physically alone with my dog in my living room at night, but I didn’t feel alone, and isn’t that what we go to the movies for?


What I talked about:

On this week’s episode of Seeing & Believing, Kevin and I talked about Pedro Almodóvar’s 2021 movie Parallel Mothers and Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 movie Tokyo Story. We discussed the difference between melodrama (a genre that usually doesn’t work for me) and drama (a genre that usually does).

What I watched:

I’m working my way slowly through the Twilight series for a piece I’m writing for Bright Wall/Dark Room. It’s been strange giving attention to a series that I dismissed even in high school, back when I was squarely in the target audience for the books.

What I’m listening to:

I was going to get into Florence + the Machine’s new album Dance Fever here, but I’ll save that for an upcoming podcast (watch this space). I’m tumbling headlong into another Mountain Goats bender; I saw them live this past week. Mountain Goats shows are fun because John Darnielle writes the set list for each one on the day of, and he picks songs from at least five or six of their albums, never in quite the same order as previous shows. The band will play a few of their popular songs, but John will play at least one song from the early ‘90s, back when the band was just him and a guitar and the boom box he recorded his tapes on. The band rearranges the songs for the live audience; sometimes the quiet ones become anthems. You truly never know what you’re going to get. Every time I’ve been to a show I’ve heard a song that’s stuck to my ribs for days afterward. This time it was “Heel Turn 2.”

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