Film I think I saw every film released between 1987 and 1991, many of them twice in one day. I worked in an independent cinema chain. It was an ideal job for a teen too young to work in bars and too snarky to survive long as a waitress. I always wanted the Friday shift, when the cans of reels would arrive at lunchtime and be stitched together by the projectionist ready for the first screening. I also liked Sundays, where you started later (the religous manager not wanting anyone working before lunchtime on the sabbath) and got double-time. Everyone hated Saturdays: the kids left to run riot at the matinee; the teens leaving used condoms behind in the back row at the late screening.
As an usher, my job included selling tickets and popcorn, tearing tickets, selling ice-cream, cleaning the screen after each screening, being ready to evacuate the building in event of a fire, and 'watching the audience'. In practise, unless there was trouble in that pre-mobile era, the final task really meant 'watching the film'. I might watch in the screen, or through the projectionist's window. The latter meant I could have a quick fag whilst watching, so long as I didn't mind the loud whirring of the projector (and snores of the projectionist). We also got free passes to see films: those tended to be great currency in our social group as they are the cinema equivalent of your name being on the list for gigs.
The downside of the job was I became used to missing the start of films: the first 20 minutes were spent either letting the other screen in, cashing up the ice-cream sales, or both. If two of us were on, I might convince one of my colleagues to cover so I could see the start of a film I really liked. I have a lot of random memories of those years behind the torch. Like the time I fell asleep in Rambo 3, or how me and a friend crushed so hard on Carey Elwes in The Princess Bride. Or how I knew which of the town's small goth population were fibbing when they claimed to have seen The Lost Boys on its first night (one week run, mostly empty). Or that my last film was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which I adore to this day.
But I'm going to focus on Fatal Attraction.
It was due to be huge: we knew that as all passes were suspended and nearly all of us were on duty the first night. The first week, our big screen was sold out every night. And it ran for three weeks. I know that because by the end of its run, I hated it and counted up that I had seen it 20 times. Twenty times is a lot of times to see a film you don't like. I don't like Michael Douglas in it, I didn't like or care about the characters, I didn't like the plot or the sexist subtexts. I've never rewatched it since the last Thursday it played in that seaside cinema (by then downgraded to screen 2). And yet...
The first Friday, its opening night in our fleapit, I stood in the ushers' bit and clutched my colleague's arm in surprise when Alex suddenly reappears. A couple of screenings in and I started watching the audience. It was fascinating to see 200 people jump in unison and then - and this was the bit that fascinated me - sit back with an embarrassed grin. I watched it for weeks: this visceral response, and unpicked shot by shot how Adrian Lyne created it. The mise-en-scene used to denote each world, the zooms, the diegetic sound effects. I applied critical film theory to it to understand why an audience reacted en masse to a film. People go to thrillers with the same mindset they go to an illusionist: they think they won't be fooled like all the others. And they're wrong. Because film lures you in, creates a suspension of disbelief and then slams you in the gut with it.
I've seen that same communal gasp in other films over the years. At the first screening of Resevoir Dogs in a full Sheffield multiplex screen, when the only other woman in the screening walked out after the ear scene. Or at a moment in The Force Awakens two weeks ago (despite the person with their bloody mobile out just in my eyeline). That first time, when I started analysing how it worked, was another early step on a path to studying film history and creating a cornerstone of my life.
So whilst I still can't stand it, Fatal Attraction was a major film experience for me.