I have a trivial confession: I am an inveterate and unrepentant movie-hopper. I have spent full eight-hour workdays at the cineplex exhausting its options, emerging dazed and spent and viciously hypoglycemic, with pupils dilated back to my ears.
I rarely have a plan beyond the first movie—the next in line is determined by whatever happens to be starting when the last one spits me back out into the hallway. I have absently wandered into castrato comedies starring the Matthews McConaughey and Perry, the Jennifers Aniston and Lopez. I have watched always-the-bridesmaid movies. I have fallen asleep in the theater during a B-flick about illegal cage fighting (in which a principled, lily-white-trash protagonist beats up a variety of less-principled ethnic badasses, plus earns the love of a virtuous single mother), and then woken up to watch two more movies. Even the awful films are a comfort on the order of, say, cheap Chinese takeout: It is the three-reel form dumbly flexing its muscles.
In the Paris of the First World War, surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard used to wander into moviehouse after moviehouse without asking what was playing; they left the theater at the moment the strange, flickering images on the screen became understandable as mere narrative—when the film lost its power as dream and became domesticated into simple, dully coherent plot and action (which, of course, is what most people go to a movie to see). The pair were two of the world’s first movie-hoppers but also the first to catch its vital essence: When you are watching so much, choosing is pointless. One can simply see everything until it loses its interest for you. Prior knowledge of the film is flat-out counterproductive.
Your modern multiplex is pretty much made for this sort of thing. Fifteen or even 27 screens, in many cases, are adjoined by dim back hallways and left largely unattended, amid constant foot traffic. One ticket effectively buys access to as many films as one has patience for. Nota bene, though: The kind folks at the multiplex do not at all want you to be doing this, even if the risks and legality of the practice fall somewhere in the range of absentmindedly eating grapes out of a shopping cart at the supermarket and popping a U-turn in the middle of an empty, nighttime street. A goodly percentage of the multiplex’s teenage employees are flatly indifferent to one’s continued, interminable presence in the ’plex. (For the record, however, Willamette Week is pointedly not telling you to go hop multiple movies without paying for them, OK?)
Still, there are rules to be followed. Don’t look nervous or shifty, for one. You’re not stealing diamonds from the Russian mafia. Walk tall and with purpose, as if you’re supposed to still be there. Go to the restroom between each movie to avoid being seen flipping between doors but, dear lord, don’t keep walking back to the concession stand: This takes you back in front of the kids taking your ticket stubs. Though no one but the manager is liable to take interest in you, this is an obvious trust-in-God-but-tie-up-your-camel sort of situation.
Most important, however, is that you go alone. The aloneness is not so much to remain inconspicuous as it is a fundamental necessity of the experience. While many may watch movie marathons at home, where distraction rules, the movie theater is a darkened sanctum in which the tumult of the world is shut out. The patience to watch six or more hours of unmitigated movie—uninterrupted by phone, unsupplemented by email, unnourished by food or drink—has become a rare quality. I brought a companion along during my research for this story, and after the hop from the first film she was already fidgeting in her seat, thinking of errands she had to run, the omnipresent demands of civilian life. New Wave directors Godard and Truffaut became friends, goes the myth, because both spent their entire days watching film after film at the cinema, just seats away; both did so, however, alone. Part of the reason the practice goes so unpoliced is that it is almost always rare: Movie-hopping is not an easy indulgence so much as it is a prolonged abnegation of self, an abstracted and impersonal act of love, perhaps also a meditation.
It is, let’s say, yoga for the culture-damaged and sedentary.