The movie Serenity, the 2005 de facto series finale of Joss Whedon and Tim Minear’s science fiction Western from 2002, screened twice in Portland, a straightforward afternoon show for all ages (at least all ages who could handle the PG-13-level action and drama and “OH NO!”s the often intense film throws at us) and the intentionally more raucous “Special Hell” screening late at night when people were encouraged to yell back at the screen. I didn’t attend the first, but I decided to splurge on attending the second (and later splurge on a taxi home so I wouldn’t have to walk a couple of miles after the buses stopped running).
I’d spaced on the schedule, and only realized after reading this on Mike Russell’s Twitter that events I’d wanted to attend were already happening at the Gypsy, across NW 21st from the theater. Walking, bussing, and more walking (I hadn’t wanted to drive) commenced so I could get there. I got there. (I don’t want to leave you in suspense.) I missed the costume contest – though I saw most of the costumes later, including an impressive Reaver get-up by a very in-character guy – and arrived for the third and last round of the pub quiz. I found friends and acquaintances there, some of them happily surprising: my next-door neighbor Emma, and two young women who asked me “Did you used to live in Eastern Oregon?” They’d been elementary school students in Hermiston when I’d covered schools for the Hermiston Herald, and they’d recognized me ten-plus years later! More proof that kids are allowed to grow up. (They’d attended and graduated from Lewis & Clark College here in Portland in that span of time.) People were happily drinking and being raucous: I got happily raucous without needing a drink. I was useless during the trivia contest, though I wasn’t part of any team anyway. Instead I amused myself by reading the karaoke listings for songs that would’ve been wrong for that crowd that night. “Hey,” I said, “they have Oingo Boingo’s ‘Little Girls’!” Songs like that. I also looked for Leonard Cohen tunes. There were none. Probably good: he usually writes seven-minute songs, after all.
Karaoke started soon after with songs from Whedon’s musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, with the short film on DVD playing on the bar’s karaoke monitor. One person sang “My Freeze Ray”; about 10 people then sang “My Eyes” and “Brand New Day.” No one had the Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD with the musical episode “Once More With Feeling”; can someone bring that next year? (Edit: Someone explained in comments the issues around why we probably won't have “Once More, With Feeling” at these screenings and events.)
From soon after 10 to soon before 10:30 was The Transitioning. Peopled dribbed and drabbed from the Gypsy to the line waiting to enter Cinema 21. Well-behaved crowd. One guy in line presented Mike Russell an essay about what an online Firefly/Serenity role-playing game could be like. Meanwhile, I wound up next to Portland Mercury writers Erik Henriksen and Alison Hallett, who I’d never met until that night, and we visited. I told Henriksen I’d done a well-received dramatic reading of his article on polar bears to my friend rafaela, and he chuckled at that.
The crowd (later filling somewhere above half the theater; I don’t have the attendance) filed into Cinema 21 pretty expeditiously, past a couple of Firefly costumes and tables with info on Equality Now and PDX Browncoats, and started finding seats before going back for drinks and merchandise. Volunteers sold raffle tickets. All of the merch proceeds and 5% of the theater’s drink proceeds went to the cause. The theater, always good about playing themed music before shows, played Greg Edmonson’s score to the original series while photos from previous years’ screenings and events flashed on the movie screen.
After I’d gotten my seat, I was surprised by four house lights blasting on in the semi-dark all of a sudden, but then (kradical will be proud of me) I went all Jean-Luc Picard and yelled “THERE, ARE, FOUR, LIGHTS!” A woman walking down the aisle pointed at me and said, “You, are, awesome!”
Maybe a dozen people from the afternoon screening were back for the late night one. One other person in this screening had never seen the film before at all. An organizer said, “Sorry.” We laughed knowingly. Spoilers were encouraged (and we REALLY tried to warn poor Wash, with all that “Duck! Move! Out of the way!” business…but…but… *sniff*).
Joss Whedon spoke via a video he’d shot (apparently on the set of the movie he’s producing, Cabin in the Woods), with his frequent combination of acting-like-he-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-ta
Mal and Sam’s face-to-face arguments got “Kiss him!” Other comments, with some or no context: “Watch your head, River!” “Batteries!” “Take, the, grenades!” “Oh no, she’s not legal!” “Foreshadowing!” “Metaphor!” “The goggles, they do nothing!” “Raping, killing, and eating, not necessarily in that order!” “Whoa, that desk has a lot of space!”
The scientist saying what the Miranda colonists stopped doing: “And having sex! And having sex! And having sex!” “They even stopped Twittering!” While watching Mal and The Operative’s fight high above the generator with all its huge moving parts: “Now that would make wrestling much more exciting!” Mal’s saying “I’m gonna show you a world without sin”: “Worst porno ever!”
I know I say this as someone who’s yet to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show in any form, but that film’s had a long time to get a certain rhythm to its audience participation. Anyone hoping for that at this screening would’ve been disappointed; we were making it up as we went along. (Now I wonder if anyone was taking notes. And the day before, Cort and Fatboy talked about the screening and encouraged people to think up and write down stuff to say beforehand. Also-also, CSTS volunteers had cobbled together responses to flash on the theater wall near the screen, but few people could read it because the wood slats running up and down it broke up the words.) The CSTS organizers smartly banned throwing anything, and no one challenged that. A good number of the film’s original “rah rah” or more dramatic moments still got genuine responses from us, as we happily let the movie press our buttons (remember, I’m very fond of the flick). We yelled plenty of dud replies, but we also yelled plenty of clever, amusing, and even heartfelt ones. It’s a clever, amusing, and heartfelt film, and “Special Hell” didn’t change that.
So it wasn’t a Hell. It was loud and fun and for charity. And for making us exhausted; we hobbled out the door after the film and the substantial raffle. I wondered if there’d been enough prizes donated that they’d run out of raffle tickets and just start handing prizes to people. But people had bought many raffle tickets so that didn’t happen. Back to the hobbling out. We were worn out: we’d used much energy singing, showing off costumes, answering questions, and yelling. We looked more wrecked than the people leaving the Gypsy at the same time Saturday night. But it was a happy-wrecked.
When I got home, I emailed my folks “Home. Too tired to do a jiggity jig.” And soon, I was sleeping. As were, I hope, all the others who’d been to Hell.