April Fools: Not Understanding Your Audience


[Here we are, the very first promoted musing blog on Flixist! The honor goes to manasteel88, who wrote a great piece about some weird audience-related moments. Want to see your work here? Check out this month’s topic and write your own! — Kauza]

Every year, I fly to the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It’s my way of helping my film connoisseur of a grandmother get around to seeing more of the films. It’s one of the highlights of my year as I really only get to see summer blockbusters and the occasional romantic comedy throughout the year. 

From my experiences, I’ve seen films that would rip your heart out. Films that make you think. Films that would make you wonder why these aren’t distributed better in the country. That, I guess, is part of the charm. This festival is comprised mostly of foreign films. So unless you are really in to the film industry, a majority of these films are ones you will never see. 

I say all this because there are a lot of films that happen to get mixed responses. An event like this is served as a way to feed films to audiences who rarely attempt these different styles and genres. 

This festival showed me something I won’t forget. 

At the 2009 festival, I went to a screening of Tony Manero in the Palm Canyon Theater. It is a single staged theater that they lease to the festival to get some added revenue for the year. It’s small, but classy with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. My grandmother and I had staked out a seat next to the aisle so she could get out before everybody else left the theater. 

The place was packed to the brim full of people. Apparently the film had been featured under the “Awards Buzz” category of the festival and it was getting more than anticipated sales. Like the rest of the films, a man stood up and announced the film and read off the description that was printed for the festival. His description read: 

“Set in 1978 Santiago, Chile during Pinochet’s reign of terror, this disturbing film follows a psychotic petty criminal into the depths of his crazed obsession with John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever.” 

What’s interesting about that description is the fact that Palm Springs demographic is largely filled with retirees. I can recall somebody making a joke when I was there that Palm Springs is 70% retired and 50% gay. When you paired the words “Awards Buzz” with “Saturday Night Fever,” it started to make sense why the place was packed with old people looking for a fun filled movie. 

So the film was introduced and then just as he was about to wrap things up, he announced that the film’s sponsor was here and ready to give a speech. For about 5 minutes, she stood up there telling us how proud she was to sponsor this masterpiece from Brazil. How they had brought the director of the film here and that he was sitting in back ready for our questions after the screening. It was a speech that truly got us to believe that this film could have something. 

She then sat down and the lights dimmed. 

The film starts and we see exactly what I would expect from the description. It has some dancing in a place many of us wouldn’t be caught dead in. Not as much dancing as you would think or want, but enough. It was a bit grainy, but nobody was too offended by the setting. That is until our main protagonist, and wannabe Tony Manero, Raul brutally smashes the head in of an old lady for her television set. 

All of a sudden, up pops 5 octogenarian couples heading for the door. Well, pops is a bit much. Slowly rose and left would be more accurate. 

Raul then kills a few more and with it followed some more of the audience. As the film neared the mid way point, a few more people started to realize that this wasn’t going to be the dance spectacular that they thought it was and they left. Then a few more left as a sleazy love triangle showed up and again more followed after he destroyed his friend who dared to want to be like Tony Manero as well. 

At the end of the movie, we were left with half of the crowd that had shown up. Nobody was sticking around for the question and answer section. 

This was an odd phenomena that happened twice that year. Two films I had gone to had groups of people storm out of them. Something like this had never occurred in any of my visits to the festival. 

That first film was the playfully titled The Education of the Fairies. A fun film that I would suggest keeping away from your children, as the two graphic scenes of sex in the film will damper what would otherwise be a perfectly fine movie night. It was actually pretty funny to see the more liberal couples that had just put their hands over their children’s eyes for the first part, storm out when the second sex scene popped up. 

The second was Tony Manero

To see a significant number of adults leave like this just fascinated my grandmother and me. However, with the way that they sold this film it should be expected. It was not a film friendly for many of the demographics in Palm Springs. Especially with how they billed it for them. Raul was brutal throughout the entirety of the film and even I thought it was an all around dud. I’ve seen some that could bridge interesting parallels between Pinochet and Raul, but that would have required me to ponder upon it later. 

Unfortunately, the only thing I left that theater thinking about was how we all as a group of people were disappointed by what we had just seen. Some obviously more than others, but it was an experience to see an entire audience show such dissatisfaction to a director sitting among them.