Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday Night in Williamsburg: The L Magazine's Summerscreen presents "Reality Bites" at the McCarren Park Ball Fields

This evening we walked over to McCarren Park for the start of The L Magazine's annual Summerscreen series of movies for hipsters (and a few regular people like us).

It's not quite the same as the last few years at the pool. The McCarren pool, of course, will be shuttered for some time, until the city can decide what multinational corporation they can name it after.

The movies have been moved to the ball fields that we've never actually considered part of McCarren Park proper. They're facing Bedford Avenue, on N. 12th Street, just to the west of Automotive High School.

The movie screen and the the booths of the sponsors selling food and drink (plus the ice cream truck) and the crowds with their blankets now fill the big ball field at the very western part, next to the tennis courts closer to the school.

We were last there in the summer for a Dominican Day event. As we said, it's a big open space, not closed in like the pool.

That made the acoustics worse, if not for the film itself, then for the local band playing beforehand, Wild Yaks,

who were actually quite good, as we know from seeing them perform last year - we think their "Wish I Had a Whip" is the band at its best - but you really had to get up from where you were sitting to stand in front of them to appreciate their skills and their sound.

Another thing that's different from the pool is that passersby can look in easily, which proved to be a boon to those who decided to enjoy the movie from the outside and to one elderly man with a cane who seemed to get a kick out of Reality Bites, as he cackled along with audience, seemingly getting references made by then-23yo screenwriter Helen Childress that you wouldn't think someone pushing 80 or more would get.

Sitting in the crowd of people, nearly all of whom were half our age, we're kind of an outside observer and so maybe can see things young hipsters can't. (Or maybe not.)

It seemed like we detected a change in the crowd at Summerscreen. They seemed older than a few years ago, for one thing. Maybe the average age was 27, 28, 29 as opposed to 23, 24, 25.

But it could just be that they're the same people who've been coming to these movies for years. Are newer college graduates not coming to Williamsburg and Greenpoint because of the bad economy? Is it too expensive? Are they in other neighborhoods or still living home with parents.

Also, the crowd seemed more subdued, less raucous than they were at the pool the last couple of years. We overheard two people say, the hour or so before the film began running, while it was still pretty bright out, that they weren't planning to sit through more than a little of the film. Both of them, a young man and young woman talking to different friends 20 minutes apart, said basically that at this point in their lives they absolutely could not bear to see reality biting.

There's a scene in the film when the character played by Winona Ryder comes home with news for her roommates: "Guys, I've just been fired." "So have I!" someone behind us shouted out. "Me too!" shouted a voice from the other side.

We first saw Reality Bites in a decrepit triplex theater near our apartment on Newberry Road in Gainesville, Florida. At the time we were finishing our last semester at UF law school, but we were approaching 43, already 20 years older than the twentysomethings depicted in the movie. However, we'd just spent much of the previous few years living with people their age, and the film struck as exactly right.

It's hard for us to know what a completely different generation, the audience tonight, thought of this movie. Millennials aren't Gen Xers, and there weren't hipsters in the same sense 15 years ago, although there are a lot of similarities:

the vaguely conflicted artistic ambitions of Lelaina, the would-be documentary filmmaker; the perpetually stoned-looking Troy (Ethan Hawke), the sarcastic irony of Gap manager Vickie (Janeane Garafolo), their shared disgust at the "yuppie" played by director Ben Stiller, and the endless stream of references from TV shows like The Brady Bunch and Good Times and from advertising and consumer products.

We did overhear a number of people saying how many times they'd seen this film before. Around three or four times seemed the average; "I've seen this eight times," one young woman drinking craft ale confessed to her friends.

There were no portable toilets in the park, and we were afraid we were going to have to leave for home when we needed a bathroom, but the men's room across the street in the park was still open.

Going back to the ball fields, however, we discovered something weird: the film was being played so that you could also see it from the tennis court - albeit divided into quadrants with the bottom of the screen slightly more obstructed by tennis netting.

Still, there were only a couple of souls - regular people talking Polish, not hipsters - who'd discovered this. We sat down at a comfortable wooden bench we had all to ourselves, watched the rest of Reality Bites from this solo venue (the Polish people soon left) and avoided the crowd on the way home.

We don't know why or how Summerscreen is showing the film so that you can see it on blanketed cement with a crowd of, we don't know, 800 hipsters, or all by yourself on a cozy park bench, but we're grateful for that.

Also we're grateful that, starting around age 55, reality doesn't bite so hard. Actually, for us, reality probably needs dentures.

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