Friday, March 25, 2011

Smokey and the Bandit at Tampa Theater

Today was a great day. Turner Classic Movies, as part of there Road To Hollywood film festival, decided to show Smokey and the Bandit at Tampa Theater. Burt Reynolds himself attended and did an onstage interview with TCM's Ben Mankiewicz. We showed up about three and a half hours early and a line around a hundred people were already there at the door. As we waited, more and more people showed up to a crowd of about a thousand. Waiting there I became more and more disappointed at the gathering masses.
In 1977 Smokey and the Bandit changed the world. Before Smokey and the Bandit, heroes were all brooding troubled complicated men. Usually rebels with a hidden back story ala Steve Mcqueen or Robert Mitchem. Car movies were either cop, action, or racing films, and movies featuring southern lifestyles were either hicksploitation or political commentary. Then came the Bandit.
This movie, in a big budget way, gave us a new kind of hero and a new kind of car movie. With no apologies, they gave us a hero with no agenda except to have a blast. A care free guy who just loved showing off. Not only a rebel without a cause but a rebel with no interest in causes in general. It also gave us the car as an instrument of fun, not an instrument of contest or chase. A car with a big motor and a big fiery bird emblazoned on the hood. Together the two would strut effortlessly across the screen introducing the world to modern southern lifestyles.  In 1977, after seeing this movie, we all wanted to be the Bandit or a trucker. For years to come CB radios, truckin and Trans Ams would be the rage, but like everything else, once turned into mainstream crazes, the excitement would slowly peter out, and end up watered down and dying on network television in t.v. shows written for kids.
So now over thirty years later, standing outside Tampa theater, I'm surrounded by a huge crowd filled with autograph hounds, members of generation ironic and folks who love to laugh at how kitchy the seventies were. People who love telling mullet jokes, and are dying to turn this movie into Rocky Horror Picture Show. Embarrassing. I'm still amped but the lack of respect is getting to me.
So they do a photo shoot with Burt in front of the theater next to a really nice Trans Am and the doors open shortly after. Showing up early was key and our seats are perfect. The crowd is still dying for their own attention but I've already prepared myself for them ruining my experience. Burt comes out and the interview is interesting and charming. It's clear that Burt Reynolds is being interviewed.The crowd is quickly taken in by mister Reynolds and I'm right with them. My frustration is easing.
I'm surprised to find out the 40 something lady beside me has never seen the movie and it's apparent she's not alone.As the movie starts I'm ready for this audience to ruin it, but it never happens. The lady next to me is laughing her ass off. The audience seems sucked into the movie like it's 1977 all over again. Amazing. As the movie plays out, it becomes clear to me that I missed the point. The real point of Smokey and the Bandit was to get people to laugh their heads off and feel like they just took a 110 mile per hour ride in a Trans Am. Lucky for me,and everybody else, the film still does the job. It got the stick out of my ass, wich is rare. If you haven't seen it in a while take a refresher course. It holds up.