I suppose people still go to the movies, don’t they? There must be a market for the mindless matinee, given how many Hollywood turns out every year, and one assumes they do make money—although much of it these days may come not from the initial box office but from the licensing fees for streaming rights and the lucrative DVD rental fees. After all, a box outside the 7-Eleven is surely more cost-effective than a multiplex, stadium seating be damned.
And yet the multiplex lives on. To be sure, part of that is indeed thanks to that matinee fodder; those films that will always be more fun in the cavernous chill of a mall theater, a giant, impossibly salty, bucket of popcorn spilling onto your lap. But part of it is also due to programming that simply won’t fit into those ubiquitous red boxes. Where once we could choose only from teen romps and romances, we now have live opera, concerts and marquee boxing matches so in-your-face you can almost feel the spit. There seems to be no shortage of ideas in this great reinvention of the American movie theater, but this week introduces a particularly unexpected guest: radio.
It comes in the form of the beloved NPR stalwart Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me, a long-running news quiz show that mixes current events and genteel comedy. Now in its 15th season, the show draws a crowd of over 3 million to their radios each week to listen to a rotating panel of guests as they banter their way through a series of quiz rounds. And to give you an idea of how genteel it really is, the prize for listener contestants is “Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine!” Kasell, a retired NPR newscaster, is the show’s scorekeeper. And just how many listeners even own a “home answering machine” anymore?
This week the traveling show arrives in Hadley’s Cinemark theater and Brattleboro’s Latchis on May 2 in a live 8 p.m. simulcast courtesy of NPR and WBEZ-Chicago. Kasell and host Peter Sagal are joined by comedian panelists Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, and Tom Bodett (the voice of Motel 6!) for a night of news, limericks and “faces made for radio.” For longtime listeners—which in this part of the world is probably most of us—it should prove to be a tantalizing look behind the curtain, and a reminder that it’s not all movies at the movie theater.
Also this week: Pablo Larraín’s film No is playing at Amherst Cinema’s intimate new Studio Theater. Scheduled through Thursday as of press time, the Spanish-language film tells the story of a remarkable time in modern politics. It was 1988, when Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was pressured into calling for a referendum on his presidency. Seeking to seize the moment, opposition leaders turned to a new kind of political mover: the headstrong young adman Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries). Operating with a limited budget but a wild imagination, Saavedra and his team come up with a plan that seems to go against every perceived wisdom—and it works.
Today, of course, our first ideas about the ad world are likely to come from Mad Men—all Scotch, sexism and cigarettes—and it’s easy to become cynical about the true purposes of advertising. But for anyone who has ever been annoyed at an advertisement, No is a potent look at how its power of suggestion can be used for good. And like going to the movie theater to catch a radio show, sometimes a bit of change can prove to be a good thing.•
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.