A Nice day for Superman’s Return by Kent Hill

It was my birthday the day we saw the first Superman hit the big screen after a long absence. I was, as was my station in those days, in the projection booth putting a movie together and placing it on the platter ready for threading. These were the dark ages you understand, when film still passed through the projector. It was a fine time for me. I was learning to fence, fight, anything anyone would teach me.

The movie I had just finished assembling was Superman Returns. Now, in these times, it is almost impossible, unless you spend your days with your head buried in the sand, not to watch the development of movies from the announcement to the first teaser trailer, from the photos and the ever present prognostications of the obsessives.

I was going to see the movie that night. It was going to be my birthday movie, that was a given, and I had done my utmost not to know anything, or as little as humanly possible about the film prior to what would be my first viewing. There was however, a problem. There was going to be a screening in twenty minutes. The movie was on the platter, threaded, and ready to fly – so to speak.

This during the week, so the crowds were not going to be expansive and the lunchtime sessions had begun. I was threading the other projector when the inaugural screening of Superman Returns started rolling – the first Superman movie in a long time.

For the uninitiated, in the projection booth you can hear the movie, you can see the movie, when everything that you are supposed to be doing is done, you can even sit and watch the movie – that is if you are not bothered by the clattering of the projector in one ear. I didn’t want to hear or see Superman Returns, not yet. But like I said, I was busy on the other side of the room. The last thing I would hear before the credits began was this: “As a courtesy to others, please turn off your mobile phones, and keep your feet off the seats. On your way out, please put your rubbish in the bins provided.”

At least, that’s what I would listen for. Then the trailers roll. You’d splice these onto the head of the film, and at the theatre I worked at, we would tag on trailers of a similar style or genre of the film playing – just to put the audience in the mood. When the trailers roll, it is really the projectionist’s last opportunity to make sure the film is framed up right, the focus is good, the sound is on the level and the automation system has the curtains open and the lights down.

Okay. So I went over and check it, it was my job. The trailers were running smoothly, everything was cool, and I knew what the last trailer was, thus I knew my cue to stick in the earplugs and rock on, busy myself assembling another print while Superman rolled. Then, the phone rang. It was one of the many times I had answered the phone and it was some bozo on the other end, wanting to know what movies were playing, what was worth watching and finally the plots of said films recommended, thus negating the need really, to watch them at all. To each his own, to each his own.

Then, shit. Beautiful spoiler. Before I could get my own private soundtrack rolling, and because of the phone call delay, I heard the movie begin. I heard John Williams. I was excited. I was pissed.

For my own present relief at the time, that’s all I heard, before going back to what I was doing till the film was over, shifted to the bottom of the platter, and the next film was threaded and rolling.

At that point, since I knew my shift was going to be over in time, I thought I would catch the afternoon screening. Buzzing to the point of being annoyingly frenetic, I went down stairs to ask the boss if I could get a ticket for the 4pm. I recall feeling genuinely crushed when I came to the ticket counter and he told me the screening had been cancelled ‘cause no one had showed.

Shit, my inner monologue cried to heaven.

“You’re coming back tonight though, aren’t you?” the boss said.

“Yeah but I…”

“I know, it’s your birthday – birthday movie,” he said, a wry smile on his face.

“Yeah sure it’s that. But it’s Superman for god’s sake. I was one of those kids that tried to fly off the garage roof with my mother’s red table cloth tied around my neck,” I wasn’t lying.

“How’d that work out for you,” he said.

“It didn’t,” I said, “but I still wanted to be Superman.”

The boss was and is a good guy, but I could see, and knew him well enough to know that he was busy with important affairs of state. When he was like that, he was best left alone.

I walked away not saying anything when I heard his voice:

“You know how to run a projector don’t you?”

I turned.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Then go watch Superman,” he said, without looking up.

“Seriously?”

“Happy Birthday,” he replied.

Now I don’t know about any of you; if you’ve been the only person in a theatre on a rainy day, the only person that showed up.

I do know rich cats like Tarantino have their own home theatre set up. But for the little boy in me that loves movies, the idea of walking into a theatre, threading the movie you want to see and being able to sit there, to revel in it without the hindrance of an audience. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Did I know how to run a projector? You bet your sweet ass I do.

So for the first time in my cinema history, I walked into a movie theatre, threaded the projector and went and sat alone in the dark and watched a movie on my birthday. And it was a Superman movie.

For the record, Superman Returns is what it is. I know you probably all have seen it by now, and most likely have your own opinions which I shall not attempt to alter in any way, shape or form. I have my opinion too, but that is not what I am writing about here. What I am saying is, for that moment, for that afternoon, I loved that movie. I felt it had all the ingredients, all the reminders of a movie I had seen before. A movie I hold most dear – needless to say that that movie is also a Superman movie.

So though Superman Returns struggles to fit into its cape – for that afternoon it was a great experience – a Superman movie on my birthday. It would happen again several years later. But that’s another story; a story involving Zack Snyder, shit, and the man of steel – much to my chagrin.

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