Ribald for Your Pleasure

One of the unusual things about the CineVegas Film Festival, in Las Vegas, is that many screenings are attended by elderly local residents who, unlike their aged counterparts in other places, are not offended when the movies are filthy.

Apart from this and being too tan, elderly Las Vegans aren’t much different from the garden-variety senior citizens you’ll find clogging highways and populating Sizzlers everywhere else. They make random, out-loud observations about the movie while it’s playing; they favor hard butterscotch candies that can only be unwrapped during quiet portions of the film; and they shuffle slowly down the aisle afterward, taking care to walk side-by-side to prevent anyone from passing them.

What separates them from old people in other places is that they’ll watch anything. The closing-night film at CineVegas was “World’s Greatest Dad,” a very dark comedy written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, one of those chubby comedians from the 1980s who used to scream a lot (but not the one who died; that was Sam Kinison). “World’s Greatest Dad” is chockablock with naughty words and vulgar conversations and is not for the faint of heart.

I knew this going in, so I was amused to see an elderly couple sitting in front of me. They had no idea what the movie was about. They had bought CineVegas passes and were just watching whatever was playing. Before the movie began, the woman was on her cell phone bragging to someone about how she’d had her photo taken with Jack Nicholson, and I was going to gently inform her that the Nicholsonian man who’d been hanging around the film festival all week was merely a lookalike, but then I thought Why ruin her fun? And I also thought Why talk to an old person if I don’t have to?

Once the movie began, I thought for sure the old people would be mortified by its salacious content and exit the theater. That is what most old people would do. In Utah, where I lived for 10 years, old people go to movies specifically so they CAN be offended. It’s how they pass the time.

ONE OLD PERSON: Dear, let’s go to the moving pictures tonight and walk out of something in a huff.
A DIFFERENT OLD PERSON, TO WHOM THE FIRST OLD PERSON WAS SPEAKING: Why, that sounds delightful, dear! Let’s be sure to park near a liquor store so we can glare disapprovingly at the people going into it.

Of course, it’s not just the elderly who are bothered by ribald content. Sometimes younger people are as well. Last November I wrote a parody of “Twilight” that was subsequently copied and pasted onto a lot of blogs and Facebook pages belonging to teenage girls, teenage girls being the demographic least likely to understand things like “unauthorized reproduction,” “copyright infringement,” and “common sense.” (In their defense, they’ve never lived in a world without the Internet, which has made all of those things murky, if not obsolete.) One blogger posted it on her site after getting it from her little sister’s Facebook page, where it appeared without attribution. The beginning of my parody describes Phoenix, Ariz., as a “hellish, uninhabitable wasteland,” but either the blogger or her little sister deemed this inappropriate and changed it to “suckish, uninhabitable wasteland,” which somehow seems even more vulgar to me. What do these girls do at church when hell is mentioned? Mentally replace it with the word “suck”?

Revelation 20:14 — “And death and suck were cast into the lake of fire.”

Matthew 18:9 — “It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into suck fire.”

Matthew 23:33 — “Ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of suck?” (Sorry: “the stinknation of suck.”)

But back to the old people in Las Vegas. Despite the outrageously offensive things that occurred in “World’s Greatest Dad,” they didn’t budge. Nor did they laugh or appear to enjoy themselves, but they didn’t budge. At one point in the film an obnoxious teenager says to his father’s girlfriend, “Goodnight, whore,” leading the old couple in front of me to have this conversation:

OLD MAN: Goodnight what?

Like all conversations conducted by old people during movies, this one was held at full volume. Old people leave their homes so infrequently that when they do, they forget they have done so and continue to behave as if they were still in their living rooms. Remember that the next time some old people annoy you at the movies, and be grateful that they’ve at least kept their pants on (assuming they have).

But this was nothing compared to the ancient couple at another screening several years ago whom I threatened to kill. The movie was “House of Sand and Fog,” a very quiet, somber film starring Ben Kingsley and what’s-her-name, the pretty girl with the Groucho Marx eyebrows. Jennifer Connelly. Yes. So this old couple behind me consisted of a decrepit gentleman whose gnarled, useless ears no longer received transmissions; and a dilapidated woman, presumably his wife, who kindly repeatedly all the major dialogue to him. It was a packed theater and a quiet movie. When two people spoke in a conversational tone, you heard it all over the auditorium. And these people talked A LOT.

First, of course, I turned around and gave them the raised-eyebrows stare. That’s standard protocol. When they continued to talk for several minutes, I turned around and said, “Shh!” That’s also a time-honored practice. It’s as ancient as shaking hands. It’s in the Magna Carta.

Several more minutes went by, and the old man continued to say “What?” and the old woman continued to serve as a human closed-captioning device. I shushed them again. The problem was that with the stadium seating, when I turned around to face them I was really only facing their knees, and their dim, rheumy eyes were on the screen. They might not have even heard my declarations of “Shh!,” and they probably didn’t see me turning around to look at them.

Finally, with just 20 minutes left in the film and the onscreen story reaching its emotionally devastating climax, the old people talked again. This time, I’d had it. I turned around, stood up so they’d know I was speaking to them, and said in a quiet but forceful voice, “Stop talking or I will kill you.”

From a legal standpoint, I don’t think that constitutes an actual “threat,” at least not the kind that’s against the law. If I’d been brandishing a weapon when I said it, or if I’d written my threat down — which I did consider — then it would have been. And obviously if I had actually killed them, that would have gotten me into some hot water with the local constabulary.

But it didn’t come to that. That’s because — and this is why, despite my seemingly disproportionate response, I do not entirely regret it — my threat worked. The couple was quiet for the rest of the movie. I was very glad, too, since I had sworn to kill them if they talked again, and I am nothing if not a man of my word. I didn’t want to murder them, though, so I guess my promise was a bit risky. I’m sure as suck glad they didn’t call my bluff!

At first this column was just about old people being offended (or not offended) by movies, and then it was about old people and movies in general, and then there was the tangent about the "Twilight" thing, and then I tried to wrestle it all into something cohesive, and then I gave up and left it like this, which is actually 10 times better than it was when I started. (In other words, if you think this is bad, you should see the crap I don't publish!)

Longtime readers may recall another time that I told someone to shut up, except that time I actually got in trouble for it.

(Note: The reason the podcast says this was published June 29 instead of the real date, June 22, is that I'm mentally retarded.)