Kevin Murphy’s A Year at the Movies probably isn’t the best book ever written on the subject of film, but it’s a leading contender for the funniest. Murphy, best known to basic cable subscribers as the voice of the bubble gum machine-bodied robot Tom Servo on the cult series Mystery Science Theater 3000,” made it his mission to spend every day of 2001 at the movies. He made good on that promise, but the resulting book is more than just a meditation on movies – it’s a meditation on moviegoing.
At the book’s start, Murphy confesses that the multiplex culture – which has spawned a lack of originality not only in movies, but in movie theaters – has caused him to lose his taste for going to the movies. Seeking to rekindle the flame, Murphy sets out on an odyssey of unique (to say the least) movie viewing experiences. These range from the commonplace (sitting in the front row of the theater, sneaking into a movie) to the, well, freakishly odd (sitting in a theater in an igloo in Quebec, sneaking an entire Thanksgiving dinner into a showing of “Monsters Inc.”).
His quest takes Murphy, who lives in Minnesota, all over the globe – including the world’s smallest movie theater, run out of the home of a man in Australia and a film festival in Iceland.
Murphy’s experiments also include working briefly in a few theaters, taking six women on a date to the same date movie (despite being happily married) and living almost an entire week on movie theater food.
These experiences combine to create one of the funniest books about the movies since Joe Queenan’s Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler. However, unlike Queenan – who seems, despite his playfulness, to harbor some deep bitterness towards the movies – Murphy seems to genuinely love film. He has equal affection for documentaries, Hong Kong action films, and crowd pleasers like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
But, as viewers of Mystery Science Theater know, Murphy isn’t above aiming a well-honed insult at a cruddy flick. In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to the experience of watching a bad movie, and the impact it has on an audience (Murphy’s – and it’s a good one – is that there’s nothing fun about the bad movie itself. It’s watching the audience’s sheer horror at seeing a failed project unspool on screen that’s fulfilling).
A Year at Movies is must-reading for any movie lover. Murphy’s observations are funny, pointed and, at times, even poignant. Eventually, this unusual project renews Murphy’s love of going to the movies. It’s likely to do the same for the book’s readers, as well.
© 2002 by Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book