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Kevin Smith’s Spoilers is, if you’ve never seen it on Hulu (or, if you live abroad, potentially on a TV station somewhere on your dial), a show in which the ever-gregarious Smith takes 30-40 normal folks to the movies on opening night, then brings them back to a television studio to talk about it. If you’re familiar with Smith’s Q&As or listened to any one of the dozen podcasts he appears on regularly, you know that his great gift if talking to/interacting with an audience, baring his soul, bringing the funny.
But last Friday, the movie Smith and his Spoilers were scheduled to spoil was The Dark Knight Rises. And, suddenly, it couldn’t be funny.
I was invited to be in the audience of the Dark Knight Rises episode before James Holmes walked into an Aurora, CO theater on July 20 and opened fire on the midnight-screening fans. It was unclear if Smith would even tape the show, given the gravity of the situation, but when I reached out to the producers, they said they were going ahead…even if they were still figuring out what this episode was going to be.
So I showed up to the Spoilers studio, located at Universal CityWalk. I was ushered into an audience holding area and given stock release to sign. When the time came, me and the other audience members — most of which were Smith fans, given that they had to sign up online; it’s not something you’re badgered into, like a crappy Times Square comedy show — were handed movie tickets and escorted across the plaza to the theater.
Sitting in a darkened theater, watching The Dark Knight Rises mere hours after the tragedy, was an exercise in self-delusion: As the lights dimmed, my lizard-brain started to tweak a bit, urging me to go towards the sun, and I got the sense that I wasn’t alone. But no one left. The theater was packed and, by the time that Bane DID THAT THING I’M NOT GOING TO RUIN FOR YOU BECAUSE I AM NOT A BARBARIAN we all sort of forgot. Or, at least, forgot to remember.
The way it usually works, post-screening, is that Smith bounds into that audience holding area and warms up the crowd, urging them to have fun, crack jokes, and prepare to revel in the warm afterglow of the communal moviegoing experience in front of Hulu’s cameras. But today would be different. “We’re gonna do this like an episode of Donahue, a free-form conversation, looking at these horrific events from whatever angles occur to us,” explained Smith, who said that he got word of the Aurora shooting at 5 am that morning and had been wrestling with how to do this show ever since. “The internet is aflame with people venting their feelings…so lets do the venting for them.”
Which is exactly what happened. It was clumsy, at times, as Smith and his production team jettisoned segments of their show in the fly and shifted gears from silly to somber. Maybe even somber is the wrong word, because there was a decent amount of anger present, too, as Smith worked the room, microphone in hand, asking people what was in their heads and their hearts. Some were angry that one nutbar had violated the social contract that stipulates that movie theaters are safe zones, places where we can surrender ourselves to fiction without fear that reality would intrude. Others were horrified at the loss of life. Some argued for more gun control, some hoped the blame would rest on the man, and not the weapons. One man, a Marine adjusting to life back in the world, lost his father to a gun-related incident and offered some hard-learned “It’ll get better” wisdom.
Many of the speakers were awkward, mostly because processing emotions this complex takes time that none of them had. But they were all earnest. And, disarmed by the nature of the show, Smith betrayed an empathy you don’t often see from him. What’s more, even though Spoilers is his show, he realized that this episode wasn’t about him. It was about them, the people both in the studio and out in the world.
When it was done, Smith took the time to shake hands and sign free books and the audience dispersed into the sensory deluge that is Universal CityWalk. I overheard one guy say he was heading back to the theater to buy Dark Knight Rises tickets for the next day.
It really was a thing to see…because it was a thing I didn’t expect to see.
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