The Entire BNAT X Experience From A BNAT Virgin Couple From Edmonton, Canada!
BNAT impressions from a noob
It’s almost become a cliché at this point that BNAT is about more than just the 24 hours spent in the theater, but this is a story that proves the cliché to the nth degree.
Day 1: Thursday
Me and my girl head out to the airport at 3 am, having gone to bed at 1 am the night before finishing off our last work from our home business before leaving for a week. We arrive in Austin in the afternoon and stay with some distant relatives who said they’d put us up for a week. But it turned out the welcome was perhaps ‘just being polite’ and we felt pretty quickly that we weren’t too welcome.
Day 2: Friday
We head out for breakfast at Chuy’s (having pre-planned about a dozen famous Austin restaurants we wanted to hit while we were there) only to discover it wasn’t open, and so headed to Kerbey Lane’s on South Lamar instead, not realizing until it was in front of us that the Alamo Drafthouse was right in front of us. We pulled in to take a first look at it before heading on to Kerbey Lane (it looked weirdly multi-plex-ish compared to the original Drafthouse where QT6 was held). At Kerbey Lane we’re seated at the back of the restaurant, and start talking about how we’re not quite welcome where we are, and where we should make arrangements for alternate sleeping in order to make the most of the vacation.
Then a large group of 10 or so people sit across from us in another booth, and after about 5 minutes their talk turns to Harry and BNAT. We ask them if they’re going to BNAT and they say yes, and are instantly friendly and engaging, telling us they’re from Minnesota and this is their 9th BNAT (10th for Windy!). They’re totally inviting, and bring us into the conversation without any hesitation. I mention that I couldn’t find anywhere on the site where the goody-bag-stuffing was taking place, and they say they’re heading there in a couple minutes, and we’re invited! We also quickly get an invitation to bunk up with two of them in their hotel room where they have an extra bed. Normally my personality (shy) is such that I’d turn it down to be polite, but I got into BNAT! I’m not saying no to anything this week! So we take them up on it and boom! We’re adopted into the group just like that.
Before we know it (and my heart’s beating like crazy!!) we’re off to stuff the goody-bags, and we work without break for some 3 hours or so, the Minnesota crew taking charge of the whole thing. I meet a couple other Canadians, a Swede, and quickly see the AICN crowd make cameo appearances. Tim League, Lars, Head Geek, Father Geek, Quint, and I think Moriarty showed up briefly. I also ended up even meeting Emily, the little girl from years back who made that zombie movie in Austin (PATHOGEN) that Harry pushed on the site, and is now in High School and just the night before finished editing her second movie (I think)! I finally get the guts to go up to Harry and thank him for letting us into BNAT. I do the usual (but genuine) long-time-reader spiel and Harry couldn’t be friendlier. After a couple minutes I get back to work.
My heart hasn’t stopped racing since Kerbey Lane, and now as goody-bag-stuffing closes up, we race home (well, we would have if rush hour wasn’t so atrocious on the I-35, so it’s more like we raced home in super-slow motion) to get our stuff and high-tale it out of there to Austin Motel, our new home-away-from-home.
We quickly check into the Motel and head off with Pat and Tim, our new roommates, to Mimi’s, where we eat with an even larger crew. We chat with Windy and Monty about musicals and a bunch of other stuff, while a Star Wars conversation is raging on the other side of the table. One of the debaters comes over near the end of dinner and I find out that he’s actually Massawyrm (and damn if he doesn’t kind of look like his avatar), which is tres cool.
From there we’re off again (and again in slow motion in Austin rush hour) to the BNAT party at the Schulz Beer Garden. We meet a bunch of other awesome people—all friendly beyond compare—and the last of the Minnesota crew. We head out pretty soon (on Harry’s advice for a good night’s sleep) and end up talking for a couple hours with Pat before going to sleep and ending a complete whirlwind of a day. The surreal life has begun, but we only go deeper from here.
Day 3: Saturday-Sunday – Butt-Numb-A-Thon!!!
BNAT began with showing up for a badges and swag. Knowing what was packed the day before, I once again go out of my shell and ask if I can get the ‘Indiana Jones’ bag instead of the ‘Trick or Treat’ bag (being a self-entitled cunt). Pat finds one (although it turns out it was a mistake as I got a Trick or Treat, but more on that later) and we head out to the trunk to stow our stuff for the next 30 hours. I’m skittish about this because we found out yesterday that BNAT parking lots are prime pickin’s for thiefs, since it’s loudly advertised that for the next 24 hours no one’s going to be in the parking lot and there’s lots of expensive stuff to steal from all those cars. I risk it anyway (there’s way too much stuff to bring into the theater and be comfortable with!).
Standing in line for BNAT, I see the badge of the infamous Jeremy Bulloch—nice to finally put a face to the name, and also finally get to a put a face to Capone’s name, whose Chicago crew is right behind us in line. Soon we head in and find we’re in the last row, row 19, nearly dead center, so right below the 3 projectors (3D, digital, and 35 mm, I presume). This is pretty different for me, as I’m used to something like 4-5-6th row center, but the theater’s relatively small and the screen is still nearly enveloping my vision, which is what’s most important when I pick my seat. Plus, I get to the see the BNAT crowd reaction to everything, so I soon realize this is basically perfect seating, not my ordinary, but really the best in the house for this particular feast.
Some quick impressions on the films:
Viva Villa—Possibly my favorite full film of the night. A great character study about a not-too-bright lug with his heart in the right place. Probably the best well drawn character of the night (and in a third of the time of Che).
Benjamin Button—Most memorable for that jaw-droppingly amazing make-up (and/or digital enhancement thereof). Wow. I haven’t read a word about the film, so I can’t imagine what drew Fincher to this material.
Coraline—Standard brilliant Gaiman. Can’t wait to fall into the world in its entirety whenever it’s released. Definitely an immersive experience that needs to be seen in 3D, not 2D. Really great adult fare, not for the kiddies.
Up—Doesn’t get any better than this. The storyboards-only montage sequence had the theater in tears—God knows what it’s gonna be like when it’s animated. Pixar in both their unfinished product and their Q&A afterwards prove for the umpteenth time why they are the best active studio in the world. Story, story, story, character, character, character. EVERYTHING else follows from these, and come a very distant second in importance. I don’t know how these guys can so seemingly easily remember this and every other studio can’t. Talking to Pat later I didn’t realize that Pixar doesn’t make as much money as Dreamworks Animated, etc. I don’t follow box office so I always just assumed Pixar made billions. An interesting point made in the Q&A was how Pixar’s characters don’t lend themselves to merchandising as much as other companies. An old man with a cane as the star? Who wants that action figure? This was the best experience of BNAT itself, the privilege of seeing Pixar’s next as a work-in-progress with the best audience in the world can’t be described. The highlight of the night for me.
Monsters vs. Aliens—Now, in my city of Edmonton, 3D is anything but entrenched. Sure we have it in specific runs, but I’ve never been impressed by any 3D experience before. It just hasn’t worked for me. Now this film was the best 3D I’ve ever seen (I know experienced 3Ders will rightly disagree with me, but it’s true for myself). The screen seemed to have depth, going behind the screen, rather than out at the audience. I found this very immersive (more than Coraline—albeit only in 3Dness, not story/atmosphere) and happily had my first 100% positive 3D experience. I’m definitely looking forward way more to Avatar now. But then, the story and characters itself were awful. Gags and gimics were the stars of the film. Story and character played a distant second. The director (?) of the film said the weirdest thing about Dreamworks wanting to have some female protagonists in their animated films, since we haven’t seen that in a while. Uhh…ever heard of Miyazaki? This and other answers just completely illuminated the differences between Pixar and everyone else in American animation. Night and day. They just talk and think differently…rightly.
My Bloody Valentine—After years of reading and hearing about taking your girl to a horror movie and having her squeeze your hand and arm, I finally got to experience it—fucking awesome! This was one of my girl’s first slasher/thriller films, and the 3D made her totally into it. The film itself is above par for slasher gore films, but not dramatically above par. It actually gets better after the first 20 minutes, and thank God it gets the teenager element out of the way in the first 15 minutes, so we actually get a just slightly older crowd.
Sahara—Awesome Bogie WWII flick. Hilarious mocking of the Nazis and really cool twists and turns.
Valkyrie—Seemed to be a big hit with most of the audience, but I couldn’t help wishing the entire way through for the German version of this movie. The Germans have been on such a role the last decade with their historical dramas. I love Singer, but this just felt way too slick for me, and I had an urge for the makers of Downfall to make this story their ‘prequel’ and get it right their way. But then, I was pretty familiar with this part of history, so maybe that affected my outlook. Nothing wrong with Valkyrie, per se, just to slick for me, and except for a brief beginning where Cruise is speaking in German (and very well, to my ears), I was never ‘in’ the movie, but always outside it. Great cast, character acting, and production, though.
Metropolis (80s version)—First time seeing this version, 3-4th time seeing the film (Kino being my most complete version). This was far and away the best time I’ve ever had watching this film, and for whatever reason, it made infinitely more sense to me this time than any other time. The music, and I’m not a huge fan of 80s music, REALLY worked for me.
I Love You, Man—Starting around 1 am, this was the perfect jolt of caffeine that brought me through the rest of BNAT without ever struggling or feeling tired. Like most comedies, I have no need to ever see this again, but it’s definitely well above par and follows its romantic-comedy premise to be the best it could ever potentially be.
White Dog—I was waiting all BNAT for a filthy exploitation film, but this was the closest we got to it. Almost but not quite exploitation, I really loved this film, my second favorite after Villa, although the rest of the theater didn’t appear to agree to much, and sleeping started to occur around me. Simple premise (based on truth) about a dog trained to attack blacks is taken through the obvious motions and scenes to an unpredictable and (for me) mysterious ending that is not spelled out for the audience, but which has a pretty damn pessimistic outlook on healing future race relations between humans. Not exactly a pick-me-up movie.
T4—Totally not interested. Haven’t seen T3, nor do I intend to. I’m quite happy with T2 being one of the best action movies ever. McG, kudos to him, showed up in front of a theater of people who weren’t exactly his biggest fans, and tried to sell us on—well, on him. It started out ok, but quickly went south, and then more south, and then… Well, I don’t know who he is (I’m not even sure if I’ve seen any of his movies), but he sure comes off as wanting to be accepted. I felt pretty bad for him. Hope he finds who he is, which definitely ain’t a geek, and makes those films, if he’s even supposed to be making films.
Watchmen—I’ve read less than a dozen comic books in my life, and know nothing about Watchmen other than that it’s a sacred cow, one of the best ever written according to just about everybody. The opening 20 minutes we saw looked cool, but it was very clear that this film is for the fans. It was obvious enough from the opening credits alone that there were probably 50 references being made that I had no clue were about—but knew that they were being made regardless. Fan reaction clearly vindicated the film as succeeding (so far as we saw) in pleasing the fans immensely. For myself, I wasn’t bowled over, and was merely very happy that there was substantial production design, as I didn’t much care for the look of 300 (even though I otherwise dug the movie).
Che—Ok, I get that it’s a cinema verite exploration in pseudo-real-time of how absolutely boring it is to be a revolutionary guerilla. The question is, did I (or any audience) really want to experience that for 5 hours? In the first 90 minutes, I thought I should rent this a year from now and give it another shot, and I’ll probably like it. But about 3 hours plus in, it was becoming abundantly clear that the failure of the film to engage all but a small fraction of the (or any) audience had nothing to do with how long we had been awake. No mental state will make this film any better than it was at BNAT. I knew only a handful of things about Che before the movie started, and after 5 hours, I not only know absolutely nothing new about Che’s life story, but more importantly, I also know absolutely nothing about the psychological motivations or interior life of Che. It was very much like watching an ant move for 5 hours. I see him build the ant-hill, I see the ant-hill destroyed by a shovel, I see the ant try to build the ant-hill again. There is zero psychological engagement with this character. He’s not human, he might as well be an insect because despite Benicio’s amazing performance, I know absolutely nothing about his internal motivation for a single action he performed in those 5 long hours.
So that was BNAT. It was surprisingly easy to stay awake for those 25 ½ hours the screen was lit up. But we came out into the bright sun and after talking for a bit, went to sleep until 8 pm.
Then we woke for the Minnesota crew’s traditional post-BNAT dinner at Kelsey’s, a crazy place where you order your own plate of meat (and nothing else) and then share a whole bunch of different sides with your party. After this crazy 3 hour dinner, we headed back for another 8 hours of sleep.
Day 4: Monday
We spent Monday checking out some of the town, including a sweet candy shop (where Elijah Wood walks in for a quick visit), before heading over to Harry’s in the evening. I was so excited to actually go to Harry’s place, that it was a long drive there. When we got there, Harry was at his computer (surprise, surprise), and immediately showed us some cool toys he got to review (which I won’t ruin before he posts on it). We spent about 3 hours there talking about BNAT, films, set visits, Watchmen, etc. Periodically different people would drop by with gifts for Harry. It was hilarious because from a first timer’s perspective, it seemed like a day in the life of Harry was someone dropping by nearly every hour with a new gift for him. Probably it’s just Christmas/BNAT season, but it seemed like this was just a day in the life of. Harry’s walls were predictably filled with awesome posters, framed comics, etc. and shelves were filled with awesome memorabilia, but it was also immediately apparent that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
At one point Harry asked if anyone hadn’t got an Indy book and I raised my hand. So I didn’t get one at BNAT itself, but in tune with a perfect week, where nothing went wrong, even the only thing that seemed to go wrong was now set right, I couldn’t believe it. The Indy book from Harry himself, not just BNAT! Seriously, I’ve never had a week so perfect, where everything went so well, and I probably never will again. As gay as it sounds, the only word for this week was magical.
At 10:30 Patricia came back from work and we all headed out to Katz’s for some ridiculously huge sandwiches and a cheese cake shake (which is as thick as it sounds, an entire slice of cheese cake in liquid form). I asked Harry to sign my Indy book and when he asked what we had planned for tomorrow and we said we wanted to check out some Texas BBQ which we hadn’t yet, he invited us to go with him!
Time to sleep.
Day 5: Tuesday
Finally, the day before we were to head back to reality, we got up and said goodbye to all our Minnesota friends who hadn’t left Monday. We headed over to Mondo-Tees and bought over $300 worth of t-shirts, posters, Emily’s Pathogen DVD, and even a cool Alamo picnic blanket. When we were there, Harry called and recommended a BBQ place that we had planned on hitting anyway when we planning the trip, the Salt Lick, 30 minutes out of town. Turns out this place ships its BBQ meat all over the place, including to the White House for W.
We met with Harry, Jay, and Patricia and shared a family BBQ meal (unlimited BBQ meat). This stuff melted in your mouth and was unbelievably good (which makes sense, since it was voted best BBQ in Texas!). It was awesome getting to meet Yoko and Harry and Jay are like this verbal tag team in person. I had no idea that Jay’s favorite films were the same as Harry’s, and they basically agree on everything, it’s incredible to hear them together, basically finishing each other’s sentences. We heard lots of awesome stories about the old back-yard screenings they used to do, which I’ve missed reading about the last several years on the site. Lunch lasted a couple hours, and the Knowles’ couldn’t be friendlier, more down to earth people. Just fantastic human beings.
Finally we said goodbye and the whirlwind of a week started to slow down. We couldn’t believe how just one day we were supposed to come out for, which we still couldn’t believe we got into, turned into this surreal week of hanging out with the coolest people on the planet. BNAT was anything but a 24 hour festival. It lasted an entire week, and there’s no way the week outside the theater could be separated from the day inside it. It really is about more than the films—it’s about the community and the people.
We decided for our swan song to check out the Ritz. We saw MILK (awesome film!) and had our last decent service from the Alamo waitresses and kitchen before heading back to our useless Edmonton multiplexes with day old popcorn and expensive butter that costs more than an entire dinner at the Alamo. It was an awesome experience, and while I dug the vibe at the Ritz, I totally miss the original Alamo—the Ritz doesn’t remotely capture it, like all of Tim’s reels of film spilling out of the projection booth onto the aisles and stuff. I just miss that place and I’m so glad I managed to get out to QT6 to experience it before it was gone. There’s a cool painting with the original Alamo at the Ritz, with ‘Remember’ playing on its marquee. I’d love that painting for myself. There were some cool t-shirts for ‘last night at the Alamo’ that I wanted but I can’t buy a shirt for something I wasn’t at, so I didn’t get it.
After MILK we walked down Congress and checked out some live music before heading back to our family’s place for one sleep before catching the plane the next day.
BNAT X was without doubt the greatest week of my life. Thank you so much Romeo, Amada, Perrin, Jennifer, Lauren, Melissa, Chris, Monty, Windy, Pat, Tim, Patricia, Jay, and Harry, for such a surreal, amazing experience. I hope to see you all next year if not earlier!