We went to a movie last weekend. I know that’s not exactly front-page news, but it’s a little unusual for Sharon and me to go to a theater to watch a movie. Between the crowds, and the parking, and the water bottle police (Sharon has one with her wherever she goes because of a medical issue), movie theaters are a lot of hassle and it’s easier to wait for the DVD. It takes a very special movie to make us endure the hassle and go to a movie theater, and a very special film it was: A Prairie Home Companion.
Those who don’t lean far enough to the left to tolerate Public Radio may not know that there really is a live weekly radio show called A Prairie Home Companion. I was less than a year into my broadcasting career when Garrison Keillor did his first live broadcast of PHC in 1974. I remember listening to the program when I was a board operator/engineer at WQLN-FM in Erie, PA. The music wasn’t one of my favorite flavors, but I was a captive audience – I was literally being paid to listen, so listen I did. Before long, I was enjoying the flavor of the music, the dry humor, and Garrison Keillor’s masterful storytelling skills. I used to look forward to those Saturday night shifts when I was paid to visit Lake Wobegon. Keillor was able to stimulate my non-linear imagination in ways that nothing else – including the substances I was fond of at the time – could even approach.
So, when I heard about the movie, most of which was filmed in the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota that PHC calls home, I knew we would have to see it even if it meant the dreaded theater. Actually, the theater wasn’t that bad. We had a choice between the big, new, “place to be” theater and a smaller, older theater not far from the house, so we chose the latter. Parking was easy, and the crowds were manageable. The only downside was that, since it was opening night, the local Public Radio station was there giving away door prizes – various PHC “stuff” that no doubt had been collecting around the station. With all those Public Radio fans in one room, no matter where we sat the room still seemed to slant a little to the left.
The movie was phenomenal. It won’t be up for any Academy Awards, and its profits will look like pocket change to the “big guys” in movieland, but it will probably become a classic with a cult following. It reminded me a lot of those early days at WQLN. When it comes out on DVD, it will be on my shopping list for sure.
In keeping with our usual practice, at the end of the film we sat and watched the credits. It’s not that we expect to see the names of any close friends or family members, it just seems like a reasonable tribute to the hundreds of people that made the movie possible but that, other than the closing credits and a paycheck, are unknown, unrecognized and often unappreciated. I would have thought that in a theater full of NPR junkies there would have been more folks watching the credits. By the time they finished, there were just a handful of stragglers in little conversation clusters, the kid with a broom impatiently waiting to sweep the popcorn and other moviegoer droppings from beneath our seats (he had already finished the rest of the theater), and of course Sharon and me, sitting in the back row watching the credits and debriefing.
If I ever make a film – it’s unlikely, but not impossible – I’m going to put something really cool at the very end of the credits as a special reward for those people who watch them all the way through. Not just outtakes and the like, some really special treat that can only be seen by watching the credits all the way through, as a special tribute to those who cared enough to ride that bus all the way to the end of the line.
I’m sure both of them will enjoy it.