I went to Case Western Reserve University Film Society’s 45th Annual Sci-Fi Marathon woefully unprepared. Not to say that it was on a whim, but rather that when I saw the words “Sci-Fi Marathon,” I assumed it was self-explanatory. That it was just going to be 14 movies played end to end for 29 hours straight and nothing more.
I was very wrong.
I had begged a friend to go with me, because it’s no fun watching old movies without someone to riff with. He begrudgingly agreed, if only to see the infamous trainwreck that is “Alita: Battle Angel” (2019), which happened to be the first movie in the lineup, scheduled at 8 p.m. on Jan. 17.
Upon actually arriving at Strosacker Auditorium, we noticed was totally transformed. My friend and I were two of the only CWRU students in the theater—it was overrun with native Clevelanders and handfuls of alumni and their children.
The lobby, usually full of kids cramming before exams, was now full of kids cramming their faces with pizza. The stage upon which Director of Undergraduate Studies Chris Butler weaves his mathematical magic during the week had been covered in bed sheets, air mattresses and tents. (Though, I’m sure no one warned the theater-goers that Butler usually goes barefoot.) The air was full of people talking, old friends seeing each other for the first time since the last annual marathon. I was in awe.
After buying concessions, we sat down in the auditorium and lifted up the chair-desks to turn them into convenient trays to hold our snacks. As the lights went down, an intro card from an old movie company appeared on the screen, accompanied with a small melody. Every single person in the theater—barring my friend and me—chanted along with the melody.
The screen quickly went into a Popeye cartoon, with different scenes apparently being cues for a call and response from the audience. I turned to my friend with wide eyes and an open mouth and said, “Ohh. It’s one of those movies.”
By “one of those movies,” I mean all the great cult classics: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (also produced annually by the CWRU Film Society), “The Room,” “Troll 2,” etc. The kind of movie that calls for audience interaction. The kind of movie in which the first time you see it you can’t fathom why people are throwing plastic spoons at the screen, but the second time you show up with your own box of them.
By the time the short ended and the first movie started, the entire audience loosened up. Instead of just saying something during the expected moments, people would shout whatever they thought was funny.
We all groaned loudly at Alita’s eyes, which were uncomfortably large on her face. We all laughed at the ham-fisted attempts at a plot. We all sucked in air sharply through our teeth at the line, “Looks like she’s a little older than you thought” (in reference to a 16-year-old that had been aged up to 20). Over the course of the night, we grew connected through a shared enemy: directors of sci-fi movies.
The annual movie marathon is something that I would recommend to anyone looking for a sense of community and a good time. The best way to demonstrate the togetherness felt by every single person in the theater is the interaction I had during the intermission after “Alita: Battle Angel.”
Behind us sat a couple with their young daughter. The father leaned forward and started talking to me, explaining that they used to come every year, but they hadn’t in 10 years. Now that his daughter was old enough to bring, though, he and his wife wanted to pass that tradition down to her. Watching her laugh and yell at the screen, and knowing that she would hold onto this story and this ritual for the foreseeable years, was heartwarming.
I did have to leave early. It’s nearly impossible to watch 14 sci-fi movies in a row unprepared, especially for someone who thought that it would be from Friday at 8 p.m. to Saturday at 3 a.m., not Sunday at 3 a.m.
That being said, I cannot recommend this experience enough. The CWRU Film Society always pulls off an amazing show, but this was truly something special. And, you can bet that a year from now you’ll find me on the floor of Strosacker with a mug of hot cocoa, wrapped up in a sleeping bag, shouting incoherently at the screen.