Yesterday I heard something at a theater I have never heard in more than 30 years of going to the movies.
I was told that a screening didn't exist.
Not "That screening is sold out." Not "That screening is cancelled because of technical difficulties." Not "That screening actually started ten minutes ago." That screening doesn't "exist." Those were the words used by the young woman at the box office at The Pavilion Theater in Brooklyn, New York when I tried to buy a ticket for the 10:15 showing of "Prometheus."
The screening doesn't exist? For a moment, I thought I was being invited to partake in some sort of philosophical brain teaser. Like, if a movie screens in an empty theater and no one pays to watch it, does it make a sound?
But no, there simply was no 10:15 screening of "Prometheus" at The Pavilion.
"Are you sure?" were the first words out of my flabbergasted mouth.
(Admittedly, this was maybe the stupidest response possible. What is the woman going to say? "Actually it does exist. I was just testing you to make sure you really want to see it. Come on in! And just for you, the movie is free!")
"Yes," she replied instead.
"But I read about it online."
(Another classic Singer zinger. On this night, I put the dumb in dumbfounded.)
"What website did you use?"
"They're wrong. We're not affiliated with them. We're trying to get that changed."
"Oh. Okay." And with that, I walked away, angry and annoyed.
Actually, angry and annoyed might be an understatement: I was boiling with rage. I had wanted to write a Criticwire post collecting the best spoiler-y "Prometheus" writing on the web, but in order to do that I needed to finally see the movie. I'd rearranged my entire day so I could catch the 10:15 showing at The Pavilion. I got up early. I worked through dinner. I skipped hang out time with my wife. And after all that, the movie didn't exist. I was pissed. So I tweeted:
"Congrats to The Pavilion in Brooklyn for continuing to be the Worst Movie Theater ever! Apparently the screening listed online was made up."
Obviously I was upset and maybe a little hyperbolic. There are a lot of movie theaters in the world. I haven't been to most of them. It's conceivable that in the century-plus history of motion picture exhibition, there once was a worse theater than The Pavilion. But the undeniable fact is this: in my lifetime, in my thirty-one years of going to the movies, The Pavilion is the worst movie theater I personally have ever visited. The phantom 10:15 "Prometheus" screening, you see, was not an isolated incident.
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, The Pavilion is legendary for its shoddy customer service record. If you want a full accounting of their ineptitude, the blog Fucked in Park Slope has a pretty extensive record. Like the time they oversold a screening of "The Hunger Games." Or that time they disrespectfully hung their American flag (the theater, by the way, is located on a street recently renamed for a soldier who died in Afghanistan). Or that time the digital print of "The Other Guys" started freezing and skipping like an old DVD (I witnessed this one firsthand). Other than that stuff, and the constantly broken seats, stained and torn movie screens, tiny auditoriums with bad focus, muddy sound and possible bed bugs, there's basically nothing wrong with the place.
Oh, no, wait, I'm wrong; there's actually lots more wrong with it! After I vented my spleen on Twitter, fellow Brooklynites chimed in with their own sob stories. It was like an impromptu support group. Danny Bowes of Movies by Bowes told me about the time he was denied a refund after a projector at The Pavilion broke shortly before the end of "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol" because, according to the employee, he'd seen "MOST of it" (lucky for him it wasn't a screening of, say, "The Sixth Sense"). Farran Nehme of the fantastic Self-Styled Siren blog sent me a story about taking her kids to see "Tangled" at the Pavilion while the theater's heater was broken; the room was so cold she could see her own breath. Months later, she went back for another movie and the heater was STILL broken! "I was so indignant," Farran told me, "I asked to see the manager and demanded to know on what planet it takes three or four months to fix heating. He told me they only used one HVAC company and the guys were busy at the moment. If you ask me, the Pavilion management had another solution in mind. It's called spring."
Farran goes on to list a litany of less serious but significant offenses, from blurry projection to dim 3-D movies. But here's the kicker: "In all the time I have been going (and because we live close by, it's still our go-to theatre for kid movies) I have never been offered a refund or even an apology for the many problems they have had."
And that's the most galling thing about The Pavilion: not the fact that they screw up over and over again, but that they don't seem to care. Everyone makes mistakes, but good businesses try to correct them. They treat their customers with respect. The Pavilion treats their customers like prisoners in a maximum security jail; thanks to their great location in a neighborhood with absolutely no competition, they know we've got nowhere else to go. The woman who told me there was no "Prometheus" screening at 10:15 didn't even offer me an apology; she just blamed Fandango. So when I went home, I did some checking. The showtime information for The Pavilion was wrong on Moviefone too — I guess they're not "affiliated" with that website as well. Same for The Village Voice. MovieTickets.com didn't list any "Prometheus" showtimes at all (IT DIDN'T EXIST!!!). But I'm sure it's all a massive conspiracy on the part of the online ticketing industry, and not The Pavilion providing these websites (or whatever central company feeds them their showtimes) incorrect information.
The reality is it wouldn't have taken much to make me happy; a sincere "We're sorry" and a $5 coupon for the concession stand would have done the trick. At a time when moviegoing is down 28% in popularity amongst consumers according to one survey, theaters should be doing everything in their power to make their loyal customers happy. Even if it was Fandango's fault (and I'm dubious that it was) it's up to the theater to make things right — unless, of course, they want their customers to use Fandango to find another place to watch movies. Which, I think, is probably the best thing for all parties at this point.
Have you been a victim of The Pavilion? Feel free to share you horror stories in the comments below.