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The Pleasures of Movie Marathons

14 hours in a movie theater? Sign me up.

A couple films into The Ultimate Marvel Marathon — six comic book movies in fourteen hours as part of a geekstravaganza celebrating the premiere of “The Avengers” — our host for the day, a genial theater manager with a thick Noo Yawk accent named Joe, came into Auditorium 9 at Manhattan’s AMC Empire Multiplex with an announcement. “If you like events like this,” he said, “and you want more of them, let the company know.  There’s been talk of a ‘Batman’ marathon. There’s been talk of a ‘Star Trek’ marathon. There’s even been talk of a ‘Twilight’ marathon.”

“BOO!” several hundred Marvel Zombies roared in unison.

Despite that particular crowd’s anti-diamond-skinned-vampire bias, I am letting the company know:

To AMC (and Regal, and Cinemark, and National Amusements, and Alamo, and every other theater chain) please give us more marathons.

Yes, to a “Batman” marathon, yes to a “Star Trek” marathon, yes to a multi-day James Bond mega-marathon, yes even to a “Twilight” marathon (assuming the host venue permits the mass consumption of alcohol). In a world of texting during movies and even taking still photographs of the screen and posting them to Facebook during movies — yes, I’ve actually witnessed it — the marathon is the last refuge of one of the best parts about going to the movies: immersion.

As long as there remain a few quantum mechanical hurdles in the way of the real thing, the movie theater will remain the greatest teleportation device ever invented by man. A good movie is transportive. It takes us to another time and place, inside the very hearts and minds of other people. A great piece of escapism takes us away from our troubles; a great piece of documentary filmmaking takes us away from our own troubles and educates us on the troubles of others.  At their best, movies achieve something like hypnotism: we are conscious and unconscious, awake and dreaming, all at once.

Marathons amplify this effect. Instead of a brief 90-minute excursion outside of ourselves, we’re treated to a day of travel to far off planets and bygone eras. A spell is woven and it’s not broken by the doldrums of reality for hours upon hours. In a culture dominated by constant and instantaneous reaction, the marathon is an opportunity to reflect and a much-needed excuse to ignore the outside world. It’s almost a mini-vacation from life. If movies are like sex, then marathons are tantric sex — longer, more pleasurable, more blissfully self-indulgent — only without the jokes about Sting (unless, of course, you’re marathoning every version of “Dune”).

Can marathons be grueling? Yeah, sure, if the movies are bad. Good programming is they key to good marathoning. But a good marathon also amplifies the pleasures of its component films, by inviting comparisons across multiple movies that wouldn’t be readily obvious if they weren’t watched in such close proximity. I’d seen every movie at the Ultimate Marvel Marathon (except “The Avengers”) before, but I’d never noticed how prevalent or how similar the themes of power and responsibility were in each film, or how frequently the villains are identified by the wearing of scarves (seriously, it’s weird).  

Patrons obsessed with their electronic devices — and movie theaters who are seemingly ready to indulge them — do more than distract from the screen: they shatter the illusion of teleportation. Whatever mysterious alchemy enables the magic of the movies is utterly destroyed whenever someone takes out their cell phone. Now it’s certainly true that someone could use their cell phone during a marathon (like the mouth breather who sat next to me at the Marvel Marathon and took pictures of Tim Roth running away from The Hulk, for example). But for the most part, marathons operate like Darwinian natural selection: only the strong survive. The casual fans get weeded out from the die hards. If you’re willing to commit 14 hours and $50 to something, odds are you’re pretty serious about it, and therefore a lot less prone to distractions.  

A ticket for a marathon is an endorsement of immersion. And I want to immersed again as soon as possible.

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