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Monday, November 22, 2010

Moviegoers Faint During '127 Hours' Showing At Embarcadero Cinemas

Posted By on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 5:59 PM

click to enlarge Perhaps James Franco is concerned for the audience members who passed out watching him act
  • Perhaps James Franco is concerned for the audience members who passed out watching him act

I wish I could tell you how Danny Boyle's 127 Hours ends. The first hour and a half are riveting: James Franco is looking gorgeous even as he's slowly dying, his hand pinned under a boulder in a Utah canyon. He's cutting through his arm, I'm squirming, James is telling himself "Don't pass out!" when, well, the audience started passing out for him. 

Actually, there were more people fainting at the 7:45 p.m. showing of 127 Hours at Embarcadero Center Cinemas on Saturday night than at a revival meeting.

Okay, maybe just two. Both men. But it was enough to get the movie canceled.    

San Franciscans are usually an exceptionally empathetic bunch, but we aren't in any way special this time. The entertainment press has been reporting on how the movie's incredibly visceral scene of self-amputation has audiences passing out, vomiting, and going into seizures all over the country.

The scene is loud, it's overwhelming, it's bloody, it's disgusting. But on Saturday night, an equal amount of chaos sprung up in the back of the theater. Patrons started standing up in the darkness, some ran out. A bomb? A fire? Finally one woman yelled "What's going on?!" It turned out a guy had completely blacked out in his seat.

It was Elliot Hoffman, the founder of Just Desserts. The house lights went on. The movie was turned off. Hoffman's wife looked into his eyes and said something like, "Are you still here?" After a bit, Hoffman hobbled out of the theater with his wife and daughter so the paramedics could attend to him in the lobby. Get that man some cake, stat!

"It was when he was reaching into his own arm to reach a tendon," Hoffman said over the phone on Monday, having recovered from the harrowing experience of watching Franco act out the harrowing experience. "It was the blood and the reaching in; it was very real."

After about 10 minutes, the theater lights went off again. The movie started back up. Okay, folks, only the strong survive, onward ho! Franco is still cutting off his arm, we got through a whole 10 seconds, the arm is off, when -- another guy making his way up the aisle swooned and hit the ground.

Once again, people ran out for help. The guy seated behind me said, "This is so dramatic!" I ran out into the lobby to alert one of the paramedics already attending to Hoffman, "There's another one down in the aisle!" She smirked slightly, seeming to convey this was getting ridiculous.  

Back inside the theater, the house lights went on again. The movie shut off. The woman accompanying the man on the floor, probably in his early 50s, raised his legs up into the air as he said "I feel the great need to go the bathroom." Oh boy. 

A theater employee entered and explained that no, the show would not go on. A mumble of mutiny rumbled through the theater. "There have been two medical emergencies," the employee explained as if trying to quell an attack. As we filed out, a sweet usher handed us passes for another movie at Landmark Theatres, saying again and again "I'm sorry! This never happens!"

Actually it's happening with great frequency. When we called the Kabuki, the other San Francisco cinema showing the movie, a manager who wouldn't reveal his name said "a few" had passed out, before then backing off his previous statement with "Most people get a little sick, that's all. No emergency. We'll just leave it like that."

Landmark Theater's publicist Steve Indig hadn't heard of the Saturday night fiasco, but once we told him, started trying to work it into a sales pitch for the movie: "I can't wait to faint myself!" (We can't wait for people to vomit and faint right next to us! We can't wait to roll around on the putrid floor of a movie theater!)

Fox Searchlight Pictures didn't return a message on Monday. "I heard from Fox Searchlight that they formerly didn't want to address it, but they're probably welcoming the buzz," Indig said.

Hoffman's ordeal wasn't over, by the way. When he exited via a packed elevator at One Embarcadero Center, the elevator stalled. Hoffman estimates they were stuck for three to four minutes, smacking the emergency button: "I could feel the air going out of the elevator," he says, with a touch of drama. Finally, he demanded that someone pry open the doors. Some guy did so, and the throng spilled out.

Having made it out alive, Hoffman says he still intends to finish 127 Hours to see Franco do the same (or so I assume since we never got that far). "Oh, I thought it was great! The acting, the camera, it was pretty tremendous." This time, he'll wait to rent it on DVD.

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Lauren Smiley


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