"The Greatest Snowman" or: How I Learned To Love Confused Customers - Chris At The Pictures

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

"The Greatest Snowman" or: How I Learned To Love Confused Customers

“Two for the...uh...that one with...” the middle-aged gentleman stood across the till from me turned desperately to his partner, who returned his blank look. I waited. The silence stretched. The queue fidgeted.

“Oh, bloody hell, what’s it called again?” he gesticulated to no-one in particular, before clapping a hand to his forehead. Sighing internally, I scanned my screen for the list of possible titles.

Insidious 3?”
Three Billboards?”
Darkest Hour?”
All the Money in the World?
“Yes! The J. Paul Getty one! All the World’s Money! Knew it was something like that.”

When you start working at a multiplex, there’s a lot you prepare yourself for: an unshakeable popcorn smell, complaints about how you need to “take out a mortgage” to afford a cinema trip, and, of course, the usual mental strain that comes with a largely thankless retail job. But one unforeseen difficulty in getting patrons from queueing to viewing is their inability to remember what multimillion-dollar filmmaking exercise they’re donating to in the first place.

For the cinemagoers, they rest comfortably in their assumption that we can translate their request for “That one with Joanna Lumley” into “One for Finding Your Feet?”. For those of us on the other side of the counter it’s occasionally frustrating, but never dull.

The categories for incorrect titles are as manifold as the misnomers themselves, but after a few months, the repeat offenders become obvious: mispronunciation, misinformation and abbreviation.

Mispronunciations from those who count English as a second language are fair play, but from native speakers it’s amusing, if a little worrying. See, for instance, the Christian Bale western, Hostiles, spoken aloud by one Cambridge University student as “Hoss-teal-ezz”. Or, how about that new movie about space wizards, Star Wars Episode VIII, with the roman numerals pronounced as “Veeeee”.

Misinformation depends entirely on one’s exposure to the advertising campaign of the film in question. Despite posters plastered across the sides of buses, adverts playing on television, heavy Oscar buzz and a basis in Blitz-era nostalgia, one late-January release inexplicably proved enormously difficult for British citizens to recall. Thus follows a complete list of wrong labels I received for Joe Wright’s World War 2 drama, Darkest Hour:

The Darkest Hour
Our Darkest Hour
Darkest Night
Heart of Darkness
The Darkness
Hour of Darkness
The Hours
Last Hours
Finest Hour
Their Finest
Winston Churchill
The Longest Day

Most forwent any attempt at the correct three syllables and simply asked for “The Winston Churchill one”.

Other marketing mishaps include “Last Call Pitches” (the tagline for Pitch Perfect 3, which enjoyed a larger space on the poster than the actual title) and “Wallace and Gromit” in place of Aardman’s Early Man, a film which sold itself mainly on homegrown affection for the Bristol-based studios original duo.

Abbreviation is where the definite/indefinite articles or any other words deemed extraneous go to die. The former is easily forgivable (also working in reverse, adding “The” to titles that never had one e.g. The King of Thieves). The latter is the most entertaining of all categories, usually reserved for films with unreasonably long names, needless subtitles, chapter numbers and so on. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proved especially popular in this respect. Besides one patron who spoke in a hugely immersive southern drawl, not a single customer bothered to go the whole hog. “Ebbing” was the first to go, followed by “Outside Missouri” (once replaced with exasperation as “Three Billboards in whatever”). By the time its run in UK cinemas was coming to a close, this once prized Best Picture nominee had been reduced to “Billboards”. A personal favourite would be the supremely confident woman who requested a ticket for “Three Billiards”.

But by far the most notable entry here would be (deep breath) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Customers - understandably - had so much trouble getting through all eight words of this twee British confection that many resorted to “The Guernsey Film”, “The Potato one”, or, brilliantly, “The one with the stupid title”.

All this anecdotal evidence might lead one to consider wrong titles a source of irritation for those of us attempting to whittle down a sizeable Friday night queue. With sparse exceptions (such as a customer who repeatedly and angrily denied that he meant to say The Last Jedi when he asked for “The Last IMAX”), the very opposite is true.

Working in hospitality is repetitive, often exhausting and largely unrewarding, so those manning the concessions stand take our small pleasures where we can. Sometimes it’s worth spending seven hours behind a cash register, dashing about to refill endless popcorn bags, just for that one faintly amusing anecdote about the patron who changed the delicate, intriguing A Simple Favour into the more brusque “Do me a favour”.

So next time you arrive at the box office, desperately trying to recall the name of the film you’re about to pay £10.95 to see, don’t fret. No Googling the cast list, no scanning the foyer for a poster, no turning to your date/friend/mother for help; just give it a shot. Whether you leave out the episode number of the latest Star Wars film, mispronounce a foreign title or accidentally fuse the smash hit P.T. Barnum musical with a Michael Fassbender thriller, we’ll help you find your way.

This article was inspired by the writer’s current working experiences in a British cinema, as well as this Letterboxd list: https://letterboxd.com/shawn_stubbs/list/wrong-movie-titles/

Please share your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #WrongTitle

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