We hadn’t planned on seeing a movie. We didn’t have anything to do but wander the crowded streets of Alexandria. When we passed a movie theater with people rushing to buy tickets it was a spur of the moment decision. Why not? It was past the start time listed but people were clearly still on their way inside and since when did anything run on time?
I pushed and elbowed my way up to the ticket window (they don’t use lines in Egypt or Morocco) and bought two tickets for the movie that was playing at the time: X-Large [Even written in Arabic it was “لارجX”]. Brian and I followed people inside the theater and up the stairs a few steps before a couple of guys checking tickets cut us off. “You have got to be kidding me”, I thought, as they held out their hands, asking for money. In Egypt, everyone expects a tip for everything, especially from foreigners. I sighed but there really wasn’t anything to be done about it. I handed over a few Egyptian Pounds and they suddenly became our new best friends. They ushered us past, one man with a flashlight insisting we follow him.
The theater was like and old performing arts theatre that had been adapted slightly to accommodate a movie screen. Flashlight Man led us down through the upper half of the balcony and down to the box seats on the side, dodging people and broken seats on the way. The movie had, in fact, already started so the flashlight came in handy. Any attempts to stop and take a seat were prohibited by the fact that some seats were actually missing and Flashlight Man really wanted us to follow him. The boxes all had people in them but Flashlight Man went straight to one full of a group of kids and kicked them out, presenting us proudly with some chairs and making sure we didn’t want for anything.
Men walked around the theatre with drinks and snacks on trays to sell, offering to run get you anything you wanted if they didn’t have it. The audience itself was very participatory. They laughed uproariously at some of the lines and cheered and hollered when something good happened. At one point in the movie the characters went to a club and some people in the audience stood up and started dancing to the music.
Then, about an hour into the movie it suddenly stopped. There was no rhyme or reason to stopping then, it was the midst of a scene, the middle of a conversation. I think it even cut the main character off mid-sentence.
Brian and I looked at each other, confused.
The house lights had come on and some people were getting up out of their seats but there was no mass exodus for the doors.
Intermission?, I guessed. I thought it was a strange way to take a break from a movie that shouldn’t be longer than usual to begin with, but I couldn’t think of anything else. Everything seemed to be working properly and no one was overly-concerned so we just went with it, waiting to see what would happen and hoping the movie would start back up again.
Sure enough, about ten minutes later, it took up right were it had left off, mid-scene. The rest of the movie passed as it had before, with vendors roaming, people laughing, and Brian and I lucky to understand even 10% of what was going on but enjoying the experience nonetheless.
Leaving the theater once the film ended was an exercise in crowd-swimming. Everyone tried to leave at once, turning each door and passageway into a bottleneck. No one used the front door either. Instead, everybody headed out the back entrance of the cinema, onto the street behind it. Brian and I found our way back to the main drag of the city and headed home to the hotel to sleep so we could get up early the next morning and drive down to Luxor.