It’s now been a quarter-century since I last saw someone scream in the movie theater.
The rebel yell occurred in Manhattan during a showing of Kenneth Branagh’s intense, glorious Henry V, which had recently debuted. Crowded, hot and uncomfortable was the interior as a host of New Yorkers, squished together in narrow seats, silently watched the actor perform with the utmost passion. When it came to the famed St. Crispin’s Day speech, one of Shakespeare’s finest, the music went into crescendo mode. The theater listened. Branagh reached a climactic point.
And one man sitting in front of me pumped his fist high, like a champion weightlifter.
“Yeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” he screamed, louder than any Patrick Doyle melody.
We stared at him, surprised. Some of us laughed. Me, I smiled. I knew how he felt. He, like the rest of us, wanted to join Henry’s band of brothers. The speech was so well-acted that the guy forgot he wasn’t part of the English army at Agincourt.
I’ve never heard anything as raucous in a movie theater since. I’m proud—it was a unique cinematic experience. Yet it also tells us something about great art: that it’s able, at its best, to transform us, inspire us. That there’s nothing else as immersive … and we can happily disappear into the canvases we embrace.
Sometimes I wish I had done the same thing at that time. I certainly felt like doing it. I realize, however, that the moment belonged to the fellow in front of me, as well as Branagh, whose speech made the reaction possible.
And it’s better that way, I think. Movie magic couldn’t, in my opinion, have been better expressed.