This coming weekend, I’ll participate in The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years. For this go-around, I’m further commemorating an anniversary. The weekend before the contest, the radio station sponsoring Trivia holds a midnight movie screening as a kickoff event, a practice that just celebrated its twenty-fifth straight year. Though it had been done a couple times prior to my tenure at the student-run radio station, I was the one who revived the practice, drawing upon my dual status as an on-air movie critic and a popcorn slinger at one of the local theaters. I booked Richard Linklater’s Slacker in April of 1992. The event has been happening ever since.
I had two goals when I pushed for the return of the Trivia Kickoff Movie: I wanted a different “fire up” precursor event than the ones we’d been staging to dwindling interest, and I wanted to coerce my fellow Central Wisconsin residents into watching independent film. In the years when streaming video and online file sharing were tall tales of the future, no more or less plausible than the jetpacks we’d been promised for decades, booking a movie that was otherwise unavailable in town or even the area basically required Trivia teams to attend our screenings. The year of the first Kickoff Midnight Movie, 454 teams participated in the contest. Providing the guarantee that questions would stem from the flick meant the event was guaranteed to be a hit. And it was, selling out the largest auditorium in town. I took immense satisfaction in filling the house for showings of Richard Linklater’s Slacker and Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, but I was having difficulty coming up with a appropriate art house offering for the third year. Desperate and running out of time, I called Warner Bros., figuring the bookers for that major studio would have no interest in working with a college station in a dinky Midwestern college town. To my surprise, they were the easier to work with than the indies from the prior years. They had a few stray Oscar-grab films from late 1993 that had had bombed and, importantly, hadn’t made their way to home video yet. After mulling the options, I settled on Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, starring Richard Harris, Robert Duvall, and Shirley MacLaine, probably remembering the bang-up business the superficially similar Grumpy Old Men did in the same movie theater a couple months earlier.
In my memory, I was pretty glum as I stood in the back of the theater, observing as Wrestling Ernest Hemingway was clearly received with greater appreciation and immediate affection than the more challenging fare I’d nabbed previously. There was nothing egregiously awful about the film, but it was the same tepid cinema that slunk in and out of area theaters all year long. I didn’t even do my duty as a first-time participant in the contest. Even though I was slated to play on the radio station alumni team after years of helping to run the contest while I was an undergraduate, I neglected to take notes on the trivial details in the film. (It’s also entirely possible I was distracted from the task by the super-cute up-and-comer playing a diner waitress.) Luckily, one of my coworkers at the theater was looking out for me. At the end of the screening, she handed me a piece of scrap paper, announcing, “I took a note for you.” I looked at it. The only thing written on the page was “S.S. Cooney,” the name Richard Harris’s character uses to christen a new air conditioner in his dumpy living space. When I pointed out that it was useful to take more extensive notes, she countered by explaining that she didn’t need to because she was certain that would be the question. Of course, she was correct, and we wouldn’t have gotten the points without her. I learned my lesson. Ever since, I’ve done my best to make sure we have proper notes on the Kickoff Movie.
More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days. To see how my team is faring over the weekend, Twitter is probably the best bet.