In 1997, I was working for a few months on a film shoot in Moscow. The Moscow Film Festival had just rolled into town, and, having been largely deprived of movies for a few months (despite working on a film), I decided to go see a flick. I wound up in a cavernous theatre, in a packed, premiere night screening of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. (Let’s ignore the fact that, by a strange twist of chaotic film festival programming, this also happened to not be the film I had actually meant to see.)
I should preface this story by briefly noting two things: First of all, this was a time when the Russian mob was quite active in Moscow. Indeed, many people held up mobsters as heroes. A local English-language paper ran a story on how ridiculously little it actually cost to have a foreigner offed. Secondly, many movie theaters in Moscow had numbered seats. You didn’t always have to abide by the numbers – but in the case of this special, crowded screening, everybody seemed to be sitting where their tickets told them to sit.
A minute later, the seat’s previous occupant came back. Seeing that his seat number no longer matched his ticket, he went to Big Scary Guy and said, “Excuse me, you’re sitting in my seat.” Big Scary Guy, without even looking back at him, said, brusquely, “You can sit somewhere else.”
Silence. “No, I can’t,” said Youngish Gentleman. “My ticket has that number. That’s my seat. What does your ticket say?” he asked.
“Who cares,” replied Big Scary Guy. “Look at these two beautiful women I’m with. Do you want to tell them they have to move?” Youngish Gentleman, clearly unprepared for this debating point, hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, then said, “But…that’s my seat. If you have tickets, they’ll have seat numbers for you.” Big Scary Guy, still not looking back, scoffed, “Go away.” Youngish Gentleman stood there for a second, seemingly wondering if he should buzz off to the other side of the theater and actually sit where his jacket was placed, right behind his scary tormentor. Finally, he sat down behind Big Scary Guy. After about half a minute of silence, he said, “You’re very rude.” Again without looking back, Big Scary Guy said, very casually, “After the movie is over, I will kill you.” Silence. At this point, the lights began to dim, and the movie started. But as the film was beginning, Youngish Gentleman, probably after mustering up untold depths of courage, spoke once more: “You’re very rude,” he said again. Without missing a beat, in fact almost interrupting the other guy's statement, Big Scary Guy said, “I will kill you. Just wait.” Anyway, on that note, William Shakespeare’s pulse-pounding action adventure about gangland killings and techno music and hot young movie star lovers began in earnest. The screening itself was without incident. But as the film was winding down, perhaps spooked by the violence onscreen, Youngish Gentleman quietly slipped out of the theater. As the credits rolled, Big Scary Guy asked one of his molls, “Did he leave?” “Yes,” she said. “Did you see what he looked like?” he inquired. The girl shook her head no. Big Scary Guy said nothing. Instead, he just gave a sigh of exasperation, as if he’d been deprived of his fun for the evening. I decided at that point that it was time for me to leave, too.