So much of Screen on the Green on Thursday night, with its showing of Jaws, felt familiar. There was the huge signature banner covering the monster screen. There was the crowd of picnickers camping out on the sloping grass, this time Centennial Olympic Park. There was the sort-of entertaining pre-screening music act, this time in the form of Athens' Blue Flashing Light. There was, ultimately, a really cool community vibe that makes Screen on the Green one of my favorite Atlanta experiences.
But there were plenty of differences, some perfectly understandable, others irksome, others a little of both. For starters (and I should have known this given the persistent warnings), there was no outside alcohol permitted, which meant I had to trudge back to my car to drop off that awesome $6 bottle of Cabernet. I loved the cops' response to my questioning why we could do this at Piedmont but not here: "This is a different park." Indeed. Centennial Olympic Park is different in a lot of ways. For starters, the lovely view of Midtown is replaced by an almost equally lovely view of downtown. I'm no fan of Atlanta's bizarro modern aesthetic where the motif seems to be "20th Century Hodgepodge" but almost anything looks good at sundown, including the skyline. But still, being forced to pony up $6 for crappy, plastic-bottled Budweiser seemed a ripoff from the get-go. Even more annoying was reliance on the CNN Center for on-the-go food. Am I the only one who misses access to places like Silver Grill? (Added travel note: I decided to use the MARTA train for the first time since moving here, and while I was bummed I wasn't accosted by Soulja Girl, I LOVED the perspective it gives on the city. Lesson learned.)
And then there was the persistent corporate presence this time around, thanks to the switch from Turner Classic Movies (previously the least corporate of the Turner family members) to Peachtree TV and its presenting sponsor Pepsi. (If you didn't know the latter, you are deaf and blind. Even then, you could've gotten bonked on the head by a Pepsi beach ball.) And what's up with Peachtree TV's host, Jeff "JJ" Johnson, who bordered on the "Everybody make some noise!" form of cheesiness. JJ, it's just a picnic in the park. Chill. The same could be said for the switch to the pleasant bourgeoisie music vibe of Dave FM to the hyper-pop of Q-100, but that's my own generational grumpiness. Considering how much younger the crowd seemed could it be the proximity to Georgia State? maybe Screen on the Green deserves a youth movement. The crowd also seemed even more mixed than in previous years, which already was impressive.
As the sun set, the park really started glowing, partly thanks to the lit-up trees, and at one point in a bad way: During what felt like a small misstep, the park's lampposts lit up a few minutes into Jaws but were quickly switched off to the cheers of the crowd.
My wife and I had to laugh during the pre-screening commercials, which lasted almost as long as those annoying strings of trailers before a regular movie. The really funny moment came when they played a spot for the Piedmont Park Conservancy, with its lush montage of all the park has to offer, and will offer in the future. As if to say, "We'd like to remind you why you're NOT here! Enjoy the movie!" Whatever, we get it. Staying off their grass now will lead to good things later. Thanks.
Maybe it's not such a different park after all. Memo to self: Wear a bulky sweater next week.
(Photos by David Lee Simmons)