Syrians love James Bond. The twin-screen theater in downtown Damascus, which always shows one foreign film and one Arabic film, shelved the romantic comedy “The Break-Up,” which enjoyed a much longer run here than it did in America, for the new Bond film. It opened in Syria at the same time as in America.
An American friend who grew up in a household somewhat obsessed with Bond – his dad had a replica of the original James Bond gun – asked me if I wanted to join him for the movie.
We went to a matinee on Sunday, the first day of the work week in Syria. Despite that, there were about 50 people in the theater, mostly younger Syrians. The movie cost $3, a bag of popcorn $1. The seats were comfortable, but the theater was built before the advent of stadium seating, or at least before its advent in Syria.
The movie itself was great – if not for the storyline itself, which wasn’t bad – but for the strong dose of American movie culture. We made the mistake, however, of sitting close to Syrians.
Most Syrians, my Arabic teacher later explained to me, like James Bond for the action. Most don’t go to follow the plot – which would involve reading the subtitles, written in the formal and often stilted classical Arabic – so their attention span wanes during the dialogue. That’s when they talk.
Not just a word or two, but complete conversations. Not in whisper, but full voice. Men and women. Talking, laughing. My friend, who was determined not to spoil the experience for himself, shushed them repeatedly, to no avail.
Still, he enjoyed the movie and so did I. As all experiences in Syria, one’s enjoyment as a foreigner comes partly from what one learns of the culture. We learned that Syrians haven’t developed a movie-going etiquette – the vast majority of Syrians watch movies on television, or on pirated DVDs, less expensive than going to the theater – and that next time, we’ll sit in the front.