Patton Oswalt hosts free, close screening for students

By Rebecca Jacobs

Patton Oswalt doesn’t think he would be an ideal person to be hijacked and held hostage with. His plan of action would be to stand still, stare at a fixed point and not comfort anyone.

Oswalt said this to an audience at Foellinger Auditorium last night. Kicking off Ebertfest 2014, Oswalt hosted a free screening for students of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.”

The film follows a group of men who hijack a subway train in the 1970s. They hold 18 people hostage and demand for the New York City government to give them one million dollars within an hour. If their demands are not met, one hostage will be killed for every minute the ransom money is late. In response to the hijacking, the New York City transit police must rescue the hostages from the armed men. 

The premise alone is suspenseful, but Director Joseph Sargent adds to the suspense with his crafted silence. In tense situations, the dialogue stops. The body language between characters shows the tension.

The suspense in the film reflected high crime experienced in subways in New York City during the 1970s. After the film, Oswalt commented on the historical connections. When he did, audience members whom were alive in the 1970s nodded in agreement. As Oswalt put it, hijacking in 1970s movies adds “a little bit of spice.” It portrayed what people were experiencing in their daily lives.

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A majority of the film was set in the subway. It was dark, damp and dirty. Characters walked along subway tracks. A character fell into the puddles along the tracks. Audience members felt the grime. Oswalt wasn’t kidding when he said audience members would want to take “a bath after this movie.”

As intense as the plot was, the audience erupted in laughter throughout the film. The subtle dialogue and small details added comedic relief to the hostage situation. One hostage napped through the entire ordeal. The ringleader of the men watching the hostages worked on crossword puzzles while he waited for the ransom money. The mayor of New York City was home sick with the flu and received a shot in his butt while he made the decision of whether to pay the ransom or not. Oswalt laughed along with the audience at these peculiarities. 

After the film ended, Oswalt led a brief discussion. Audience members were welcomed to line up at a microphone and ask him questions.

While this event did prelude Ebertfest, Oswalt was the first to admit that the structure of this screening was much different than if Roger Ebert had led it. Oswalt said that Ebert would have gone through the film and dissected it. Oswalt decided to take a casual look at what was done right in the film.

Oswalt and audience members whom spoke in the discussion agreed that though the film originally premiered 40 years ago, it is not dated and documents a part of New York City’s history.

Oswalt pointed out why the film still works today. He appreciated that the costume designers dressed the characters in clothing that the characters would be able to afford based on their jobs. It made the characters “so much more real” than actors dolled up for a role. He even laughed about how the film’s villains’ outfits were not outdated. They wore thick, black rimmed glasses and hats. It was as though the train was “hijacked by Brooklyn hipsters” of today’s world.

Even the loudness and harsh language of New York City in the 1970s was captured. Oswalt said the film has “one of the best soundtracks” because it doesn’t blend; the soundtrack is “loud, obtrusive and rude” like New York can be.

The sound of the audience during the screening wasn’t loud and rude, though. As big as Foellinger Auditorium is, the screening felt intimate. Audience members sat close together in the front rows, laughing and gasping at appropriate parts of the film.

The discussion between Oswalt and the audience created an energy and excitement for the other films that will be screened this week during Ebertfest.

Rebecca is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected].