Sidewinder’s View: “Trespass” (1992)

In the wake of actor Bill Paxton’s passing, I’ve been revisiting some of the films he appeared in which made positive impressions on me, Walter Hill’s 1992 action-thriller Trespass being one of them.

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I have a fond memory of seeing Trespass in the theater during its initial release. Originally titled The Looters, the movie had been postponed several months, after tensions following the L.A. riots in early 1992 prompted Universal to push the release date to December of that year.

When the movie made it to Rockford, Illinois, it landed in exactly one theater: the Belford Indoor/Outdoor (four indoor screens, two outdoor screens). Located on the edge of Rockford, the theater has since been torn down, replaced in 1997 with the Showplace 16 multiplex.

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I’d seen a Woody Allen triple feature at this theater with my family when I was five. The Belford was in considerably better condition back then. Eighteen years later, the Belford Indoor’s interior decor was dingy and out of date. The carpeting in its lobby and the upholstery of its auditorium seats smelled kind of ripe.

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This theater, housing four auditoriums, usually played the movies that local exhibitors had little interest in (*)…

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…particularly, it seemed, if the film in question was thought of as “a black movie”. I recall that Spike Lee’s Malcolm X had been relegated to this theater during its theatrical release around this same period in time.

When I drove to Rockford for the Belford Indoor opening of Trespass that Friday night in mid-December, I arrived just a few minutes before the start of the movie.

After buying my ticket, I noticed a Rockford police officer standing guard outside the auditorium’s entrance. Entering the auditorium, I found it filled to near-capacity with a somewhat raucous crowd of mostly male youths…and very few white faces, if any. (Full disclosure: My face is quite white).

I’ve since spoken with others, including a few black folks, who, after I told them about this experience, admitted to me they would have very likely turned and walked out of that theater and waited for the movie to show up at Blockbuster.

I wasn’t concerned. I’d had a similar viewing experience when I watched Do The Right Thing at an on-post theater in Germany just a few years earlier. Nobody gave a damn I was there to watch that movie in 1989. Why would anyone in this stateside theater in 1992 care that I was here to watch this one?

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I located one of the few remaining seats, an aisle seat towards the front on the right side of the auditorium, and sat down just a few minutes before the lights went down. Nobody seemed to take notice of me at all.

Once the film started, the crowd responded very positively to the movie. Lots of talking back to the characters on the screen.

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When the movie was over, I made my way out with the rest of the crowd, shuffling past several more Rockford police officers posted in the lobby. There were a few more police officers in squad cars idling in the theater’s parking lot.

A friend of mine who grew up in Los Angeles told me about watching  Colors in a theater during its 1988 release and having a similar experience, only he’d actually observed a few weapons in peoples’ waistbands. In 1991, he’d witnessed fights among customers at an opening weekend showing of New Jack City, while he and I were stationed in Germany together, both before and after the screening.

My experience watching Trespass at the Belford Indoor in 1992 wasn’t nearly as exciting. It was, however, the only theatrical experience I’ve had where the local police maintained a presence in the theater’s lobby and parking lot due to the “gang appeal” of the movie being shown.

In my younger days, I was cursed with a certain level of tunnel vision when it came to going to moviegoing. “Gang appeal” or not, it was opening weekend for a Walter Hill action flick and nothing was going to stand in the way of me checking it out on the big screen, controversy be damned.

As for the movie itself, I thought the setup of its premise and the action were well directed, but the characters were a bit thin. Great performances from the cast and a spooky central location, though, with a nicely offbeat score by Ry Cooder (which I’ve since owned on cassette and CD).

Receiving rather lukewarm reviews during its theatrical run, and very mild box office returns, Trespass is admittedly not as satisfying as some of Hill’s previous pictures– certainly not on a par with Extreme Prejudice, 48 HRS, or The Driver, but certainly better than Johnny Handsome— but I still found it worth many repeat viewings over the years. I’ve since owned it on VHS, three times on DVD, and, once Shout! Factory issues their release this June, on Blu-ray.

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(*) I suffered through Children Of The Corn Part II at the Belford a month or two after watching Trespass there. The first Children Of The Corn wasn’t that great, but, man, what a piece of shit its sequel turned out to be.

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