I’m on a cloudy beach on a cool mid-August afternoon. A trail of footprints sinks into the damp sand as a line of people trudge down Kirk Park Beach in Montauk.
We’re clad in an assortment of inappropriate beach attire: sneakers and boots, not a pair of swim shorts in sight. Montauk’s beach crowd, in their Ray-Bans and colorful beach towels, stare in bewilderment at us. We’re not the typical denizens of this Long Island village’s quaint streets and endless shores—we’re an entirely different sort of animal: a roving pack of film fanatics here for “Meet Me in Montauk,” a day-long event by Alamo Drafthouse and Focus Features celebrating Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, released in 2004 by indie arthouse leader Focus Features, is a cult classic, widely considered among the best films of that decade. Featuring arguably Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s all-time best performances, the film is a masterful coming together of director Michel Gondry’s distinctively absurdist aesthetic and writer Charlie Kaufman’s razor-sharp, Academy Award-winning screenplay.
“Meet Me in Montauk,” held on Saturday, August 12, was the opening event in “Maverick Cinema,” Alamo Drafthouse’s month-long commemoration of Focus Features’ 15th anniversary. The series, which takes place in Drafthouse locations across the country, includes such highlights as “Afternoon Tea: Atonement” (which comes with three servings of tea and a plate of teatime treats), “Moonrise Kingdom: Movie Party” (where participants receive a “Khaki Scout” backpack full of memorabilia), and “The World’s End: Beer Dinner” (which includes a four-course pub dinner and beer pairing). For this “Meet Me in Montauk” kick-off, however, Drafthouse and Focus took things a few notches up, planning a full day of activities for super-fans: a tour of memorable Eternal Sunshine filming locations in and around Montauk itself, as well as an evening beach screening of the film, where participants would sit on actual mattresses (provided by hip mattress start-up Casper) in a nod to an iconic image from the film. The total price tag? $60 (and a $9.59 fee and sales tax) a ticket, and customers had a choice of queen- or king-size mattress. Between 50 and 60 people came along for the ride, by my rough count, with a couple of no-shows.
Montauk is a two-to-three-hour drive from Manhattan, a not-insubstantial pilgrimage, and as my bus ride there drew to a close, the morning’s portent of inclement weather became more of a certainty—less eternal sunshine, so to speak, more cloudy with a thunderstorm in the evening. A drizzle misted the air, dampening our clothes and casting doubt over the viability of our evening’s beachside soiree. As Henri Mazza, Drafthouse’s V.P. of Special Events and our guide for the day, noted, however, the inauspicious weather lent a strong “Montauk in February” feel to our proceedings, which fit the winter-set movie.
It’s been more than a decade since Gondry shot his film, and Montauk has certainly changed in that time. As we walked through the downtown area, staring through the windows of what once was the diner where Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Winslet) first make eye contact, a mass of confused faces looked up from tacos and margaritas to stare back. (It’s now a Mexican restaurant.) We found too that a flight of wooden steps at Kirk Park Beach, upon which sat a dour Jim Carrey, had all but disappeared. It was something of a relief, then, that the film’s memorable beach house—the one that collapses in conjunction with Joel’s fleeting memories near the climax of the film—still stood, unchanged, on a private Wainscott Beach in East Hampton.
All my wistfulness dissipated when we arrived at our final destination for the day, the luxurious four-star Gurney’s Montauk Resort, where we were greeted by a feast: a buffet of pasta, roasted meats, a crustacean bounty that never seemed to be depleted—and a full open bar to boot. During dinner, we were handed gift bags replete with Eternal Sunshine-themed goodies, including a mug commemorating the event, themed magnets and a replica of the orange hoodie worn by Clementine in the film. After two hours of thoroughly stuffing ourselves and drinking more than a few cocktails, we were ushered into a small event room to begin the screening (i.e. plan B, thanks to the incoming thunderstorm). The new accommodations, with the mattresses laid out on the floor, traded the would-be spectacle of the starlit screening for quiet, cozy intimacy. Kudos to Casper for their incredibly comfortable—and potently soporific—mattresses: More than a few snores were heard throughout the movie’s run.
While clients of the film’s fictional Lacuna, Inc. may be known for their forgetfulness, Alamo Drafthouse and Focus Features didn’t miss a thing, displaying a thoroughly impressive attention to detail with “Meet Me in Montauk”: from fun Lacuna, Inc. postcards that mimicked the notes sent out by the practice in the film (Focus actually mailed them out to many unsuspecting significant others), to the bags of popcorn carefully arranged next to each mattress (not to mention the bar that continued to serve drinks throughout the screening). All in all, “Meet Me in Montauk” was a surprisingly elaborate and thoroughly enjoyable experience for fans of Eternal Sunshine, one that even a targeted memory wipe—or a night of heavy drinking—would be difficult to erase. MM
“Meet Me in Montauk” was held August 12, 2017, in Montauk, New York. For more information about Maverick Cinema Presented by Focus Features (presented by Birth.Movies.Death, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Casper), visit the program’s website.
Photographs by Heather Kennedy (hlkfotos.com).