A recent article in a blog or newspaper (I can’t recall) on the social etiquette of cinema-going started me thinking about my own views on what is or is not acceptable within the realm of the movie theatre. It quickly became apparent to me that my views on the subject were militant to the point of absurdity, and I would have to review whether or not:
- It was safe for somebody as authoritarian as myself to be allowed into a cinema;
- It was worth my time going to a cinema at all, seeing as though I was bound to end up being violently enraged by some innocent human being who had the poor fortune to cough on an un-popped corn kernel during the most pivotal (and silent) scene in a film I’ve been waiting a year to see.
I started off by making a mental note of some of the worse offences that can possibly occur in the cinema, some of which fit into the normal cinematic code of conduct, and some which most certainly do not. I chose the stream-of-consciousness rule here, and have attempted to catch my immediate emotional reactions to these violations. Here are three main categories of offences that I came up with:
- No talking. This seems like a simple rule, but a simple scratch of the surface reveals that there are a multitude of subcategories here:
- Obnoxious teenagers sitting at the back of the cinema that talk and laugh loudly through the movie between engaging in acts barely known to those of us born before the death of common decency. A lack of even the most minimal empathy with fellow human beings mean violence is the only solution here.
- Plot talkers who haven’t developed the normal cognitive ability to follow a film’s narrative. Usually of a more senior persuasion, these people are innocent of consciously violating cinema-etiquette. However, senility and ignorance are no excuse. These people should be banned from cinemas and all other cultural events that require the capacity for lateral thinking.
- The guy who uses sighs, seat-shuffling, and the “humph” sound to indicate that he believes the film you are watching is boring. In this situation, the movie is almost invariably a masterpiece and the culprit should be considered an enemy of the state… of EVERY state. (The other version of this is the giggler, who must laugh ironically at every scene that is not funny, just to ensure that their fellow audience members understand that they find the film to be ridiculous).
- People who need the film translated, or blind people who need to have the visual elements of the film described. These people are rare, and usually show up primarily at film festivals. In the presence of such individuals, all cultural sensitivities must be way-laid, to be replaced with a momentary contempt for everything that is different. (Keep writing Jim, confession is part of the growing process)
- People who eat instead of watch. These individuals most likely eat normally in every other situation in their lives, choosing only to move to feed-bag mode when in your auditory proximity. Whether they’re rustling through an obscenely sized bucket of popcorn, shuffling about in a deep packet of chips or slurping desperately on the last few drops of a two-litre Coca-Cola (half a gallon to my North-American cinephilic brothers and sisters)) like they were lost in the desert. I dream longingly of such an offender being found slumped in his chair, post-film, the world’s first victim of soft-drink (soda) drowning.
- People who invade my bubble. If you sit next to me in a movie theatre and feel that it is okay for us to be touching legs, arm, shoulders, or even clothing apparel, then it’s quite likely I’m already considering the possibility of pressing charges. Take note if you don’t want to be banned from walking within a hundred feet of your local primary (grade) school.
Having completed this list I then had to answer the question: “Why do I go to the movies?” What is it that could possibly make me go through this process over and over again when with the slightest provocation the experience could be entirely ruined for me.
The reason, of course, is simple. While I am prone to an excess of outrage every time I step into a movie theatre, there is an ironically social element to viewing a movie and enjoying it with a room full of human beings. When everything goes right, the big screen and surrounding darkness catch the audience and immerse them totally in the cinematic experience, elevating it beyond anything that could be experienced within the comfort of your own home. Comedies become funnier, thrillers become intense and horror becomes scarier when we are merged into a cohesive mass.
There are few experiences like it, but the whisper of this social element can be seen elsewhere. Consider the moment when you realise that one of your old favourites is airing on television. You know that you’ve got it on DVD, you know that if you watch it on TV it will be interrupted constantly by commercials, but something about watching the movie on television and knowing that thousands, perhaps millions of others are sharing that exact experience at the same moment can become quietly comforting.
So while I may moan constantly (and sometimes unfairly) about the inconvenience caused to me by individuals with whom I have shared the movie going experience, this is truly only because I find the experience to be so rewarding as to verge on perfection. Hundreds of strangers in one room, focused on one work of art, thinking and feeling together. Just don’t order the popcorn…