I talk at the movies.
I also grumble, murmur, whisper, chuckle, snort, roll my eyes and shake my head. Muttering under my breath isn’t out of the question, either, nor is sighing so loudly that anyone within three rows of me can hear it.
The good news is a flick’s got to be bad enough for me to do these things. Quality pictures keep me quiet.
The bad news is I’m not quiet in the theatres or, for that matter, in front of the TV screen often, which says a lot about the kinds of films I see.
A lot of people find this frustrating. I don’t blame them. Sitting next to a squirming, kvetching filmgoer such as me must be awful … and few people can stand it, though continual exposure to such behaviour can help build immunity to its effects, as my wife would attest.
There is one type of showing, however, that you can go to if you’re seeking to escape such practices, and that’s the screening, where filmgoers are regarded as guests and, as such, must be polite, quiet and discreet when watching the picture.
I wish that weren’t the case.
Years ago, I attended a screening of Last Action Hero (1993), a sloppy, tedious mess about a boy and his action-movie star that had to be one of the worst pictures of the year, if not the worst. At the time, I was interning for a film critic writing a book about the silver screen, and it was conveyed to me that I had to maintain a certain kind of politesse in the theatre no matter how bad the film was. Guests do not complain.
But they should.
Just how hard was it to keep myself from twitching convulsively at the poor dialogue and tiresome “action” onscreen? Well, it took every bit of my then-sagging willpower to do so. After leaving the theatre, I was as relieved as a man rescued from a desert island filled with Jerry Lewis movies and a remoteless DVD player. I wondered: does it have to be like this? Why can’t we moan and groan while watching the picture? We may be guests, but guests should be treated well — not abused. There’s no reason why people attending screenings should be quieter than anyone else at the theatre for a regular show time.
Complaining or making any other kind of critical vocalisations can certainly affect people’s perceptions of a film, and that’s definitely an issue to consider. Yet the studios and distributors should be obligated to turn out a quality product, and very often they don’t. Is the onus then on the screening attendee to keep still when it’s foisted on him or her? No one’s breaking exclusive news that should be kept silent when grumbling at a movie. Oftentimes, word will get out soon enough about troubled or terrible productions, and you can always get an idea of how bad a movie is by the mere mention of its name (for example, I predicted that the recent iteration of Conan the Barbarian  would be junky before I saw it … no exceptional bit of foresight, that). Unless you’re sequestered without exposure to the media for years upon years, you can’t help but be buffeted by the public information available, including advertising, that’s connected to a film.
Given such phenomena, a little groaning in the theatre isn’t such a bad thing.
So I say it should be copacetic. If a movie warrants such treatment, bring it on. Boos and hisses shouldn’t be relegated to the everyday filmgoing experience. If we can warn other folks of the problems with a picture, why not give it the OK? After all, we laugh out loud at screenings when the flicks are funny, cry when they’re sad. Isn’t that an indication of quality, too?
This, of course, isn’t the type of protocol that’s liable to make it to the cinemas sometime soon. But it seems to me a double standard. There’s an unwritten rule frowning on negativity when attending screenings, and that, to me, is just a bad idea. What are people afraid of? If the picture’s good, folks will emote with it. They should be able to emote against it, too.
Freedom of reacting. It’s a right we all need to have as long as there are movies. Or screenings, for that matter. And in this case, right should trump rules.