Even with plasma televisions and surround sound, I enjoy watching movies in a theater. Having written that, though, I must add that my enjoyment is often marred by the audience around me. It seems that boorish behavior has become the norm. As going to a movie gets more and more expensive while Netflicks, et al. are an easy alternative, I may end up staying home from now on. I do want the group experience of watching movies to continue. It’s one aspect of our modern secular American religion, something that unites our increasingly fragmented society. But as with any religion, watching movies needs to have its own rules as to how we act, so here are my suggestions:
1. Watch the entire movie. This means get there before the movie starts (avoiding the annoying commercials is permissible, but the previews are for your benefit). I don’t want to see you scrabbling along the aisle, and I don’t want you stepping on my feet. The overhead lights are on before the movie starts for a reason. In the same vein, wait until the credits are finished. Credits are part of the film, and watching them gives due respect to the creative people who entertained us for a few hours. In addition, credits are an education in the process of filmmaking. Even marginally aware movie-goers know actors and directors, but the end of the film shows set designers, score composers and performers, linguistic aides, and many others, along with the locations of filming.
If you must break this rule, please enter and exit unobtrusively. You are not the show.
2. Be quiet. Laughing, crying, and gasping are acceptable, of course. Some directors and editors anticipate those reactions as they plan the pacing of the film. But I did not pay my seven dollars to hear your conversation on the telephone, your struggles with bags of plastic-wrapped food, your commentary on the film, and other such distractions. As I wrote, you are not the show. If you want to be the show, write, direct, produce, or star in your own film, and the rest of the world will let you know if you have any talent.
If you must speak to your neighbor (who wants to hear you), whisper in the person’s ear. The term is sotto voce.
3. If you bring it in, take it out. This refers to food and drink items specifically. If the floor in your home is sticky and covered with crumbs, that’s none of my business, but the movie theater is a public space. Human beings have lips. This allows us to keep our food in our mouths. We have risen above the level of brutes, and when we eat in public, we need to demonstrate this. Also, don’t leave trash behind. I am not your servant, and I don’t want to clean up after you.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
4. Work silently. I write this one to the theater employees. Just as my fellow audience members are not the show, neither are the workers. When you are cleaning up, do your job, and don’t spend the time socializing. Certainly don’t start your cleaning before the movie has ended, and don’t stand around in the room gabbing. I paid for the movie, not your personal life.
I have complained about this twice to managers at the Malco Pinnacle Hills 12 Theatre in Rogers, AR, but nothing has been done. It’s no wonder that the audience behaves badly when the people running the business permit it.
As I wrote, technology is giving me options for seeing movies that spare me from the boorishness that I’ve described. Theaters that want to stay in business need to address these problems, and those of us who go to movies need to act as though we aren’t barbarians.