[17 August 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We all complain about talking in today’s movie theater experience, a combination of lax living room viewing habits translating over to the big screen scenario as well as that most senseless of addictionas - the cellphone. We crow about texting and other forms of technological shorthand, kids incapable of leaving their portable video game consoles long enough to absorb a 70 to 90 minute movie. But there are worse affronts to the sensibilities of a faithful cinephile, acts of egregious insensitivity and inappropriate behavior that, 100 years ago, would probably mark the difference between a civilized and callously uncouth society. While by no means all inclusive, here’s a list of 10 things that happen almost regularly in Bijous around the country that warrant a little more than a passing criticism. Sadly, strict laws against homicide keep film fans from resorting to outright violence, even if light of such affronts as:
Catcalls and Wolf Whistles
While definitely sexist and reminiscent of a time when chauvinism battled feminism for the proper way of dealing with a fetching guy or gal, aurally expressing your sexual approval of a star or onscreen sequence is just pointless. Megan Fox doesn’t want your horndog howl. She’s quite content with the million dollar salary your blind sense of beauty provides her. Besides, the only person hearing your approval of Eric Bana’s naked bubble butt is the un-attentive teenager zombie out in front of you. Also, when was the last time anyone acquiesced to physical congress with you based on a bleated sound of sensual acknowledgment. Thought so.
Okay, you’re a fan. A HUGE fan. We get it. We got it all the while you were waiting in line, adrenaline pumping so hard you were practically levitating. So when Robert Pattinson’s androgynous vampire arrives onscreen, or Hannah Montana breaks into that much memorized favorite song of yours, there is no need to literally lose your shit. Such expressions of unbridled devotion made sense in an era where society suppressed the overall cultural conceit of idolatry. But just because John, Paul, George, and Ringo inspired mass hysteria 45 years ago doesn’t mean you have to wet ‘em when the latest fad gadget finally appears.
Comedies crave your chuckles. Sometimes, a horror film will foster a few before getting onto the next big “boo!” But when your beloved A-list superstar, generally known for his humor and/or wit onscreen, is trying to stretch his acting chops by taking on a more dramatic role, don’t assume everything he or she says is a backwards attempt at a laugh. Will Smith may honestly be grieving over his dead dog, or the realization that he is not alone in a world bereft of other superhero ‘gods’, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to snicker at his attempted emotional connection.
When The Exorcist was doing its roadshow damnedest to scare the bejesus out of the early ‘70s American populace, it was rumored that several audience members blew their lunch during the horror masterwork’s more disturbing parts. Indeed, you couldn’t walk into Me Decade theater at the time and not smell the souring scent of bile and faux popcorn butter. Thirty plus years later, such rank reverse peristalsis is horribly uncalled for, be you an infant or merely infantile. Honking chunks nowadays indicates one of two things: (a) a medical condition that probably requires a doctor’s assistance, or (b) a cinematic naiveté, that, oddly enough, also may mandate a doctor’s help. Either way, you should definitely NOT be out in public.
Gas (of Any Kind)
Farting onscreen is funny, and unless you’re five, a belch is about as rude as monosyllabic communication can get. So if you have to float an anal or oral air biscuit, do so during an action scene or highly explosive exchange of CG pyrotechnics. Waiting until a moment of proposed dramatic silence all but eradicates the ability to pinch one stealthily. Even worse, no one needs olfactory clues as to your already questionable dietary habits. Theater nachos layered in processed cheese product and pickled jalapenos may sound like a solid Cineplex snack, but with even lame transforming robot titles going on for what seems like forever, you’re bound to be serenading everyone with your butt trumpet before long.
The Audience Participation Punchline
Call it a misguided sense of Mystery Science Theater 3000 entitlement, or the simple need to get something out of an otherwise stilted cinematic experience. Whatever the lax rationale, offering up your own outloud retort to events taking place on screen is best left to the so-called ‘professionals’ - or at the very least, in circumstances where you lack of wit won’t be recognized by an equally irritated gathering of your peers. Sure, you might get lucky and pull off a satiric slam dunk. You could also argue for your failed Family Guy sense of cleverness. Even the skilled rarely bat 1000. One imagines your average as significantly less than that.
The Narrative Rewind
It goes without saying that some movies are confusing. With scripts by committee and editorial decisions mandated via focus group consensus, sometimes a narrative line (or twelve) gets lost. But what’s worse - you not being able to figure out what’s going on, or speaking aloud said lack of clarity so that everyone knows. Again, you could have a legitimate beef with character motivation, plot logic, or subplot significance. But history seems to support a more “I wasn’t paying attention” attribute to most audible inquiries. It is especially true of the elderly, and the socially illiterate.
The Unconvincing Scream
Just how lily-livered are you? Is this, perhaps, the first horror film you’ve ever seen? Heck, fetuses have some inherited sense of instinctual fear, so you can’t tell me you don’t know when something is legitimately scary and when you’re simply being manipulated by a movie. Yet for some fright flick attendees, the concept of screaming is intrinsic to the genre, and therefore mandated, whether it’s authentic or not. And just like the counterfeit laugh or the faked tear, nothing irritates the cinematic sensibility as much as a sham shock. At the very least, your brain should recognize the creative clichéd or formulaic. Indeed, what did you think was coming out of that dark doorway as ominous music played in the background? A puppy?
The Exasperated Sigh
Not every movie fits your sense of fun. Sometimes, entertainment value can be measured in microns. So just because you are incessantly bored and about ready to rip your eyes out of their sockets doesn’t mean the rest of the audience has to hear your veiled attempt to keep from verbalizing your dismay. In some instances, it would be better just to blurt out your disapproval rather than expel air like a leaky inner tube. Maybe some in the crowd will agree with your aerosol assessment. Others, however, may wonder why you’re leaking oxygen, and if perhaps you have a physical condition they should be concerned about.
Why would you applaud something that can’t respond? Who, exactly, is receiving the warm embrace of your hand-slappy approval? In a live setting, actors and musicians require such sonic assessments to gauge their effectiveness as performers, as well as your appreciation for all they’ve done. In your local Cineplex, several thousand miles away from the nearest ear of a motion picture participant, clapping is akin to the oft-quoted Zen couplet about a tree falling in an empty wood. If the recipient doesn’t hear it, is it really applause? And if it’s for the benefit of the other audience members, what does their lack of reciprocity indicate?