Cut to 16 years later: I’m sitting through a “YOU Demanded It!” sneak screening of Paranormal Activity at the local State Theater, and “they” will quite literally never stop talking. We are all familiar with “they”. “They” are the group of kids who slide into the theater 5 to 10 minutes after the movie has started, and without fail will sit down directly in front of you. From this point on, “they” become a valuable guide for both the audience and the characters in the film. If the characters are going to do something dangerous, they are warned. If something “stupid” happens in the movie, we, the audience, are notified. And if something that they didn’t expect happens, they will also kindly inform us of their surprise. Finally, in case anyone loses track of time, a cell phone display flashes out every 15 to 20 minutes.
Actually, this situation wasn’t too horrible, for two reasons. One, it takes a lot to draw me out of a film. If I were standing if front of 10 televisions showing 10 different movies, I wouldn’t find it that difficult to focus on just the one. Once I’m immersed, I’m all the way in. And secondly, I think the running dialogue actually improved the experience. I enjoyed the movie, but even more than the movie I enjoyed the people watching. It was fun listening to people FREAK OUT at this film. Had these kids been doing a running commentary during A Serious Man, it would have been a different story.
What’s particularly telling is the first thing that came out of any of their mouths, “Ugh! Is the whole movie going to be like this?”. I’m going to take that as meaning that they had no idea that the whole thing was shot on video, in a found footage style. Which would mean that they never watched the trailers. And since there really wasn’t that much hype for this film other than the trailers, I would take it to mean that they weren’t there because they really wanted to see this movie, but because it was just something to do. And that’s where the lack of respect comes in. It’s an assumption that everyone in the theater is just passively watching this thing, with no interest in actually being transported into the story. Or, even worse, a complete indifference to other peoples needs and wants.
So I find myself more often than not avoiding the late showings of films, so as to avoid the college and teen crowd. Afternoon shows are generally more sparsely populated, and therefore more pleasurable, with two major acceptions; Retirees, and people with screaming babies. Ok, I don’t want to blanketly slam either of these groups, but there are some bad seeds. Retirees are just as guilty as the aforementioned “they”; They came to the theater because it was something to do, not necessarily to see the specific film that they are attending. And just as likely to talk, as well! Screaming babies. . . Look, I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to parents. It seems like a rough job, one that I’m hoping to take on someday. But when that day comes, I will come to terms with the fact that there might be long periods of time that I go without being in the theater.
Other things that bug me. . . Well, people just have no idea how to watch older films. At the State Theater where I watched Paranormal, they will quite often have midnight showings of old classics; Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Conan The Barbarian, The Warriors, A Clockwork Orange, etc. But when I excitedly go to see Planet Of The Apes, I realize that a significant portion of the audience is just there for the supposed camp value, without actually appreciating the film that’s being shown. The historic Michigan Theater, right around the corner, has an original Barton Organ, which they used in a Halloween screening of the original Nosferatu last month. Glorious! Except for the uproarious laughter that I had to listen to, from people who are unfamiliar with older styles of acting and filmmaking.
But, every once in awhile I get a pleasant surprise; A couple years back there was a retrospective of all of Stanley Kubrick’s films. I was so freaking excited! Then, when I went to see the screening of The Killing, I noticed a disproportionate number of 18 to 20 year olds in the audience. To my horror, I learned that the entire series was assigned as a project for one of the University Of Michigan’s film classes. For the first 20 minutes or so there were some chuckles about the narration, and the noir style. But then. . . everyone shut up! And were all well behaved for the rest of the series. But maybe credit is due more to the late master, than to any sense of propriety from the moviegoing audience.