Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Ways Not to Behave in a Movie Theatre
1.) DON’T BE LATE. It takes years to get a film from script to screen; the least you can do is show up on time. In fact, better one hour early than one minute late. Once upon a time you were lucky if the back of the auditorium faced the street and the shadows of buses and pedestrians passing by would act as your pre-show on-screen entertainment. One of the perks of arriving early in the digital age is snippets of music videos, car commercials, and USMC recruitment shorts before the feature.
2.) DON’T BRING OUTSIDE FOOD INTO THE AUDITORIUM. Do not smuggle cans of soda and Glad Sandwich Bags filled with popcorn into the multiplex, ya’ cheapskate! Movie theatres make money off concessions. Either up their per capita or up yours!
3.) DON’T BRING ELECTRONIC DEVICES INTO MOVIE THEATRES. Once entering the sanctum, turn off all contact with the outside world. The only people important enough to warrant the use of phones or beepers while inside a theatre are doctors and the Rev. Al Sharpton. There is nothing more annoying than little blue lights popping on and off in the corner of your eye during a movie. Better yet, leave your cell phone and pagers in the glove compartment.
4.) DON’T EAT LIKE A PIG. Open all forms of concession items before the show, so as not to sound as if you are unwrapping a birthday present fifteen-minutes into the picture. Popcorn is not cud. Always remember to chew quietly and with your mouth closed.
5.) DON’T BECOME AN OBSTRUCTED VIEW. You and six other people are in a theater that accommodates 250. A couple enters and occupies the two seats directly in front of you. This is not a problem I normally encounter, seeing as I tend to sit fourth-row, center, better to have them behind you than in front. Nor is it my habit to speak to strange theatre-dwellers. You never know, you know? In this case, I would get up, grumble loudly at the thought of being inconvenienced, and move back a row.
6.) DON’T TOUCH OTHERS’ BELONGINGS. A coat and/or any other personal object covering a seat means that it’s already been spoken for.
7.) DON’T KICK THE SEAT IN FRONT OF YOU. One of the benefits of stadium seating is more aisle room, but this doesn’t mean that you should be any less careful when crossing your legs. Try not to kick the stadium seat in front of you and never, NEVER, use the chair back as a bass pedal to tap along with the soundtrack. And the seat in front of you is not an ottoman.
8.) DON’T USE YOUR CELL PHONE AS A FLASHLIGHT. If you arrive late…if you arrive late for a movie you’re a mental patient, but just in case, wait the 30-seconds it takes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness before attempting to trample a row of patrons in search of a seat. Try not to use the seatbacks as a handrail while navigating your course. And for the love of Mike, don’t use your cell phone as a flashlight.
9.) DON’T TALK ONCE THE TRAILERS START.
To ensure a peaceful time at the movies, scope out your surrounding theater cohabitants before the trailers hit the screen. Presented with teen-texters to the front of you and the yenta brigade behind, cave in and take shelter in another seat. Once the real trailers -- not the video ads for the latest made-for-cable series -- come up, it’s time to stop talking. There are no whispers or witty-asides that won’t hold for the car ride home. Nor is any form of running commentary or audience participation deemed acceptable behavior. Here’s a flash: characters on a forty-foot screen cannot hear you no matter how loud you try and warn them against entering the dark room where the bad guy lurks. I remember an opening weekend matinee of Love Story at the majestic Chicago Theatre. A couple members of the blue-haired, white-glove brigade sat two rows behind, loudly voicing discontent each time a character used a cuss word. “Did you hear what she said,” Heckle would gasp? Five-minutes later Jeckle chimed back, “Oh! Did you hear what he said?” After about the fifth time I turned around and answered, “She said, ’shit,’ now would you two kindly shut the fuck up?” Works every time! There wasn’t a peep out of them for the rest of the picture.
9a.) I’m at a fourth-run screening of Last Tango in Paris with an elderly couple seated to my right. Throughout the film, the older gentleman is reading aloud every one of the subtitles, including all of the film’s more salacious exchanges. In leaning over to ask that they keep it to a low roar, I notice that the woman is wearing sunglasses. “You’ll have to forgive me,” she whispers, “but I’m blind and my husband was reading the French dialog to me.”
10.) DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS - CALL AN USHER. I don’t envy ushers their jobs. I’m thirteen-years-old at Chicago’s glorious Granada Theatre taking in a Sunday matinee screening (the first of what would amount to many) of Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen. It’s uncertain exactly what went down -- I’m in row six and the commotion occurred at least thirty rows behind me in the spacious 3,000 seat picture barn -- but a loud scuffle between a group of young Turks and a matronly type breaks out around the forty-minute mark. An usher steps in and quickly diffuses the commotion, at least until the show ends. While making my exit, the group of social misfits leap from their seats, grab the usher, who stands opening the auditorium doors, and begin pummeling him. When the dust settles, and the attackers have made their escape, the lady who registered the complaint in the first place walks over, looks down at the human wreckage, clucks her tongue and asks in a drippy, patronizing tone, “Are you alright?” In this case scenario, which would you rather be: a bruised wage slave lying in a pool of your own blood or the senior who walks away unscathed, free to enjoy their fixed-income dinner of Fancy Feast cat food? Unless you feel that you could physically take them in a street fight, never attempt to reprimand anyone for their bad behavior. Call an usher. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.
11.) DON’T TOLERATE IMPROPER PROJECTION. How would you feel if a sign at the Ralph’s read: “We try our best to ensure quality, but if the pound of ground chuck you just bought turns out to have a funny smell, please inconvenience yourself by bringing it back and we’ll cheerfully exchange it for fresh meat.” Isn’t that the same as a slide asking patrons to do the job of theatre employees by getting up to complain about focus or sound issues? Rumor has it there is a theatre out there that gives patrons pagers to call the lobby from their seats if there are image issues. Until that becomes standard operational procedure, or theatre chains begin properly training their staff on the art of projection, those of us on the front lines must do the work of both guest and usher. Make note of the time while or your way to the lobby in search of the manager on duty. Upon retuning to the multiplex shoebox, stand in the back of the auditorium until the issue is corrected. If the problem persists and you have to make numerous trips to the lobby, inform the manager that while on the way out you’ll stop by his office to pick up a couple of free passes in exchange for doing a guest-stint as one of his employees. If they don’t fix the problem within ten minutes, ask for a refund, a pair of passes, and cash back for the concessions you bought to consume during the movie.
12.) DON’T BRING BABIES TO THE MOVIES. Why do you think R rated movies exist? So adults can have a night out away from the kids. Please, do not bring babies to R-rated movies! For that matter, unless your are a parent with the mindset that you want to train your children to become well-behaved theatre patrons, do not bring infants to anything but G and PG pictures! If you do insist on saving money on a sitter, make sure that the second your tyke makes a squeak, he or she is being hurriedly escorted up the aisle to the lobby.
What am I forgetting?
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