Monday, January 30, 2012

The horror! The horror! or The Devil Within Possessed Audience Members

Lately on the blogs, along with commentary about the 2011 movie year, I have read quite a few comments about the rude behavior of audience members and how it seems to be getting worse. On The SLIFR Movie Tree House conversations hosted by Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule a post by Jason Bellamy that refers to some disruption during a showing of The Tree of Life, and the comments section includes a number of comments by Craig about the behaviors of various moviegoing Philistines. On Twitter, Jason chalked up The Grey as his first viewing of 2012, but he unfortunately had to chalk up five rude texters.

Yes, the horrors perpetrated by audience members abound, and during my first viewing of 2012, I ran into one of my worst experiences with moviegoing demons, though I blame nobody but myself for my choice of film and time: the late showing of The Devil Within on opening night.

Well might you wonder what possessed me to do such a thing. First of all, a colleague had piqued my interest in the movie when he said he had read good things about it. Then, that Friday, I had to chaperone a school dance, my least favorite duty. My early shift over, I needed to see a movie as an antidote to loud music chosen by middle-schoolers, so I thought I’d take in a 9:30 show. Expecting the late show to be less frequented, I was surprised to find the ticket line packed, and as I entered the cinema in a steady stream of people, I found nearly every seat occupied in the huge stadium theater. Other horror movies I had seen last year had been very sparsely attended. “Is this supposed to be a good movie?” I asked someone entering next to me. “Yeah,” he said.

I found a seat up in the back. A couple of seats to my left, the 20-something woman in the row behind had her entire foot wedged in between two seat backs. Since said foot resided a few seats away, I opted for letting it alone. Then a couple came in and asked me to move down so that they could sit together, which I did, but this put my head right next to the big foot.

“Could you please take your foot down?” I asked. I gave her time. Nothing happened. I stood and asked again. She seemed to shrink back into her seat. I thought I might be getting somewhere until I saw her middle finger resting next to her nose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that form of flipping one off. Is it a more tentative version? Does it suggest a modicum of reluctance on the part of the flipper-offer? I have no idea. After waiting long enough to show her friends she wasn’t really giving in to me, the young woman took her foot down. Still, I decided I’d rather suffer a seat down below nearer to the screen than sit in front of big foot.

So I ventured to the nether regions and took the first seat on the end of the last row of groundling seats, about six rows from the screen. At least I had the crossing aisle behind me, no chance of feet rumbling my seat, and I even had an empty seat on my right. Lights went down, previews, movie starts, and an early-20s woman takes the empty seat. Out comes the cell phone. Man, those things give off a lot of light. She might as well have had a 19-inch portable television resting in her lap. “Could you please turn that thing off?” My bad. Wrong terminology. Should have just asked her to keep her screen closed. She turned to me, her voice gravely stricken, as though I had propositioned her for sex, and she says, in a victimized tone, “I’m NOT going to turn it off (last word pronounced as two syllables)!”

Good God! I watched the movie. Darn! It turned out to be one of those shaky camcorder movies. But there were some elements that kept me watching. Some good acting. Vatican City locations. An interesting priest who rebelliously conducts exorcisms on supposedly possessed victims the Church has rejected as legitimate cases. Not that scary for a B-horror movie veteran, but being a lapsed Catholic, I still have a fascination for exorcism, and I'm not ready to assert that demonic possession is a myth. Loved the hypocrisy of Miss Bright Screen next to me (she was still checking her Tweets) during a scene in which a possessed girl twists her body into impossible contortions. (Image above.) Guy behind us yells, “I’d fuck her!” With irony only I could really appreciate, Miss Bright Screen turns and yells back, “Jeezus, that’s disgusting. Would you be quiet!” As if! Felt like commiserating with her. “Jeez, wasn’t that guy rude!”

After enduring all this, I was in all the way. I’d wasted a Regal Cinemas free movie pass on this thing, so what the hell. I put an end to Miss Bright Screen's Tweeting by leaning over and looking at her screen while she was reading her messages, and she eventually put the thing away. I was enjoying myself now. In the movie, a woman is possessed by multiple demons that leap out and possess the priests trying to perform the exorcism. It seemed as though the demons had leaped out and possessed most everyone in the theater too.

Somebody’s phone vibrated. The owner of this phone came down the steps behind us, but he stopped in the hallway leading to the exits, took the call, and chatted while watching the movie. By that time I could only laugh. As it was, the sound of demons growling “The pig is mine” were loud enough to drown out his conversation.


Dan North said...

Just horrible. I hate it when that happens. I remember a screening of The Fighter, where a bunch of louts occupied the entire front row and texted en masse whenever there was no fighting, or no Amy Adams in a bra. It sent a big blue glow up into the whole auditorium.

My worst ever movie experience was at 28 Days Later; when the couple in front of me chattered all the way through the dead silence of the early street scenes, I shusssshhhhed loudly. They took no notice so I kicked the back of their seats (maybe harder than I'd intended to) to get their attention, then told them to be quiet. They snuggled up together and were quiet. After about an hour, I noticed that the girl didn't have her arm around her boyfriend - she had her arm extended behind him, and must have been giving me the finger for a solid sixty minutes. I told her she was wasting her time. At the end of the movie she climbed over the seat and tried to claw at my face (which was pretty scary, especially after that particular movie) until her boyfriend restrained her. They were pretty drunk, I think.

I used to find that if I told someone to shut up, and did it loudly enough to get the attention of plenty of people in the auditorium, the crowd would back me up if there was any comeback, but I haven't found that lately. Most people seem to have given up the fight and, having been threatened more than once, I don't know that it's still worth the effort either.

Hokahey said...

Dan - thanks a lot for reading and commenting.

It's frustrating that people think an action movie or a horror movie allows open season on disruptive behavior. I saw 28 Days Later, enjoyed it, and was glad the audience was quiet. More and more, it seems that audiences think it's okay to do whatever you want in a horror movie.

In your situation, I guess they were using the movie as a place to hang out while they sobered up a little bit. And you are right, nobody jumps in to help. Sad.

What I guess is happening is that people are getting more and more self-centered. Everything is about them - their phones and Facebook and all that. It's hard for me to understand because I don't share that "fuck you" attitude, but I guess considerate people are becoming the minority.

Steve's Blog said...

Very enjoyable and cathartic post, Hokahey!

Just had to share my little story of a movie theatre nuisance. It was during the documentary,Inside Job. It involved a middle-aged couple absolutely drunk and disorderly. They were also very well-dressed, as if coming straight from a wedding! They sat about 2 seats away from me, which wouldn't necessarily be bad except I was the lone audience member in the dungeon-like theatre. This couple proceeded to talk, make out, talk, drink from a can in a bag, talk, make out, and talk some more. I could barely make heads or tails of Matt Damon's somber narration when I asked the theatre manager (who knows me as a regular) to ask them to leave, which she very forcefully did. She was even kind enough to restart the film for me so I could catch up on the prologue which had completely bypassed me.

On a sociological note, social media (or self-centered media) have indeed diminished the communal experience in favor of selfish whims. It is a reason I have opted for the matinee showings where the odds are the theatre will be less than half-filled.

Hokahey said...

Steve - Thanks for commenting, and the anecdote is welcome. I think we all need to vent on this topic.

Unfortunately, the self-centered disrupters come in all ages. I have a hunch the "dungeon-like" theater you are referring to is at the Nickelodeon, which is frequented by older people - yet they can act like their age gives them the right to talk! But it's great that your complaint was respected to the extent of rewinding the film! Amazing!

I'm with you. I seek out the less-frequented showings. I only go on opening night because I am so desperate for escape after the work week. My favorite time to go is the 4:00ish showing on a Friday or Saturday afternoon. Sunday night is a good one too - mostly young employed people in their 20s who don't like the noisy teen scene on Friday night - and they are usually movie buffs who don't cause disruption. If I'm not too tired, a weekday night is blissful solitude - hardly anyone there!

Actually, my favorite day to go to the movies - especially in New England - is coming up! Super Bowl Sunday!

Craig said...

Another recent goodie: during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a movie which all of us know requires one's undivided attention, a 50-something guy seated in the middle of the theater poured his giant popcorn tub into a plastic grocery bag, swishing it around and around and around for the next hour until the last kernel had been devoured. The butter gets more evenly distributed that way, you see. At least I wasn't the only one staring at him.

Kevin J. Olson said...

I actually made a comment about this to Craig (The Man from Porlock) on his Facebook page the other night...but I just want to say that I try my hardest to instill within my students proper theater etiquite. I always say this to them before they leave for the weekend: "Stay healthy, keep your name out of the newspaper, and be considerate when you go see a movie." Hehe.

But, yes, your story is an all too familiar one for me. It's why I rarely go to movies anymore. Even if I have free tickets, I rather just give them to someone else because I know I get too stressed and have a hard time just laughing about it like you eventually did.

The sad thing is a lot of people blame -- let's face it here -- the more uneducated filmgoer for this behavior. But I can count numerous times I've been to Portland to see a movie like The Tree of Life or The Darjeeling Limited and the so-called "initiated" cinephiles were just as annoying with their cell phones.

Regal is the worst culprit for allowing poor theater etiquette. I'm really surprised they're even still around. All of their theaters in the Salem, OR area are so trashy. When I was in high school the place to loiter was the mall, now it seems it's been moved to the movie theater. And Regal doesn't really care. I've walked in and out of movies without ever being asked if I had a ticket (even though I purchased them at the box office there was never anyone there to tear my ticket and check to see what movie I was seeing). Just a horrible theater chain.

Hokahey said...

Thanks for the comments!

Craig - Yes, the eating is a problem. Popcorn - the classic movie food. I never eat it. Many people know how to eat it quietly. Just as many do not. But they think it's okay because it is popcorn.

Kevin - The older people are a trial, too - though the theaters or showings that appeal to cinephiles have usually been the best experiences for me. At an opening morning showing of There Will Be Blood at Boston Common - total silence the whole time! At the Sunshine in NYC for The Tree of Life - you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Most showings at the Landmark in Cambridge - total silence - except, coincidentally, during a showing of Tinker, Tailor. The age of technology has also marred people's patience for long and/or slowly paced movies.

As for my students, when they talk during one of the movies I show them for film history, I tell them I would never go to the movies with them. But, as 8th graders, they eventually learn a lot of viewer patience. Yes, teaching is important. Get 'em while they're young.

Regal Cinemas - They are pretty good at the one in Hyannis. They have quickly fixed an unfocused projector. They give free passes when things go wrong. They let me into the movie of my choice when the movie I had come to see was not showing at the time I had expected. They chase after theater hoppers. They hire a policeman every Friday night - especially if there is an opening of an R-rated horror movie. But has it come to martial law?

Kevin J. Olson said...

This almost sounds like a regional thing, then. Weird.

Hokahey said...

Kevin - the Regal Cinemas Hyannis is the largest mult-plex on Cape Cod and it gets a lot of tourist business from the summer and from Christmas vacation, so they appeal to these patrons.

Craig said...

The Regal is horrendous in Ohio, too. Even worse than AMC.

Hokahey said...

Craig and Kevin - The multi-plexes are a necessary evil and their quality does vary. On Cape Cod, however, prior to the Regal, movie theaters were small or pretty shabby.

Then there are the multi-plexes that are movie meccas. I think my favorite place to see a movie is the Arclight in Hollywood, which I try to get to when I'm visiting family in L.A.. The theaters are big, sound excellent, you can purchase specific seats, and the audiences are super respectful. Saw Inglourious Basterds there and it was sublime.

Jason Bellamy said...

Here in DC, the best theater is a Regal. But it's also the newest theater. I've had numerous audience problems there, including the five texters that didn't pay attention to The Grey, but at least the movies themselves are almost always projected properly: good sound, good image. There's a Loews multiplex that isn't that old and is quickly falling apart and then there's a newish AMC that always projects movies that are dark and muddy. At the Landmark art house multiplex the behavior tends to be better, but I can't tell you the number of movies I've seen there in which after loud previews the movie begins with sound only coming from the front speakers. Staff are always easy to track down and always fix the problem, but I shouldn't have to do that. Per a Craig post on audience behavior, my problem with the Landmark is that I strive to see the earliest shows, starting usually from 10 to 11:30, or sometimes I'll take in a 12:30 after an early lunch. So there seems to be some truth to the notion that the first audience has to suffer while they work out the kinks of the day ... as if it's different than the day before.

Hokahey said...

Jason - Thanks. You are right that the Regal in D.C. is quite good. Newness is a factor. The Regal in Hyannis is starting to get worn down by a lot of use since The Green Mile was released.

I really enjoy the Landmarks in Cambridge and D.C. but the volume is not always the best.

This has been a fun exchange, and it is clear that we are all very particular about how we see a movie. What is usually very satisfactory at the Regal here is that in the big theaters the screens are always very big (unlike at Landmark), and I do revel in the big-screen experience.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Our Regals in Oregon are terrible in the sound department. They crank the sound for the big movies, but when I go to see a movie like The Descendants at a Regal, the sound is always frustratingly low, and I can almost always hear the movie that's playing in the next auditorium. The movies are almost always projected poorly, too.

It's why if I really want to go see a big budget movie projected correctly and with good sound, I'll go to Vancouver to Cinetopia which is a great theater that has a 21 and over section (you have to pay a little extra), but the seating is great (they have ottomans for you) and the theaters only seat about 60-70 you know you're odds are good for having a pleasant theater experience. Oh, and the movies are always projected in Super HD.

Jason, the next time you're in Oregon, I highly recommend taking a trip up to Cinetopia. They actually just opened their second location in Beaverton.

Anyway, Regal is pretty much all we have here in Salem and most of Portland. So, unless I'm feeling REALLY motivated to go see a movie, I'll just wait until DVD.

Hokahey said...

Kevin, I remember theaters in Eugene back awhile; they weren't too good. Don't know how they are now. But Cinetopia sounds great.

Craig said...

Ah, see, with The Grey, I have an alternate theory Jason's gonna love: People reach for their cellphones out of anxiety caused by the movie's effective rendering of what it feels like to be alone and stranded. Texting becomes their security blanket. That's actually pure conjecture; I haven't seen it. But a similar impulse seemed to possess moviegoers during Meek's Cutoff. That, or they were bored.

Hokahey said...

Craig - Good theory about The Grey texters. The ordeal depicted is a total nightmare - and I can see people taking refuge in their cellphones.

But it's also just what many people do. My son is 19 and he and I saw a movie over Christmas, and he very kindly refrained from looking at his cellphone the whole time. But when I told him my Devil Within story, he said "that's just what we do" in regard to the girl checking her messages.