This Has Been A Long Time Coming
In the past year alone I have tolerated a screening of It that was punctuated every 5 minutes by some twat yelling ”Hiya Georgie!’, a Black Panther screening in which a gormless dickhead felt it was necessary to ruffle a plastic bag for the first act of the film, and War for the Planet of the Apes that ostensibly morphed into an audience participation event, with half of the crowd out-grunting the primates on screen.
It’s reached the stage where I legitimately want all films to go straight to VOD, just so I can avoid multiplexes. That’s a sad state of affairs, but after countless ordeals like the ones detailed above, how could I think any differently?
Of course, there are pundits out there who will insist that I shouldn’t watch tentpole movies on TV, as I’ll then be missing out on the ”optimum experience”. In theory, this is a totally valid point, until you stop to think about what the ”optimum experience” is actually supposed to be. Does it just mean having a bigger image and louder sound to appreciate, or could it be something more meaningful than that?
Because I would posit that it’s far more important to have a comfortable, distraction-free environment in which you can digest a film on your own terms and no one else gets to interfere. That sounds pretty damn ”optimum” to me, because as it stands my first impressions of Fallen Kingdom will forever by tainted by factors that were outside my control. Yet if I were able to (legally) watch the film from the comfort of my own home, then I would have circumvented all that trouble. I wouldn’t even mind shelling out extra cash for this service, so long as it ran concurrently with the film’s theatrical release.
As far as I’m concerned, the cinema is no longer the ideal venue for consuming films, because it’s not even targeted at film fans. That’s not me making a hyperbolic statement or trying to gate-keep, it’s just a basic fact! Multiplexes are not for people like me. They’re for a general public who don’t care what they’re seeing, provided that they can shove popcorn into their faces and pig-out on Ben and Jerry’s.
The whole enterprise is catered towards this mainstream crowd, because they’re the ones who bring in the most revenue. Remember, tickets only contribute a small portion of a theatre-chain’s income, whilst the vast majority of profits actually come from things like concessions, alcohol and luxury seating.
This puts multiplexes in a difficult position, as they can’t do anything to deter the type of customers who make these purchases, i.e. people who aren’t that fussed about going to the cinema in the first place. These are people who just want something to pass the time, so if they want to turn up late, sit glued to their phones, or talk loudly, then of course the theatres are going to let them. After all, they can’t afford not to.
To use industry parlance, these customers are the real ”whales”’ here. Not dedicated movie-goers like myself. Despite the fact that I visit the cinema on a near weekly basis, I’m not the type of business they need because all I do is buy tickets (and most of that money goes to the distributors anyway). Indeed, I’m not ordering combos upon combos, or depositing my entire life savings on extra large hot dogs, which puts me fairly low down on their priority list.
And that’s fine! It’s rudimentary economics and I can understand that. But it does support my original point, that cinemas are not intended for people who explicitly want to watch films. They’re meant for those who just want something to occupy their time and as it turns out, that’s almost everyone.
I’ll always remember how disheartened I was when I first saw a poll surveying the Top 10 reasons that people go to the cinema. I was younger then and hadn’t really internalised the notion that not everyone shared my religious-like devotion to the medium. So when I saw the results, it came as quite the shock to discover that ”watching a film” only ranked third in this list. Third! Right after ”catching up with friends” and ”taking a nap”. Incidentally, can we just acknowledge that second point is completely ludicrous. You can sleep in your own home for no charge, why would you pay a fee to do it in public?
Those are the relatively normal activities as well! Some lunatics go for even weirder reasons. On that note, I’ve seen things in screenings that you people wouldn’t believe. Bloodied coat hangers strew across the floor, a woman feeding a live snake, and a worryingly soggy cucumber that was left behind after a showing of 50 Shades of Grey.
Anyway the point is, there seems to be a general consensus that the theatre is just a space you can rent to do whatever the hell you want in for 2 and half hours. Watching a film in this scenario is strictly optional.
Yet as difficult as it might be for me to get my head around this, I do recognise that I am in the minority here. For the typical audience member, none of this is cause for concern. In fact, I’m probably coming across as a whiny, entitled buzz-kill to many of you. You could even accuse me of imposing my own unrealistic expectations onto moviegoers and then ranting about them for not adhering to these standards.
To be fair, there might be some truth to that. I’ll be the first to admit that I have become far too twitchy as a result of my past experiences and if I’m honest, I find it increasingly difficult to relax in the cinema environment. I’m always on edge, worried that someone is gonna start being a prick and in turn I think I may well have become the villain. I’m like one of the creatures from A Quiet Place, hyper sensitive to even the slightest noise or provocation. If I hear someone so-much-as cough, then I instantly get worked up about it and find myself clenching in dread, apprehensive of the imminent snowball effect I know to be coming.
I know that outlook is borderline psychotic and I understand that cinemas shouldn’t have the atmosphere of an A-Level exam, but I can’t help it! This paranoia has been instilled through years of systematic rudeness.
I have to believe in some kind of line. I refuse to accept that there is no middle ground between perfect silence and a boisterous Rio carnival. I certainty shouldn’t be struggling to hear Dunkirk of all films because the sound of one guy’s snoring is drowning out the fucking Luftwaffe!
When talking to others about this, I will often entertain suggestions that maybe it’s a regional phenomenon (specific to where I live), as I seem to encounter this stuff with unusual frequency. Which is possible and I will concede that my area is particularly bad in terms of audience etiquette. But I’m not sure what I’m expected to do with this information. Commute to a charming, independent in the heart of London? Relocate near a hipster nickelodeon that turns away us northern riffraff?
Moreover, I have been to many cinemas across the country and everywhere I go it’s always the same. For instance, those Black Panther, It and War for the Planet of the Apes screenings all took place in different theatres, in different towns and in different counties. So that condescending ”it’s just regional” line isn’t gonna stick.
The truth is, this is a far more pervasive epidemic, one that crosses all boundaries from location, to race, to gender and even age. On that note, another thing that is frequently proposed is that I could stop seeing flicks on the first week of their release, or at least avoid peak times. That way I might elude the likes of rowdy teenagers and fidgety kids. Well to that I say ”piss off”! I shouldn’t have to work my schedule around those ill-mannered troglodytes and secondly I don’t think that would help much either.
Rudeness is not inexorably bound to certain generations, no matter how desperate you are to pin everything on adolescents. Frankly, in my experience those younger groups tend to be among the better behaved and some of my very worst encounters (including many of the ones listed above) have been at the hands of people who are old enough to know better.
Sure, a gang of prepubescents can be rambunctious and annoying, but they’ve got nothing on self-involved, middle aged people. When they start to act up, they’re not only impertinent, but highly aggressive and self-righteous, ala the latecomers in my Jurassic World screening. Likewise, don’t assume that all elderly patrons will be considerate of others. They have the capacity to be jerks, same as everyone else! It’s not like you hit a certain milestone in life and suddenly inherent tact.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone born prior to the advent of the internet is guaranteed to be an asshole, just that they have the potential to be. Therefore, using teenagers as scapegoats for this culture of rudeness is not only incredibly conceited, but also fundamentally inaccurate.
There’s no point in steering clear of youngsters. That wont guarantee a better viewing in any way, shape or form. To do that, you’d have to circumvent people in general, a concept that sounds quite appealing now that I think about it. I mean, I already spend most of these screenings thinking about how destructive we are as a species and that we’re essentially a blight on the planet.
Which is incidentally why I spent the majority of Infinity War’s running time convinced that Thanos had a point.
By its very nature, the human element of theatre-going is inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable. You can’t forecast dickish behaviour, nor can you hope to manage it by eschewing certain times or going to less crowded venues. Wankers are liable to show up at anytime, anywhere and therein lies the crux of the issue. The reason I’m so burnt out on going to the cinema isn’t that I’ve had to put up with too many shitty audiences, it’s that there’s no conceivable way of improving the situation.
On the contrary, as time goes by things are only liable to get worse. With the exponential rise of online distribution channels and an increase in competing forms of media, theatres will be forced into letting standards slip even further. If you want a preview of this, along with a chilling insight into what the future holds, just cast your mind back a couple of years.
As recent as 2016 Adam Aron, head of AMC Entertainment, floated the idea of making cinemas more “texting friendly”. In case you never saw this, it was all part of a misguided effort to attract customers who are usually hesitant to attend the movies, because they cannot stand to be separated from their phones. Granted the ghoulish proposal never came to pass, but AMC certainly showed their hand that day.
They made it very clear that they would be willing to permit anything if it meant that they could draw in broader crowd. Even if doing so would counter-productively alienate their most dedicated customers, the ones who actually give a shit. This is all very recent, and you don’t need to be a gypsy augur to see where things are heading.
We’re not in the 1960s anymore and there’s no Alfred Hitchcock figure around to protect the sanctity of the cinematic experience. There’s no one like that with sufficient enough power or clout to do things like enforce a ”no late admissions” policy. They’re all too scared. Scared of becoming obsolete and irrelevant. So rather than demanding that audiences show some respect or exhibit good behaviour, they’re instead bending over backwards to appease the lowest common denominator. It’s pathetic, but it’s also completely understandable.
All in all, I find myself getting less and less excited about seeing movies at the cinema, because 9 times out of 10 I end up enjoying them way more when I revisit them on Blu-Ray. I just have a better time being able to fully relax and immerse myself without viewing distractions. Conversely, if I’m at the theatre then I’m always far too preoccupied with things like: how full my screening is; who’s sitting near me; and are they exhibiting any red-flag behaviour.
Paying for a cinema ticket is already a bit of a gamble. Essentially you’re handing over hard-earned cash based on the hope that you’re going to like something, when for all you know it could be a massive pile of garbage. That should be enough of a wager. You shouldn’t also be depending on the kindness of strangers. That’s not part of the deal.
But I digress. Trying to fight against this inevitable tide is a futile protest. No one really cares about the theatre experience anymore, it’s been left to a slow and undignified death. Once upon a time I would have found that though tragic. Now I just want someone to put it out of its misery and come up with a new model, preferably one that doesn’t hinge on the good behaviour of an audience.