A few years back, I was settling down at my local multiplex, ready to enjoy John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. in 10 Cloverfield Lane. A short while into the film, however, I became aware of a group of teens sat in the back row who seemed to be finding Dan Trachtenberg’s Hitchcockian headtrip absolutely hilarious. Things escalated before – and I kid you not – they started honking like geese and tittering among themselves.
Being British, I naturally did nothing. When the film finished, however, I did accost them in the lobby and then duly reported their behaviour to cinema staff. But here’s the thing: should it really fall on ordinary ticket-buying punters to police their own screenings?
It wasn’t always so. Back in the day, ushers would routinely sit in on movies to ensure that cinema etiquette was being observed. There would even be that hallowed moment when – after the trailers - the fire safety curtain would come down in front of the screen and a staffer with a tray of ice-creams would stand at the front for a few minutes offering their frozen wares.
Now, I’m not advocating for a wholesale return to such simple times (well, I am), but there must be something to be said for preserving a level of respect for the movie-going experience. Example: I once heard a story about the proprietor of the Wrexham Hippodrome (an establishment now sadly closed) who apparently stopped a screening of Star Wars: A New Hope midway, walked to the front of house and roundly instructed the audience to stop talking. People like this are the heroes we need right now.
Today, with projection booths automated and ushers absent, everyone has their own horror stories: audiences chatting, phones being checked, children running amok... I was at a showing of Suffragette when someone actually took a phone call. Then there was Avengers: Infinity War, when a family sat at the front and proceeded to natter loudly throughout the ensuing apocalypse.
So yes, budgets are tight and staff are stretched, but a cinema should be a sacred space that one can enter to get lost in the magic of the movies. As such, there should be someone there to protect that experience. Or is it just me?
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