By Jonny McFarlane
I sit quietly, focused, enveloped by the darkness. A lone, stark light flickers. A tsunami of sound pounds me into submission, at one with the images that dance before my eyes. Some of the faces in the audience brighten up with happiness as others darken with disquiet, the hymn of subjectivity. This is a place where one can go and feel something. Laughter or disgust, tears of sadness or joy. It is a place to be respected, my church, the cinema.
As I watch the film I’m suddenly distracted away from the screen. There’s a light on. My focus snaps out of the movie and I focus in on a smartphone, the light glaring and out of place, piercing the gloom. I take a deep breath. I decide to give it thirty seconds. The light goes off. I relax into the film, a little jolted and off centre but, within a minute I’m back in the netherworld of the story. Then it happens again…
Generally I like to think of myself as unlikely to solicit trouble and even- tempered; except now, it seems,
in the cinema. Sadly, the cinema is now blighted by people who have forgotten the rules of decency, common courtesy and that seeing a movie is a communal experience that requires all attendees to buy into the common philosophy outlined in my Ten Commandments.
I’m sure many amongst you reading these are agreeing, bemoaning the current generation of “kids nowadays”, but in my experience this issue runs deeper than age or even social standing. Damning evidence can even be found at the middle class havens of the arthouse cinema. I watched Nick Broomfield’s Sarah Palin documentary You Betcha at the Cameo; a completely unremarkable film beset by some very remarkable and boorish behaviour of some tweed jacket wearing retirees from Morningside. Loud commentary from more than one of them accompanied every scene, twinned with fake laughter at Palin’s sound bites to prove that these irritating attention seekers grasped the sly tenor of Broomfield’s digs.
Across at the Filmhouse I recently attended a screening of the Powell and Pressburger film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. A classic from the forties of nearly three hours in length, it should have been viewed by an audience who respect a classic. Instead there were constant outbreaks of laughter in inappropriate places, people laughing not with, but at, a renowned great.
At the local multiplex Cineworld, the problems are worse. Rather than people forgetting they are not in their living room, mobile phone usage, as I illustrated earlier, is the main issue here. People often continue to surf the net and text when the lights dim. It’s made worse by the near feral gangs of youths that descend at weekends and wreak havoc within screenings, talking, chomping and texting with wild abandon.
Some cinemas are taking the issue seriously. They understand that a serious predicament is developing here, where film lovers are now choosing to spend their hard earned cash on huge TV’s, pristine Blu-Ray’s and multi-channel sound systems. People can cheaply replicate the cinema experience at home without disruption or wallet bursting snack prices. The Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas has released a host of materials that publicise their zero tolerance approach to phone use or talking. Their TV advert, a You Tube hit, features a message left by an irate customer thrown out for mobile phone usage and the cinema’s response: “don’t come back!” On a recent trip to Germany I visited a cinema where they displayed two large print messages before the film under the title Modern Cinema Etiquette. One stated that texting was strictly forbidden and phones MUST be switched off, explaining that lit screens were distracting to customers sitting in adjacent rows. The next message cautioned against talking and stated that offenders would be removed. Compare this to UK cinemas, where the audience is invariably treated to a warning that piracy is bad (shouldn’t they be trying to get that message across to punters that haven’t just paid £11 to see a film at the cinema?) and a warning about mobile phones ringing (the least persistent issue surrounding phones). The Germans have cottoned on, so why haven’t we?
The simple solution is for mobile phone usage or non-whispered chatter to result in instant removal from the screening. Zero tolerance with no exceptions. In small, independently spirited cinemas like the Cameo and Filmhouse this would be a marketing boon, giving them a crucial point of difference to the multiplex. Then real cineastes can come back out into the light, safe in the knowledge that their church is free from heresy, and the dark hearted devils out to destroy it have been vanquished.
The 10 Commandments for Cinema Visitors
1. Thou shalt not talk any louder than a whisper. Said whispers must be kept to a minimum or ye shall be struck down with great vengeance and furious anger.
2. Thou shalt not eat loudly or eat sweets with wrappers, crisps or other items that rustle. Popcorn can be eaten quietly, but it shalt not be used as a projectile.
3. Thou shalt not use the internet, check for texts or answer one’s phone during the film.
4. Thou shalt not grossly overreact to comedy or horror scenes.
5. Thou shalt not behave like you are in your living room, for you are not.
6. Thou shalt not fornicate or indulge in petting, heavy or otherwise. One should get out and get a room.
7. Thou shalt not leave the cinema more than twice during the film’s duration, for the God of cinema is watching.
8. Thou shalt not remove ones shoes. Smelly feet are unseemly and unwelcomed, Quentin Tarantino excepted.
9. Thou shalt not be flatulent. One should not imbibe Indian or Mexican food prior to the screening.
10. Thou shalt not attend the cinema while intoxicated as it leads to the breaking of commandments 1-9.