Monday, 28 May 2012

Behaving badly

On Saturday night I went to the cinema with a friend.  While I go to the movies regularly, it's been a while since I've been there during a peak time.  These days I go during a weekday when I don't have work on.  It's a much more pleasant experience being at the movies when there are hardly any other people filling the other seats.  I also tend to see art house films where the audience tends to be filled with film buffs who take the experience of watching a film seriously.

My experience on Saturday night left me shaking my head.

We were seeing "Bel Ami" and were allocated seats in the second row from the front.  The film was screening in one of the small cinemas at Yarraville's Sun Theatre and we decided to see how we went.  If it was too close we could come out in the first ten minutes and have our tickets refunded.

The Sun doesn't show a lot of ads before the sessions start, so you don't have fifteen minutes of slack; you really need to arrive on time.  In the smaller cinemas, people standing up or walking to their seats will result in a silhouette of their head being superimposed over the film on the screen.

The film had just started when a pair of latecomers arrived and discovered other people sitting in their seats.  Instead of everyone resolving it quickly and politely, there was an extended, robust discussion about seating arrangements.  They were right in the middle of the cinema and therefore were also in the line of the projector.  Everyone was turning around to see what the commotion was and then the inevitable shushing began.  I'm not sure how they resolved the issue but eventually they must have as the noise subsided and the silhouettes disappeared.

To the left of where my friend and I were seated was a group of three women.  I'm not sure why they bothered to pay for a ticket to go to the cinema.  They spent most of the film reading emails and sending text messages on their mobile phones.  They also consulted extensively with each other over the content of the messages and the drafting of their replies.  It was incredible!  The film seemed entirely incidental to their world, let alone the fact that other people had also paid and were interested in actually watching the film.  Shushing did nothing to modify their behaviour.

Ushers would have been helpful, I think.  I remember seeing another film where a group of people were so inconsiderate in their behaviour that in desperation I left the cinema to find an usher to come and deal with the situation.  It worked, but it seemed unfair that I had had to step out of the film and that the people concerned had not responded to requests for them to, er, shut up.

What's the etiquette these days?  Am I being unreasonable to expect to be able to enjoy a film without being disrupted by the behaviour of other patrons?  What do you do to silence the rabble when you're at the cinema?


  1. I think it was a retrograde step when the Sun introduced allocated seating. Finding your allocated seat in the dark without the aid of a friendly usherette's torch can lead to all sorts of confusion and seat rage, as latecomers demand their seats. We first encountered it on a busy Saturday evening and though we had purchased our tickets before going to dinner, and arrived back at the cinema in plenty of time, we only discovered we were placed in the front row when an irate person demanded we give up our seats. Of course initially we declined until we were shown the new seat numbering system. Needless to say we got our money back and went home.

    You also lose out on your queue friends. We have often got into conversations with people queuing next to us, only to have our conversation curtailed as we get diverted to different parts of the cinema.

    At first I thought it might be the rigidity of the on-line computing system they use, which cannot handle roaming seating. Maybe it is just the modern day "i" centered approach that cinema goers demand. They no longer know how to share the experience of watching a movie on the big screen.

  2. I see your point, Numbat. Allocated seating definitely needs an usher to assist - especially after the lights are down.
    There is one upside to allocated seating - when you buy your ticket early, say before going to dinner you can be certain you'll get a decent seat. I remember buying tickets for "Inception" hours before the session started , going off to dinner and coming back about 15 minutes before the session started only to find the only available seats were in the front row. That was a very challenging experience! It was in the Grand with the huge screen and reading the subtitles required the same head movements as watching a tennis match at centre court!
    I've met some great people in the queue at The Sun too. Wonder if we've spoken?