Why I Stopped Going to Movie Theatres: The Death of Etiquette
I love movies. Full stop. I love them. I had been going to the movies as far back as I can remember. My neighbor used to take me with them when they went to the drive-in. We were supposed to be watching something G-rated, meanwhile, I’m looking out of the stationwagon watching an R-rated movie on the screen behind me. My mum used to take me to whatever I wanted to see (she took me to see Porky’s, bless her) until I looked old enough to get into R-rated movies by myself. Which, let’s face, was when I was about 14. No one ever checked IDs back then, anyway. My first job, at age 16, was working at a movie theatre. It was a total dream job; free movies, free screenings, and I got to meet celebrities when they came incognito to see their own movies, and some were dicks to us (I’m looking straight at you, Kevin Costner). Also, free popcorn (in a cardboard box because, you know, they count each bucket, right?). That group of people I worked with became my close friends. We partied, had make-out sessions behind the screens while the movie was playing, and when one of us died, we were all there for each other.
So, yeah, I loved everything about going to the movies. Growing up in the Los Angeles area was great. We had access to older films at theatres like The Nuart and the New Beverly (pre-Tarantino, but still…). All the smaller indie films were guaranteed to open in L.A., foreign stuff, too. It was an all-access pass to cinema from around the world. It was heaven… until it wasn’t. Going to a theatre became downright hell for me. It didn’t happen all of a sudden, it was a slow, albeit torturous (for me, anyway) process that eventually ended with me being totally traumatized, ending my beloved visits to the place I’d once loved. A place that made me feel safe, a place that felt like home.
As I said, it was a gradual thing. There have always been people who were rude enough to just talk while the movie is playing. These people don’t care about anyone else’s experience around them. They only care about themselves. This also goes for the people who bring their babies with them. At the theatre where I used to work, before they split the big theatre screen into three smaller ones, it used to have a “cry room”. Parents with babies could sit in there and watch the movie without disrupting the entire theatre. Now, people are bringing their kids to midnight screenings of Punisher: War Zone then wondering why little Brayden or Sophia is crying. Ugh. But now, on top of the talkers and the babies, it’s so much worse and we all know why… phones.
Fuck phones, man. Why, oh why, can’t people go 120 minutes without checking the fucking thing while watching a movie? I don’t get it. You are not that important. “What about my kids I left with the babysitter?” If you’re that worried about it, don’t go watch a movie. “What about that text coming in?” Yeah, the text that says “lol u funny. what R U doin?”, fuck that text. If you physically cannot restrain yourself from checking your phone every five minutes DO NOT GO TO THE MOVIES. It’s as simple as that. I shouldn’t have to suffer for your addiction to SnapChat. I love Twitter as much as the next person but I don’t need to see what @BAKKOOONN is posting next (as much as I adore that account). TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. TURN IT OFF.
Going to the theatre died for me in 2005. I was with my (now) husband, Eric, and we were at the Cinerama Dome opening weekend to see Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The movie was sold out. I don’t know if you’ve been to that theatre (or if it has changed since) but back then, the seats/aisles were small and narrow. It seemed like the person above you had their knees around your head at ear level. A couple in their early 20s sat down directly behind us. They were talking from the minute they sat down. The most inane stuff, too. I glanced at Eric with that withered look that said “Holy hell, this is going to be awful, isn’t it?” It was.
They kept talking throughout all the previews and not at a whisper, either. I personally feel that once the lights go down, you should shut up, but I get that not all are on the same page. They movie started and they kept talking… and talking. I turned around a couple of times but didn’t say anything. I got up and went to talk to an usher. The usher came in and asked them to be quiet. He left and they started to talk louder, especially the guy. He also began to kick my seat. I didn’t say anything to the jerk, I just went back out to talk to the usher. He followed me back and told the couple to quiet down again. From that point on, the guy was an absolute pig. Not only was he kicking my seat, he would lean down as whisper “bitch” every once in awhile. He would also say thing like “Oh, look, there’s that bitch now.” when King Kong would appear on screen. I was called "ugly", "fat", "bitch", "whore", and just about every other offensive thing you can imagine. For that 187-minute run time I was completely miserable and in tears. After the movie was over, I just sat in my seat, not wanting to encounter that asshole. When I finally got up, I was still shaken and just burst into full on tears. I stopped in the hallway, sobbing. A manager came over and asked me what was wrong. I told him the whole story. The usher that I went to for help happened to walk by. I pointed him out to the manager. The usher came over and said “I didn’t do anything because I didn’t want to embarrass the guy in front of his girl. They looked like they were on a first date and I didn’t want to make him look bad.” That answer made me furious. Fuck that guy. He didn’t care about my experience, he only cared about the asshole on a date. Such bullshit. The manager admonished the guy and gave us a refund on our tickets and gave me passes to come back from another show. I still have the passes because, of course, I was never going to set foot in that place again.
Now, I know you’re asking things like "Why didn’t you just leave?" or "Why didn’t your boyfriend say anything?", etc… The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t want that asshole to win and to drive me from doing the one thing I really love. But that is exactly what it did because I just stopped going to the movies. Just the thought of having to sit through that experience again made me cringe. I already would get so angry at people talking and texting, I just didn’t want to deal with the added anxiety of imagining someone calling me a cunt for 90 minutes makes me want to cry as I type this. In the grand scheme of things, not going to the movies doesn’t seem like a major issue but, for me, it was. It was something I loved, something I did almost every week and I couldn’t do it anymore because I couldn’t make myself even want to set foot in a theatre again.
This all changed for me when we moved to Austin, Texas in 2008. Eric told me about this place called the Alamo Drafthouse. He said it was a place where they didn’t allow any of the nonsense that goes on in other theatres. I was still skeptical, but he convinced me to go to a Weird Wednesday (Bless you, Lars!) screening. For those that don’t know, for Weird Wednesdays they show a 35mm print of something obscure/off-the-wall. Back then, the screening was late at night and free. It was great. Everyone there was there to see that movie. It was like I had found a safe space to do the one activity I love most. I found my place again. That year we were in Austin, we went to a few different screenings (I was still really apprehensive about going to a theatre, that hasn’t, and didn’t, change) and then, we moved.
We moved to somewhere in the desert Southwest that doesn’t have an Alamo Drafthouse. We didn’t go to another movie until about 2011. Captain America: The First Avenger was coming out and we both really wanted to see it on a big screen. We went a few weeks after it had opened on a Wednesday afternoon when we thought the least amount of people would be there. It wasn’t crowded but there were people there. I remember still being extremely anxious about it. Once the movie started the quality of the picture was terrible. It was dark, out of focus, and unwatchable. We went to talk to the manager. He didn’t care and just said “You want your money back?”, so we got a refund and didn't return.
Flash forward to 2016… news that an Alamo Drafthouse was being built 2 hours away from us was like a miracle. Sure, we’d have to drive 100 miles or so each way to another state but still, I didn’t care because it meant I could go to the movies again! Last December, for the first time in five years, I went to the movies and enjoyed myself. We took our 6-year-old with us to see Rogue One. It was his first trip to the movies. I’ll tell you, I was nervous as hell when we sat down at that screening. In that five years that I hadn’t been in a theatre, my mind still would go back to the shitty day in 2005 when everything was ruined for me. We were early so we enjoyed the pre-show the Drafthouse has before the movie starts. My kid was excited because in the lobby, he had met both R2-D2 AND Darth Vader. Who am I kidding, I was happy about it, too. Once the movie started, it didn’t take that long to start feeling what I had in the past. Seeing something on the big screen felt so good, so right. I started to get emotional about it. After the movie was over, my son could tell I had been crying. He asked if it was because of the sadness in the movie. I told him yes, it was, but, truthfully, some of those tears were because I felt like I was home again.
I got the idea for this piece driving home after my second visit to that particular Alamo Drafthouse. We made that whole round trip to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. On the way there, I had the anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach (I hope that goes away one day) but once the movie started I was fine. Well, that’s not true. Again, the whole process of going to the theatre is still emotional for me, clearly. Combine Baby Groot dancing (whoever hates him, what is wrong with you monsters?) with my emotions on edge and what do you get? Me openly weeping during the credits. I couldn’t help it. Again, it felt like I was home. No one talked or got out phones. It was bliss. After the movie was over, at least ten other children filed out. I didn’t even know they were there, they were all that well-behaved. Bless those parents.
Okay, look, I’m sure at this point, my piece seems like an advert for the Alamo Drafthouse. They didn’t pay me, they don’t know me, or anything about me, they don’t even know I exist and they certainly don’t know I’m writing this sort of confessional (the TFS editors didn't tell me to write this either). I wanted to get my story down on paper because I can’t be the only person who has gone through something similar at the theatre. They might not have been traumatized as much as I was, but I know there are people out there who won’t go to the theatre anymore because the patrons treat the theatre like it’s their living room. Some have called it the MST3K effect but that can’t be the whole reason. Uncaring or uninformed patrons are mainly to blame but I’m also calling out all the theatre chains who just do not give one fuck about the experience. They don’t care if people are talking or texting, they just don’t. Once they sell that seat, it just don’t matter to them what happens next. If they don’t care, why would the customer care? They were lax on enforcement of theatre etiquette for all these years and now we all have to pay the price. So yeah, I am thankful to Tim League and the people of the Alamo Drafthouse organization. They care. They want everyone to enjoy their theatre-going experience so they do not tolerate talking, texting, and the like. Until other theatre chains get their shit together and start caring about shutting down all disruptive behavior, I, and I’m sure countless other patrons, will never set foot in one of their chains again.
Bottom line, patrons, stop being disrespectful. If you can’t go more than 3 minutes without checking your phone or talking to your friend, stay home. Period. You’re ruining it for everyone else but then, really, you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about anyone but yourself anyway, right? And non-Drafthouse theatre chains, get your shit together, crackdown or continue to lose customers. You’ve already lost this one.