Movie Rage: Death in the Aisles
By Stu Kobak
Death in the Aisles sounds like a bad Hercule Poirot movie. But let me take the air out of the mystery. This is my own fiery vision of retribution. I am charging through a darkened theater, samurai sword extended. Every time a patron talks during the movie, swish, one sweet swing for movie justice. How I arrived at this sad state is another matter.
Donít get me started. Going to the movies can be a night of a thousand small deaths these days.
Maybe it was always that way, but it seems like it only gets worse. The ultimate movie-going
nightmare is the talkers. It might be Mom & Dad, white-haired and smiling, but they canít
hear a bloody thing, despite the overblown use of the surround sound in too many theaters. What,
what did he say, dear? Okay, by the time she finishes telling him what the guy on the screen has
said, he missed seven more lines of dialog. Now heís totally confused. Whatís he gonna do? You
guessed it, heís going to ask her again, but this time it will be a question of plot confusion
and all because of the first question, which caused him to miss too much dialog to know whatís
going on anymore. Where does that leave me? Well, I may only turn and glare after the first
utterance. Thatís my first mistake. I should jump right down their throats at the first
The condition of movie theaters varies from miserable to unwatchable. Ever take a gander at that
screen when bright scenes with lots of solids are shown. Streaks, dirt, stains of varied
proportions stand out like a nasty new disease called apathy. Thereís a local cinema that
has the biggest screen this side Radio City Music Hall. Big titles show there. They expect to pack
in the crowds. I mean, this place even has a balcony. Lighting up the huge screen seems to be a
task beyond the capabilities of this theater. Films may be dimly plotted, but do they have to be
dimly projected too. And the screen, how come with the great sweep and majestic arc it has to be
two-tone? A forty-foot close-up of an actor occasionally looks like he spent his entire life with
one profile in the sun and the other in the dark. The other big screen experience I remember
with regret was at a great New York theater palace, the last big screen at the time and they had
the premiere of a newly restored musical. The screen was pumping because, I surmise, because of the
speakers located behind the screen. With every song I was treated to intermittent focus problems as
the screen pumped in time to the lyrics.
You can only blame yourself when you return to a theater with substandard conditions. I swear I will not go to that theater in Roslyn where the exit sign washes a portion of the screen pink. I should have known better. Itís an old theater that was converted to a multiplex. As an old theater it was simply an atrocity with a relatively large screen. Once upon a time they divided the theater into two parts by converting the balcony into a theater, but when they redid the theater into a nifty four screens, I had hopes of a better movie going experience. Well, never mind the fact that the screen I watched The Sixth Sense on was only slightly larger than my home theater screen; after all, thatís what so many of these converted theaters have in common, small appendages. But why did the small screen have to be accompanied by small seats. Okay, I am a big guy, but my love handles should not be competition for the seat arms. This little theater even managed to keep the lights dimly illuminated so no one would trip when they got up to go to the bathroom during the film. The dim illumination also was the coup de grace for the film image. What wasnít washed in pink was faded by ambient light.
and talk about seats. I guess theater seats were always subject to audience abuse. You never knew
on whose gum you might be sitting. The underside of the seat arms always, always had a souvenir
from a gum-chewing bobbysoxer. Now we have the added convenience of the cup holder. Try placing
your arm on a cup holder for a new form of torture: movie theater torture. Before the opening
credits have finished rolling you have lost circulation in your arm. While rubbing it to relieve
the tingling you notice with discomfort the sticky residue that wasnít there when you entered the
theater. No, you canít expect folks to use those cup holders without spilling a drop of
sticky soda here and there. Donít blame the clean-up crew who race through the theater after the
show. Even if they had the time those cup holders would be a nightmare to clean.
Just because the price of movie tickets keeps going up, does that mean money should be
pumped back into theater equipment? Even when good money is spent for projectors, someone
designs the theater so ineptly that the booth is not located dead center of the theater driving the
projectionist to fits of inadequate focus. Take a look back there some day and see if your theater
got their geometry right. But even given good equipment and good geometry, stuff happens.
Let me take a step back and admit that there is nothing like seeing a film in an emotionally charged theater. Whether it is an hilarious comedy where my laughter is joined by several hundred other hardy laughs or a drama in which you can sense the tears of the audience, the power of community is potential enhancement to movie-going. Some of my fondest movie memories still involve the theater. Watching a movie at Radio City Music Hall was uniformly an exciting experience. Perhaps Cablevision, which has just restored the great venue to its former magnificence, will show restored films there. Wouldnít that be great! Movie palaces of the past are pretty much out of the equation. Potential is the key. How likely is it that the movie-going experience will approach the reasonable, much less the ideal? I still go to the movies. I love going to the movies, but my expectations are tempered by a sad acceptance of less than acceptable standards. Maybe movie lovers have to complain more often when they attend the theaters. Letís write some letters, very focused letters, about the deplorable behavior and conditions.
And More Rage Still
It seems no man is an island when it comes to movie theater offenses. Michael Wong adds from New Zealand:
"Your piece on Death in the Aisles was great but you left out two of the more obnoxious types who frequent the modern multiplex hell.
The Noisy Eater and The Foot Stamper .
The former is the sort who keeps the concession stand
in business, they arrive armed to the brim with all manner of confectionery, popcorn, ice cream,
sodas etc. Having seated themselves, usually within striking distance of yourself, these bores
proceed to devour their mountain of comestibles with high decibel mastication, leaving behind
enough trash to complete the next landfill.
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