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.

The Talkers

        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 transgression. 
      Yup. Iíve done that and whatís it get. A woman told me ďItís only the credits!Ē So what if the action goes on behind the credits for ten minutes. So what if the credit sequence is trying to set the all-important mood for the movie.  Then thereís the guy and his wife wearing Gucci leather pants sitting behind you. They chatter, you politely ask them to stop. Do they even pause mid-sentence? No, they donít give two hoots for anyone other than Gucci or Versace. When you ask them again to please be quiet you get a response of ďWhy donít you move!Ē The only solution is to haul off and belt the guy. Chances are fifty-fifty that heíll move or shut up at that point. He might also pull out a gun if it doesnít get stuck in the leather pants.  Itís happened to me.  
     Why is that people must go to the movies in groups. They take up rows with military precision and proceed to try communicating to several of their friends at once. Oh, the pithy remarks about the film are enough to produce a new mad bomber.  
      How many times do you have to listen to people exclaim every time an actor walks on the screen for the first time? Look, thatís Brad Pitt, honey. Are you sure? Yes, thatís him. The brain trust didnít notice the commercial blitz on television proclaiming Pittís presence in this movie. When the credits came up ten feet tall they were busy talking so they didnít notice his name on the screen. And they forgot the main reason they were going to this movie was that Brad Pitt was in it.  
     How loud can you whisper? That must be something moviegoers practice with devious pleasure. Do you think the guy in front of you, only six inches away since the theater rows are too close, canít hear the pssst, pssst, pssst. If itís low enough of a whisper to be considerate, your mate canít hear it, so why bother to whisper anyway.  

The Theaters

       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. 
      Sometimes I am actually lucky enough to go to the movies and share the theater with only several other patrons. Maybe itís a day when there are no talkers amongst the few couples spread throughout the theater. Heck, maybe the projection is sharp and the sound in balance. Even the seats are okay and the theater lighting isnít destroying the projection. Finally, a grand movie-going experience; itís even a great film. I have finally gotten a little taste of movie heaven. Itís a hot night outside the theater and the air conditioning is working. Oh boy, is it working!  Before I know it icicles are forming on my eyelids. I hugging myself so tightly I I look like a couple making out in a dark theater. Thatís right, the air conditioning is set to cool a theater filled with three hundred people and not thirteen odd. You just canít get it right at the movies.  


           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.  

The Seats 

     Yes, 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.  
       Which gets us to another of those disgusting places in the movie theater, the floors. Since you have to suffer with the cup holders, how come the floors are invariably sticky? Why is it that when I try to slide my feet to a new position I must meet with a dried syrup resistance? How much will be left on my shoes by the time I get to my car? Fortunately, the walk is usually long enough since the parking is woefully inadequate. 

The Projection 

       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.
       Maintaining the equipment with any sort of regularly seems beyond the abilities of most projectionists. Keeping the reels running smooth and without jitter is a function of how well the projectionist spliced and loaded the films from its reels. Bulbs grow old and light output is diminished. The film gate loosens and the film jumps with nervous energy. The guy up in the booth forgets to flip the switch so thereís no surround sound. The SDDS surround sound is out synch because the projectionist didnít line up the film correctly. These days the projectionist needs to be a world class runner as he sprints from booth to booth in the multiplexes; how can you expect him to notice when the focus drifts slightly. And how can you expect the theater to care when no one complains. I remember one occasion coming out of theater and complaining about the focus to the manager; his response that nobody else complained was frustrating to say the least. 

The Experience

       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.
 The foot stamper is that breed of movie goer. who sits in the row behind you and loves to prop his/her (there is no sexual discrimination when it comes to oafish cinema patrons) feet up on the seat next to yours, providing you with localized tactile feedback. Or they suffer from some degenerative disease such as Parkinson's, unable to keep their feet still, providing you with an unwanted vibro-massage through the seatback or floor.
Both these types of undesirable patron should be added to your hit list. BTW I'm writing from far off New Zealand where we have been inundated with multiplexes up and down the country for the last 4-5 years. Usually attached to a bland shopping complex or as a stand alone "entertainment complex". Usually with low standards of presentation, but they are relatively cheap. Max ticket price here is about $9.50NZ or about $5.00US. The majority of 'plexes have digital sound in one form or another but rarely post information as to when a digital print is playing. Picture quality is usually shit, no THX certified houses in NZ but recently Imax opened in Auckland, NZ's largest city (pop~1.1 million ). Now is there anything as effective as a samurai but less messy ???"


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