In the past few weeks, I have had to endure two of the worst possible cinema-going experiences, so bad that I have hyperbolically blacklisted a certain leading UK cinema chain (that appropriately rhymes with “spew”) and begun to question whether anyone actually goes to the cinema to even watch a film anymore. One of these incidents occurred during (or rather, throughout) a screening of John Wick 3 (the film, from what I could enjoy of it, was very good, if rather sluggish in the third act).
We were seated in what must have been one of the noisiest audiences in cinema history, a consistent babble that radiated from every seat behind, in front, and either side of us. People commenting on what John Wick should have done in this situation (obviously easier said than done), what jokes were and weren’t funny, even going so far as to offensively mock the foreign accents of several actors. I assumed this incessant chatter, which often drowned out the film altogether, would eventually die down. But, if anything, it just grew worse.
And this is far from an isolated occurrence. Time and again I have had films disrupted by talking, phone usage, rustling, and/or seat kicking, making me nervous on every outing to the cinema about what fresh hell I will encounter this time. The other recent disruption occurred during a screening of Booksmart (again, the parts of the film that I did get to experience were fantastic, sharp and wonderfully funny), when a couple in the row behind us insisted on holding room-level conversations throughout the film, which meant that we all missed a number of jokes and left us fuming in a very repressed, very English sort of way.
Now, maybe this is just me, but I don’t pay sometimes upwards of £10 a ticket to hear about what Joe Public in the seat next to me thinks of the film or see what he’s texting his mates about (if you can’t go 2 hours without your phone, then you seriously need help). I, as do many others, go to the cinema to escape from the outside world (and seek respite from the exact kind of people who feel they have to express their thoughts on literally everything out loud). Or, as Mark Strong’s soothing voice declares in Vue’s ridiculously lengthy pre-film program (sometimes clocking in at over half an hour!), I want to “switch off from the outside world.”
Of course, I’m hardly alone in these rantings. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, presenters of the always-excellent film review show on 5 Live, have long been outspoken advocates for respectful cinema-going, going so far as to develop their own code of conduct, available below in entertaining video format. The cinema chain Empire launched a similar etiquette guide back in 2013, which was publicised within their branches, and conducted a poll that found that talking in the cinema was the biggest complaint from their customers.
This tendency for some cinema-goers to repeatedly run their mouth during the film is especially vexing considering the wide variety of home entertainment options that are now available in our digital world. Instead of going out, why not stay in and enjoy a whole range of content from the multitude of streaming services on offer? Then you can talk as much as you want, without bothering the rest of us. And its probably cheaper considering the amount of food you insist on noisily consuming during the film. Perfect!
However, there is still hope for those being terrorised by the legion of cinema-talkers. The best screening experiences I have had have all occurred at the wonderful Prince Charles Cinema in Central London, where, I am happy to report, we have never experienced any interruption whatsoever, the closest being a person checking their phone during an opening credits sequence (they were quickly scolded and learned their lesson). In fact, as part of a 2012 publicity stunt, the cinema went as far as to hire “cinema ninjas” who monitored the screenings and prevented any breaches of etiquette. Now that’s a future I want to live in, where all cinemas have their own squad of stealthy code of conduct enforcers. Take note multiplexes!
But I’ll leave the last word up to George Costanza, who said it best in this classic Seinfeld scene:
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