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Is It You or Is It Me?
A question of post-pandemic movie theater etiquette. Plus: a Texas rock invasion.
Last week, my wife and I went to a local theater to see the new horror movie, “Barbarian.” It proved to be a pretty entertaining flick (albeit corny at times) with some unique twists on the genre. But there was something that took away from the experience — something that’s been testing our nerves ever since theaters began reopening following the pandemic shutdowns: audiences seem to have forgotten all about movie-theater etiquette.
There was a lot of talking in the seats around us — not merely quick whispers about something that just happened on the screen, but rather casual, drawn-out, outside-voice discussions. While some of the conversations were tied to the movie, a lot of them weren’t, and instead covered personal topics like work, school, who’s dating who — you know, the kind of stuff you might overhear at a crowded restaurant. Only, we very much weren’t at a restaurant. We were in a setting where people have traditionally understood that it’s time to shut their yaps.
My wife and I hate feeling compelled to shush grown adults, and I’m guessing the same is true of others in the theater that night who did a lot more shushing that we did.
There were also the late arrivals — lots of them, seemingly a quarter of the entire audience clumsily navigating their way down narrow aisles in the dark, bumping into and blocking the views of already-seated patrons while struggling to figure out which reserved seats were theirs. To be clear, I’m not talking about just during the previews; that kind of thing doesn’t bother me so much. I’m talking about after the movie itself had already started. That kind of thing requires a true commitment to tardiness when you consider that most films in the theater, because of all the previews beforehand, don’t even start until a good 15 or 20 minutes after their advertised showtime.
Add in the extraordinary amount of time it took some people to loudly open their food packages, along with an occasionally crying baby (who brings a child that young to any theater, let alone one showing a rated-R movie?), and it was all pretty distracting… especially during a film with lots of tense, carefully constructed scenes.
The guy a few rows down who, after some momentary theater silence, started loudly hiccupping certainly didn’t help matters. But in that particular case, I was more inclined to blame Mother Nature.
Like I said up top, we’ve found this type of thing (minus the hiccupping) to be much more the exception than the rule, at least since COVID-19.
Another such example was a few months ago when we saw Top Gun: Maverick in the theater. Again, there was too much casual conversation going on, but what irritated us more was the couple sitting next to us, who’d clearly already seen the movie, rattling off lines (and laughing at them) a second or two before the actors in the film delivered them.
I mean, come on.
And then there was No Time to Die (the latest James Bond film) a few months earlier, where the lady sitting next to me wouldn’t stop moaning and groaning in reaction to even very mundane scenes. “Mmmmmm”, “Ohhhhhh”, “Uh-huhhhhh”, “Yeah-uh-huhhhh”, “Uh-ohhhhh”, “Whoahhh”, “Grrrrrr.”
Yes, there was actually a “Grrrrrr” (I didn’t make that up). I half-felt like I was on some Candid Camera type show, and that I’d have to sign a release for whatever secret footage had been taken, once the movie was over.
But when I think more about when I first starting noticing this shift in etiquette, I can’t help but wonder if the issue is more complex than I realize. Maybe I even have some things backwards.
A big part of my reasoning has been that because people were cooped up in their houses for so long (including when it came to watching movies), they’ve simply forgotten how to act during a public movie screening. The casual, undisciplined atmosphere they’d become accustomed to at home has carried over into their public viewing habits.
On the other hand, what if these things were pretty much commonplace before the pandemic, and my wife I have just become more sensitive to them now that we’re no longer watching newly-released movies (like Barbarian) in the privacy of our own home? Maybe we got so used to relatively distraction-free viewing that we now have less tolerance for public behavior that we previously didn’t pay as much attention to.
I’m not quite sold on that second theory yet, but perhaps it at least plays a subliminal factor.
The tough part in all of this is that I truly do enjoy the big, theatrical, cinematic experience, and have since I was a kid. Thus, I don’t want to just throw in the towel on it, especially when theaters are already struggling for relevance (and their very survival) against increasingly popular on-demand digital services.
I suppose I just want to make theaters great again, but it would seem to have to start with theater-goers… and as of right now, I don’t have a lot of confidence in it happening.
What do you think? Is this cinematic situation worse than it used to be, or have I just became more of a Karen? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
I had a blast last Friday night at the Ogden Theater in Denver.
‘Daly Grind’ readers have probably figured out by now that the Toadies are one of my favorite rock bands, and after a couple years of pandemic-delays, their Rubberneck anniversary tour has finally hit the road. Denver was an early stop, and the band sounds every bit as solid as when their debut album hit stores in 1994.
I saw Toadies front-man Vaden Todd Lewis perform a solo acoustic set early this year in Mexico at HootieFest, but this was the first time I’d seen the full band in a looooong time.
What’s remarkable to me is just how many fans the Toadies still have, and also how young a lot of them are, considering that the band hasn’t had a big mainstream hit in close to 30 years (despite continuing to put out great music over that time). At the sold-out show, it was surreal watching folks in their twenties singing along to all of the songs.
The Toadies are traveling right now with another great Texas band, the Reverend Horton Heat (if you’ve never seen this rockabilly trio perform live, it’s truly an extraordinary experience).
I went to the show with my friend Matt and his wife Jenny. Matt and I have been friends since we were teenagers (I actually trained him to bus tables when he was 15 years old). Coincidentally, Jenny and I were high-school classmates many years before she and Matt ever met. It was great catching up.
If you’re at all interested in a some video from the show, I posted a little on my Instagram account.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Crazy from the heat.
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
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Inspired by last weekend’s concert, I’m featuring, this week, what I believe is the only Toadies vinyl in my collection that I haven’t previously written about in this newsletter.
2008’s “No Deliverance” is the band’s third studio album. Two singles were released off it: "No Deliverance" and, perhaps my favorite tune on it, "Song I Hate". Like all the others, it’s a great listen.
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