A Civil Plea for Proper Cinema Etiquette

Callie Petch is unimpressed with your cinema-going behaviour and feels that it’s time for a little talk.

I love going to the cinema to watch movies.  I really do.  I’m on a Film Studies course at Hull University, at the moment, so not a week goes by when I’m not seeing at least one film and, being a university student who lives in a populated area with a CEX nearby and some disposable income, my Blu-Ray collection keeps expanding by the week, and let’s not forget Netflix.  I am surrounded by movies.  But, man, very little beats the experience of going to the cinema and watching a brand new release film as it drops on the big, well-detailed screen with various, often loud speakers surrounding myself at all angles, sat in comfy chairs that don’t squeak like hell or cause me enough discomfort that I have to readjust my seating position every five minutes and with other likeminded film fans who want to see their hard-earned cash rewarded with good times.  It’s aces!

Lately, however, a disturbing lack of decorum and basic cinema-going etiquette has been showing up in most all of my screenings.  There were white teenage girls giggling throughout all of 12 Years a Slave’s more disturbing and powerful moments (quite frankly, though, that behaviour would have been unacceptable regardless of their gender, age or race), a family consisting of a mother, father and their university-aged daughter decided to turn Her into an impromptu Mystery Science Theater 3000 recording and, most recently and inspiring this column, my experience of Starred Up was nearly derailed by a crowd that giggled like five year-olds at any nudity, regardless of its disturbing context (heaven knows how any of them make it through having sex with one another, it must be a very painful experience), and responded to any and all onsets of violence by going “ooh!” like they’re impersonating a sassy Ray from Archer.

In other words, it seems that a lot of people have forgotten what is and is not acceptable cinema-going behaviour.  Well, on behalf of those of us whose only refuge from life’s cruel and intolerable nature is that of the world of film on display in the cinema, as well as those of us who pay good money to watch a film without having idiots ruin it, have no fear!  I, Callie Petch, Failed Critics’ premiere Old Man In Training, am here to help you fix your dumb cinema behaviour with a simple list format of what is not acceptable.  If it’s not listed here, and you won’t get sent to jail for doing it, you’re probably fine to do it in the cinema.  Just, you know, so long as it doesn’t annoy the rest of us.

Cinema1] Do not.  Have sex.  In the cinema screen.

Fun Fact: before my screening of Ride Along a while back, I wandered into the screen early to get a good seat… whereupon I heard the very distinct sounds of what I inferred to be a man pleasuring a lady, or perhaps the other way around, coming from the back of the screen.  I immediately turned back around and left.  I re-entered about 5 minutes later, after about six other people had gone in, to find those six scattered about the place… and a sheepish looking couple sat in the back corner of the screen.  And this is without even mentioning my friend, Jackson, going to a Spring Breakers screening last year and witnessing a bunch of self-absorbed teenagers giving each other blowjobs (yes, in the cinema, not the film, before you make the obvious joke, James).

Yeah.  Don’t perform sexual acts in the cinema, please.  Contain your animal instincts until you get home.  The rest of us have to sit in those contaminated seats and walk on those sticky floors.

2] Ignore your phone.  At all times.  And ESPECIALLY for Cinime.

Normally, I would more than advocate your usage of a mobile or smart phone during the advertisement stage of the pre-movie experience (after all, nobody has ever willingly paid money to be sold to… well, excluding those who just bought Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes).  However, advertisers seem to be one step ahead of our cunning plans to avoid being sold to and are now rewarding us for using our phones in the pre-movie segment.  Seems harmless, right?  Except that you just know, you just know, that soon this will extend to the trailers and then, before you know it, we’ll be rewarded for using our phones during the film we had paid to see.  And no!  No, I am completely against that!  So don’t give them the satisfaction, don’t even glance at your phone once the first of three separate Movie Signs pop up.  Hang around outside until the ads are done or listen to music on your iPod instead!  And if your iPod is your smart phone, well I guess you’re just used to making bad life choices aren’t you?

As for when the film starts: off.  Turn it off or put it on silent and don’t touch it for the rest of the time you are in the cinema screen.  Life will go on fine without you for the two hours you dedicate to watching a film.  Facebook will still be Facebook, Twitter will still be Twitter and yours and my inane lives will still be inane once the end credits start rolling.  If your phone does ring during the film, and it’s on silent, you can either ignore it or you can leave the screen and answer it.  I recommend Option A, unless it’s an emergency, in which case you should go with Option B.  Just, whatever you do, do not answer it in the middle of the film.  Even if it is a big emergency, the fact is that the rest of us won’t care and we’ll just think you’re an arsehole (which, if it is a legit emergency, will make us the bigger arseholes, but I’m just giving it to you straight; we’ll think you’re The Worst).

Cinema3] Dress properly, for godssake.

I was killing time hanging around the Cineworld before Starred Up, because buses are mischievously weird and inconsistent little buggers, when I saw it.  Entering the cinema, collectively in their own little group, were a bunch of teenagers dressed in animal-themed onesies.  To go and watch a film.  I have no idea what film they were going to see, but they bought tickets and went into a cinema screen in their ridiculous get-ups, so they had chosen to see something.  Let me put it another way: when you go out for a meal anywhere, anywhere at all, doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant, do you rock up to the place in just your pants/knickers and bunny slippers?  No, no you don’t.  You get dressed when you go out in public.  The cinema is no different.

There are, of course, exceptions; namely midnight screenings and fan-showing events for films where cosplaying and the like are considered acceptable because you’re surrounded by fellow diehard fans and stuffier types such as myself are nowhere in sight, so we can’t judge you for (or, if I were to be at these events, marvel in awe at) your accurate-to-the-millimetre handmade Nick Fury costume.  Turning up to these events in clothes that you can/do sleep in, however, is still a no-no.  Seriously, put a little bit of effort in going to the cinema, why don’t you?

4] Feet on the floor, frakker!

Chairs are made to be sat on.  In cinema screens, they are arranged in a manner that allow as many people as possible the luxury of sitting on them whilst watching a movie.  Empty chairs once the presentation starts may be filled later on by viewers who need a better view, can no longer bear to be sat near this couple who just won’t shut the hell up or are just plain tardy.  What chairs are not are foot rests.  They have not been designed as such.  They have never been designed as such and cinema chairs never will be designed as such.  Nobody wants to see your big, lumbering feet blocking out a good portion of the screen because you were too lazy or too late to get an aisle seat.  Or, godsforbid, have your feet dangling inches away from their head.  So put your feet on the ground, where feet typically belong, and deal with the fact that you’re not at home and that, for two lousy hours, your mid-range sofa is going unappreciated.

Oh, and this should go without saying, keep your shoes on.  You’re not in a Japanese tea house so the rest of us don’t have to or want to put up with your foot odour.

Cinema5] A note about Food & Drink

No, I am not about to ban all snacks and beverages from the cinema; don’t be absurd, I am not a monster.  However, there are some people who are more likely to get annoyed by consumption based behaviour so, in order to minimise their chances of getting needlessly annoyed at you (for the record, that person would not be me; most of the time), here are some simple guidelines.

  • A] Don’t bring any rustling bags into the cinema. – You know the ones.  The ones where merely having a mouse cough in their general direction creates a sound akin to that of somebody running through a particularly leafy forest.  If you like sweets, maybe covertly borrow a pick and mix bag and store them in there.  At least then if you cause a ruckus when you’re trying to get the last Haribo Starmix, everybody will know you just have really bad aim.
  • B] Do not slurp. – Your drink is finished.  Accept it and move on.  You don’t need the ice as well.
  • C] No nachos.  Ever.  – You’re at the cinema, not a Baseball game or a Monster Truck meet.  Keep your smelly, loud, disgusting fratboy foodstuffs away from the rest of us, thank you kindly.
  • D] Refrain from eating, drinking, slurping or rustling during tense moments. – When a film is trying to ratchet up the tension by having its vulnerable hero or heroine wander about a dark room or corridor unsupervised and you just know that something is going to jump out and get them at any moment, it is anything but the perfect time for you to selfishly remind everybody that they are in a cinema and that nothing that is happening on screen is real by stuffing your face and causing a huge racket.  Everyone will hate you, so don’t.
  • E] Don’t be that arsehole who cuts a hole in the bottom of their popcorn tub so that when their lady friends reach over to grab some they actu… – I doubt this is something that happens in real life and only exists in films and TV, but if it does: stop it.  Stop being a douchebag, you douchebag.

6] Turn up no more than 90 seconds late to a film

It’s not like you haven’t been given ample leeway.  Unless your cinema is a piece of pure heaven and actually does start the movie at the time listed, you get anywhere from 15 to 30 and sometimes 40 minutes after the programme starts to make it to the cinema in time to see the start of the film itself.  Films are meant to be seen from the start to the end and turning up 10 minutes through the film is not the way you’re supposed to experience it, not to mention the fact that your bumbling through a pitch-black cinema in search of a seat is highly distracting for the rest of us.  If the opening logos have finished their business and you’re still not in the screen ready to watch?  Too bad, go and see something else or wait for the next showing.

(Incidentally, in a perfect world, cinemas would stop encouraging this behaviour altogether by stopping the selling of tickets to films that have started, but we don’t live in a perfect world, unfortunately.)

Cinema7] Shut. The. Hell. Up.

Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, paid nearly £10 to listen to you offer up a Director’s Commentary on the film in front of them.  There are no exceptions.  So do not ruin the emotionally draining finale of Frozen by shouting out loud “KISS!!” to Anna and Elsa as if incest is something that we should be encouraging.  Do not spend the entire time that Her is on screen audibly insulting the entire premise in a way that you think is just between you and your family but, in actuality, is clearly audible to everyone else in the cinema.  Do not snap everybody else out of the ending of Starred Up by loudly inquiring “Is it done?” after the final smash cut to black.  Do not announce your belief that it was not worth sitting all the way through the end credits of Captain America: The Winter Soldier for another post credits sequence (to be fair though, although this does not make it better, this was brought about by judgemental cinema employees sarcastically quizzing the first of those who left at the very end).

Also not allowed: reactions that completely go against what the film is trying to do.  If you laugh out loud at the finale of Titanic in a cinema filled with people who may actually be enjoying it?  Guess what?  You’re an arsehole.  Do you giggle like a 5 year-old any time anybody gets naked in a film, regardless of how disturbing and distressing the context may be?  Guess what?  You’re immature and should not be allowed to have sex until you grow up.  Do you and your friends titter like idiots at the disturbingly long hanging sequence from 12 Years a Slave or, in fact, any of the brutal violence and abuse sequences of 12 Years a Slave?  Guess what?  You’re a monster.  And, also, all of you are ruining the film for other people.

Also not permissible: spoilers within a 100 metre radius of the cinema’s car park.  Just because you’ve seen the film, doesn’t mean that everybody else has.  In fact, they may even be turning up to see the screening after yours and I guarantee that the very last thing they will be wanting is for your inconsiderate being to gleefully and loudly discuss how Bruce Willis was really dead in The Sixth Sense the whole time as they enter and you leave.  You and your friends or family, if you went with them, may want to talk about how good or bad the film is as you leave and that’s fine; go right ahead.  But save talk of anything that could be deemed a spoiler until you’re in the car and/or safely away from other people.

You can laugh at funny things, you can cry and sob at sad things, you can scream in terror at scary things, and you can gasp in shock and surprise at shocking or surprising things.  What you can’t do is talk.  Ever.  If you must communicate with your friends at the cinema, do so with facial gestures.  If you talk during a film in the cinema, know that I hate you.  If I had power, I would pass a law ordering you to be shot.  There would be no second chances, no opportunities to apologise and no exceptions.  I feel strongly about this but only because people who talk in the cinema are The Literal Worst.

There.  That’s my list of very reasonable demands in order to make the cinema-going experience more pleasurable for everyone involved.  I’m pretty sure that it’s rather comprehensive, but let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments, this list is open to addition and revision.  In the meantime, go forth and be a good cinema-goer!  You’ll be heavily improving the experience for the rest of us and maybe even yourself, too.

Callie Petch is a reasonable man, get off their case.

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