The degradation of modern civil society’s manners is perhaps never more apparent than in the darkened room of a cinema. Viewers are required to sit silently and pay attention for hours on end, which people under the age of 50 – and quite a few over – seem incapable of doing. This sad fact has pushed cinema-lovers to go to obscure screening times, exclusive or boutique cinemas, and pray that they are spared.
So, after a particularly irksome trip to Gone Girl, where the row behind me provided a plot-spoiling narration to the film, the time has come for self-righteous intervention, with a simple set of guidelines to be followed:
1. No Talking
You are in a dark room, all facing the same direction, a loud sound system is blaring and a bright screen draws your attention – conversation should be nigh impossible. Yet Homo sapiens, with their highly adaptive capacity, have learned to not only conversationally survive, but thrive in the cinema habitat. Those who consider themselves an authority on the film, giving an unwanted running commentary, are by far the worst, often prompted by their only mildly less annoying counterpart, the constant questioners – “Why does he hate her?” Who are they?” “What’s she doing?” – the kind of people for whom the ideal screening environment involves hitting pause every time they lose sight of the plot.
2. No Food
The Dolby Surround sound system is an utterly ineffective method of immersion when having to compete with crunching nachos and many other associated junk foods. These film foodies, the obnoxious cousins of the talkers, are often unassuming criminals – they simply wish to enjoy a snack while watching the action. However, they are oblivious of the pain they are inflicting on those around them. Food choice is important if you wish to dine while you watch: especially consider the acoustic properties of any morsels you bring into the cinema. Alternatively, just consume the cinematic language of the film – you never know, that might fill you up.
3. No noise-making objects
Obviously musical instruments are out, but they’d be positively welcomed compared to the orchestra of rustling carrier bags, crinkling plastic bottles, and slurping of nearly empty soft-drink cups. This is the most unwelcome, involuntary musical imposition since the conspiracy of U2 and Apple.
4. No mobile phones
It’s a sad fact that phones have permeated every nook and cranny of modern life. However, simply because yours is an iPhone, this doesn’t mean you need to disregard the viewing experience of those around you, even if egocentrism is the USP of the digital age. Even on its lowest setting a phone emits a harsh glow at about 80% of the sun’s brightness, blinding and distracting all those around you. The only light in the cinema should be the projector– OK, I’ll give you fire exit signs– but any other competing light sources should be extinguished.
Save your tweet, text or Facebook update till after you see the best boy’s credits. It won’t change the universe, and, you never know, by paying attention you might actually find something worthwhile to share with the world. If you ever use a phone in a cinema, then there should be a special place reserved for you, both in hell and a remote Russian gulag.
5. No extra cinematic activities
It’s a high school movie cliché, the couple at the back of the movie theatre. Don’t be fooled by the apparent blanket of darkness, it’s akin to an octopus with a high visibility jacket – if you wouldn’t act like that at the opera, then why here? It’s a rookie error – and a pretty poor date plan – in which the cinema has again been confused for your own living room or bedroom. Other forbidden activities include, but are not limited to, talking (see 1.), blackjack, crocheting, Jenga or putting those miniature boats into glass bottles.
6. No touching other people’s seats
You have upon purchase of a cinema ticket procured your seat, plus the space around it up to the boundary of the next person’s seat, and no more. This means all limbs, as when on a rollercoaster, must remain firmly within that space. However, unlike on roller coasters, unexpected lurching caused by kicking or touching the seat in front is severely unwelcome. Cinema-goers have acquired that space for themselves for the duration of the film, and it should be considered trespassing to invade it. The same goes for coats and bags: they are inanimate objects, with no interest in the film and therefore do not require their own seat or to be draped over the seat in front.
7. No coming in late to a film
An essential aspect of film is its close association with time. They are intended to be viewed from beginning to end. You wouldn’t start a book at chapter four and neither should you walk in late to a film. There is almost no excuse now, with the growing commercialisation of screenings, as half an hour of adverts now serves as a corporate entrée to the main feature. Even the most frazzled latecomer should be able to organise themselves enough to make the studio’s opening indent. If you’re late? Well, tough luck – a film is an uninterrupted performance. A good West End theatre wouldn’t admit latecomers to a play and neither should awkwardly standing up to let people go down the rows, obscuring punctual peoples’ view of the screen, be tolerated here.
None of these rules are anything beyond a call for civilised and polite conduct in your local cinema. Nonetheless, it’s a sign of the times that I’ve had to articulate them individually. If you know someone who suffers from OCED (Oblivious Cinema Egocentrism Disorder) then please let them know of these rules, which could transform their lives. If, however, their condition is chronic, please keep them away from the BFI IMAX at 5.30am on 7 November, as I have gone to real lengths to avoid them already.
Featured image credit: boscosgrindhouse.com