Movie theater etiquette: Rude people please stay home

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Inspiration strikes me at the strangest times.

Welcome! Come in, have a seat. Please keep your mouth shut and your cell phone off.

Take this particular post, for example. I was in bed last night, ready to power down my cell when I stumbled across a tweet relating to a post about movie theater etiquette. It’s sheer brilliance on the part of the author, Matt Singer, a film writer for IFC. He had me at his post’s subhed: “Help us take back movie theaters from the a-holes of the world.” Matt has also started a petition – which I signed and hope you do, too – in which people promise to be on their best behavior in movie theaters.

I’ve witnessed and been subjected to enough thoughtless, annoying people that this subject couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve been to a couple of movies in the past two weeks, and I think we could all use a refresher course in public courtesy. During a weekday matinée of  “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a friend and I witnessed a mother and father (who sat down in front of us) who couldn’t keep their young son quiet (he yapped through the entire movie), another father who had the exact same problem with his young daughter, and an adult male who kept flailing his fists against his chest (like a Jerseyfied King Kong, if you will), causing our entire row of seats to shake violently.

Clearly DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were right: Parents just don’t understand. To quote the Pet Shop Boys, what have I done to deserve this? If you know your child has a hard time keeping quiet, why don’t you sit in a section of the theater where you won’t be a nuisance and a distraction to anyone other than, you know, yourself?

I’m so passionate about this subject that I honestly think movie theaters should adopt the policy that if a patron’s behavior is so intolerable that another patron finds it necessary to exit the theater and report them – thereby missing out on the movie themselves – they should be entitled to see the film again, gratis.

Matt’s post got me thinking about the most aggravating experiences I’ve had at the movies. Here are my top three:

Even Daniel Day-Lewis' freaky eyeball wasn't enough to distract me from the nonsense going on around me in the theater.

1. “Gangs of New York” (2002): This one takes the cake. A friend (with a very short fuse) and I attended a matinée for this nearly three-hour-long, ho-hum opus. We sat in the very back of the theater, which was pretty empty. After the film started (the previews were already done), in walked a geriatric couple hauling a huge paper shopping bag. They chatted (loudly) as they made their way sloooowly to their seats a few rows beneath us and to the right. Once they were settled, the real fun began. They conversed with one another as if they were alone, sitting in their living room. This loud chatter was accompanied by incessant rattling of the huge paper shopping bag. It was too dark, so we couldn’t make out what was inside the bag. But it didn’t take long for the smell of fried chicken (my guess is KFC) to permeate the entire theater. Munching, rattling and chatting continued, unabated, for a while until my friend – who was by this point twitching in anger – shouted at them to knock it off.

In the wake of 9/11, you might wonder why a movie theater would permit anyone to bring a huge paper shopping bag in with them. (This theater is stand-alone and not connected to a mall or any other stores.) We wondered that, too. At the end of the movie, as we left the theater, we spotted the couple – still with huge paper shopping bag in tow – walk into an adjacent theater showing a different film.  That was the final straw. My friend made a beeline for the manager.

I’ve never seen “Gangs of New York” again.

No comprende? Let me translate for you.

2. “In the Bedroom” (2001): A year earlier, I sat in a crowded theater watching this highly acclaimed film. Through much of it, I was totally distracted by the couple sitting directly behind me. At first, I thought they were having a conversation. But I gradually figured out that the man, who was speaking Spanish, was actually translating the dialogue for his date. Seriously?

I haven’t watched this film again, either, but that’s probably because it’s so dark and depressing.

I wanted to scream, too, during this movie - but for entirely different reasons.

3. “The Ring” (2002): My first mistake was seeing this excellent horror flick in a mall movie theater. My second mistake was seeing it at night. The theater was full of wild (no exaggeration there) teenagers who yelled, hooted, hollered, screamed and cursed throughout the entire film. Other patrons’ attempts at shushing them were challenged with bravado statements such as, “Come over here and make me.” If any ushers patrolled the theater, nothing was done to put an end to the nonsense or remove them from the theater. And since I had a long, dark walk through the parking deck to my car, I wasn’t about to say anything, either.

Fortunately, that experience hasn’t dampened my appreciation for this movie. I’ve watched it numerous times since.

You haven't lived until you've shrieked in concert with a room full of strangers.

On the flip side, I have had pleasant experiences at the movies. One that comes immediately to mind is “What Lies Beneath.” I love this movie, and each time I catch it on television I wish I could recapture the fun I had watching it in a theater full of people who were also having the pants scared off them.

Unlike many horror films, "Insidious" doesn't use music to warn you when something scary is going to happen.

I had a similar experience recently when I saw “Insidious.” However, that viewing was tainted by misbehaving patrons who were reamed out by a security guard. By the end of the altercation, the security guard had done more to distract and interrupt the film for the rest of us than the initial disturbance did.

What are some of your movie theater horror stories? Please consider signing the petition – and follow it up by being courteous the next time you’re in the theater. I thank you in advance.

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