Listen Up, Ebert! The Movie-Talkers and How to Avoid Them

Roger Ebert made a list explaining the reasons why he thinks movie theater revenue is down. One of the things Ebert said:

“Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls.”

That bit stood out to me. “Fanboys,” in this context, usually means genre movie fanatics. I don’t think those are the people disrupting the movie with talking (“fanboys and girls” tend to be the most annoyed by talkers), so I tweeted:

“Ebert weirdly thinks movie “fanboys and girls” are the ones talking in theatres. He is so, so wrong. IT IS PEOPLE YOUR AGE, SIR.”

The tweet was quickly re-tweeted, by some of my more high-profile peers and friends, gaining me a bunch of new followers (hi!) and a dozen responses that pretty much said this:

“Everyone talks, not just old people.”

I know this is basically true, but I worked in movie theaters for roughly 13 years, and as an assistant manager for more than half those years (assistant managing a movie theater is unlike most assistant manager jobs — you run the floor every night but the weekends, and sometimes even then). Maybe what I should’ve said is that older crowds are harder to shut up.

There’s a noise level expectation if you’re playing something to kids. A movie like CHIPWRECKED is going to have some chatter. They’re kids; many of them haven’t learned any better. The problem is a movie like WAR HORSE is probably going to have the same low buzz of chatter throughout. Only, these are adults, and they should know better.

So, drawing on my personal experience, I decided to break down exactly who’s hardest to shut up at the theater and how to avoid them if attending a movie (in order of age).

1. Children

Parents are usually embarrassed enough to reprimand their chatty kid if they draw attention from other patrons or theater management. There’s the rare case of a parent who feels like you’ve singled out their kid or that, since it’s a kids’ movie, that means kids have carte blanche to run around the auditorium like it’s a playground. I’ve found those cases are rare. Typically, the worse a kids’ movie is, the more chatty the children are.

Avoid them by seeing family films and animated comedies at night. Never, ever go on a Saturday or Sunday during the day.

2. Pre-Teens/Young Teens

These kids will buy a ticket to whatever time is most convenient to them getting dropped off at the movies. What this means is that sometimes a dozen teens will be laughing and going in and out of the auditorium during a movie they aren’t interested in at all, pissing off the people that are there to watch that movie. The good news? They’re typically terrified of theater management and don’t want to get into any real trouble. So, while disruptive, are the least likely to talk back, and usually the easiest ones to kick out of an auditorium.

Avoid them by never seeing brand-new wide release PG or PG-13 rated films after 7pm on a Friday or Saturday.

3. Older Teens

Older teens can be a real pain in the ass, especially if their parents have raised them to be little entitled jerks. You might be able to kick them out, but they might also return with an angry mom or dad who wants your head on a platter for ruining their baby’s night. Older teens also sneak in to more movies than probably any other group, and they tend to like bad comedies and blockbusters. I’ve found that most older teens are respectful — I think they feel like grown-ups when they’re out at the movies; I know I did when I was 16. Cell phones can be an issue, but I can honestly say no one has ever fought with me when I’ve caught them red-handed and asked them to turn it off.

Avoid them by skipping comedies and blockbusters on opening weekend.

4. 20-50

This is a pretty wide age group, and their ability to shut up seems more directly tied to economic status more than a specific age. Trashy people act trashy, black, white, whatever. Generally, you don’t find a lot of troublemakers in this age bracket, and, if you do, they’re serious serial troublemakers, the kind of people you have to call the police to have escorted out of the theatre (which I’ve done a half-dozen times).

Avoid by going to the earliest show of the day or after 9pm on a weeknight. This is when theaters have the least attendance.

5. 50 and up

And we’re back to the kind of chatter one expects from a kids’ movie, with the same problem little kids have — a complete lack of understanding that their “whispering” could possibly be bothering anyone. If someone can’t comprehend how their constant comments or questions could be seen as intrusive to others, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. You have no choice but to become a villain then, picking on someone for doing “nothing.” A lot of older people also believe that if they’re talking about the movie, then they’re doing no wrong. This might be fine in your living room, but living room rules do not apply at the theater.

Avoid by only going to movies geared toward adults Monday through Thursday and only after 7pm.

To re-iterate, this is only based on my work experience, and I realize I’m making broad generalizations and that there are exceptions, but there’s truth here (most especially in the “how to avoid” parts). And, remember, if you ever see a movie “fanboy or girl” talking through a movie, chances are they aren’t actually a movie fanboy.

Some Thoughts on SHAME

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(This piece contains “spoilers.”)

The critical response to SHAME has been slightly baffling to me. The movie has a brave performance by Michael Fassbender and a couple of scenes that feel remarkably true (Brandon’s attempt at a real date is the movie’s most insightful moment), but the film also displays a clumsy misunderstanding of its subject that can’t be ignored.  That particular discussion seems to have been disregarded in exchange for an embarrassingly wide pre-occupation with Fassbender’s sexiness — a weird thing to walk away from SHAME talking about, to be sure. It’s the equivalent of fixating on Jennifer Connelly’s degrading dildo scene in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM over its harrowing themes of addiction. Yeah, it’s sexual, but it’s not supposed to be sexy, guys.

SHAME hit its first truly sour note with me during a lingering shot of Brandon viewing his distorted reflection on the side of a bus. The shot is a cliched visual shorthand that says “On the inside, this person is not who they appear to be.” It’s the kind of weak somebody-already-thought-of-that trick that most filmmakers leave behind at film school. But, it’s in here, and it sucks — not enough to ruin the movie, but enough to act as a warning for what’s to come.

After an extended orgy (shot with the inappropriately titillating gusto of an episode of HBO’s REAL SEX), Brandon ends up trolling for sex at a gay club (shot like a horror film). The implications are ambiguous; we don’t know if this is something Brandon has done before or not. It shouldn’t really matter, since all of Brandon’s sex is an empty experience, sexual orientation is irrelevant, but in director Steve McQueen’s eyes this homosexual act is the end-all-be-all of sexual lows. It’s the scariest thing a (homophobic) straight male can think of — finding themselves so horny that they might let another dude touch them. Just conceptually, it’s an offensive way to portray a sex addict’s low point.

McQueen, who also wrote SHAME, flounders with this. It’s not dramatic enough to get Brandon to rock bottom, and he knows it’s not enough, but McQueen doesn’t understand why. So, he has Brandon come home after some anonymous gay sex to discover that his sister has attempted suicide in his own apartment. Besides the hilariously puritanical message (“While you were out getting your rocks off, your sister almost DIED!”), Brandon’s rock bottom is now his sister’s rock bottom. Brandon hits no rock bottom of his own, but the film would have you believe that this is it.

The attempted suicide has some shock value, but it’s also something that student filmmakers have a preoccupation with, because it’s an easy cinematic go-to to show that a personal situation is in dire shape. McQueen makes the mistake of tying Brandon to this moment as if it somehow would make him less compulsive and horny, and suddenly ready to love and commit. Though his sister is alive, he has a wailing catharsis on a pier, spurred on partly because he’d been incredibly crappy to her and partly because he was having empty sex while she bled out.

I’m still not sure how her personal rock bottom translates into being his rock bottom. Her suicide is something that could’ve happened if Brandon were attending church or out grocery shopping; it has nothing to do with his addiction to sex. Her lowest point can’t be his lowest point, because it’s happening only to her, and it’s happening to her in a way that he doesn’t have any empathy for. Do I believe that Brandon would be sad that his sister almost died? Yes. Do I believe this event is a turning point in his life? Not one bit.

A more satisfying ending would’ve taken more work from McQueen, getting to Brandon’s emotionally darkest place and exposing him in such a wholly naked, vulnerable way that he has no choice but to change. Instead SHAME goes easy, with a finale that makes the whole film inauthentic and immature. It’s a damned SHAME.