On the movie screen towering over me, chairbound Jimmy Stewart helplessly sits as the killer approaches. I’m chairbound as well, watching a re-release of REAR WINDOW at my local multiplex theater. The suspense is overpowering when suddenly, from behind me - an elderly man moans - “How the hell they make Jimmy Stewart look so young? He’s gotta be eighty!” “Shhh!” his wife orders loudly, “this is a very old movie, dear.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snaps at her, “It ain’t no old movie. It’s in color!”.
D.W Griffith’s comedy short from 1909, THOSE AWFUL HATS, depicted rude movie theater audiences. Which means that for over 110 years, unnamed jerks have sat in the dark, not caring that their yapping is disrupting the spell innocent people around him (or her) paid for. Here are some stories of theater-goers who have encountered these terrors in the dark.
One friend told me of a friend of hers who went to see a classic film at a museum. Two women sat in front of her and when the movie started, one of the ladies said, "Oh it's a silent film, so we can talk." and proceeded to do so during the entire film.
Food writer Michael Gebert saw Bresson's PICKPOCKET in “a tiny screening room -- maybe 40 seats -- and there's probably eight of us.” He recalled. “It's Bresson, so it's as quiet as a room of people taking a test. The main character does something and this one guy (in the audience) goes "Hmm." A couple of minutes pass and something else of interest happens and -- "Hmm." And on and on. It wasn't constant, but every couple of minutes, "Hmm." Which becomes like the Chinese water torture... when will it happen next? What will rise to the level of interest that will make him go "Hmm"? That seemed like an interesting moment, so why didn't he go "Hmm" at that? At one point someone told him to stop it and he apologized... but it was clearly involuntary, because seven or eight minutes later, "Hmm."
My sister Wendy recalled watching MOMMIE DEAREST in a theater, where two theatre patrons, thinking this Joan Crawford expose was the new ROCKY HORROR, stood up and had a loud mock coat hanger battle during the notorious “No wire hangers!” sequence.
“Jimmy A” recalled that at one movie - “Someone in the front row kept using a cellphone. I went up, crouched down and asked her to stop. I returned to my seat. The imbecile had the balls to follow me to my seat to cry that her son was sick and that she needed to check on him and shame on me! I told her that with a mom like her, being sick was the least of her son’s problem.”
Richard Cutler remembered during DJANGO UNCHAINED, that two elderly ladies talked in street slang on their phones, giving a running commentary on the film’s plot to the person at the other end of the line. “It was to the point where I could no longer watch the movie and I wanted to throw my popcorn and soda at them.”
Retired nurse Clare Lilly remembered seeing a B Feature set in the South Seas. In the film, a shipwrecked American sailor winds up on an island filled with friendly natives. When the Native Chief tells the American “Please, come sit with Princess Mimi and Prince Kukae.”, a God-awful shriek emitted behind Clare. The yell was followed by non-stop laughter. He laughed each time these movie royalty members appeared. When confronted after the film, the loud person said he was Hawaiian, and in Hawaiian - “Mimi” means “piss’ and “Kukae” means “poop”.
Phillip Dye, a Film Historian noted: “At a showing of DEATH WARRANT starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a cop who goes undercover in prison, the guy sitting behind me had been in prison and so gave a running commentary on prison life both on screen and in real life to his girlfriend. The commentary was more entertaining than the movie. At the end, when Van Damme's cover has been blown and he defeats the villain, the inmates allow him to pass out of respect for his bravery. Said the guy behind me, "Man, they woulda shanked his punk ass." Which, by the way, was the best and most succinct movie review I ever heard.”
In THOSE AWFUL HATS, a rude theater patron meets her comeuppance when a giant steam shovel picks her up her gigantic hat. Ah, if only. Next Halloween, I am going dressed as a rude theater patron, carrying a monster cell phone. *