The virtues of the small town movie theater

Kung Fu Monkey has an excellent rant about the theater experience, and how it is ruined by loudmouths and cell phones.

I just have to say that since I moved to Morris, I love going to the movies. I’ll even go to bad movies. And it’s all because the ambience has completely changed. Rogers recommends bringing back real ushers to silence the kibitzers and chatterers and inconsiderate babblers, but we’ve got something better: everyone in the theater knows everyone else. Nobody gets to make a public nuisance of themselves and then vanish into the anonymity of the crowd.

He’s exactly right. The community experience, the ability to just watch a movie and enjoy it, is the number one factor that has me going back over and over again, even when they’re showing garbage on the screen. I mean, seriously, I’m actually considering going to the theater this week to watch that lame Bruce Willis vehicle, 16 Blocks. I don’t even like Bruce Willis movies.


  1. says

    Darn, now I know that there is a Bruce Willis movie out there – useless knowledge pushing out useful knowledge out of my brain…

    But, here’s the key question, are you going to see the next Tom Cruise movie or is that where you draw the line?

  2. says

    I decided a while ago that henceforth I would boycott all movies starring Tom Cruise, as well as other movies starring Scientologists, to the best of my ability. That creepy cult has enough money already without me giving them any more, and Cruise in particular has become so thoroughly loathsome that avoiding him is no huge sacrifice.

    However, I do highly recommend V for Vendetta, if you haven’t seen it already.

  3. says

    Hiring ushers won’t save the dying theaters. It’d help, but there are other reasons people don’t go to the movies.

    * The projection quality is lousy. I’m not paying $10+ per head to watch a blurry picture on a stained screen (that’s when it IS on the screen and not the curtains) when I have a perfectly good plasma screen and DVD player at home.

    * The sound quality is lousy. “Monaural sound, but really loud” doesn’t beat my home theater setup.

    * The lack of movies to watch. (This probabaly has to do with my location in a small city – too large for a “community” atmosphere, too small for, well, culture.)

    * The fact that teens have other things to do that weren’t as avaulable some years back. Malls, video games, the internet, etc. Teens are where the money is.

  4. David Wilford says

    Yeah, the small town experience does have an upside in terms of noteriety. When my wife and I were looking at homes in New Richmond, WI (pop. 7,200) we’d taken separate cars and she was heading home on her own and had to stop for gas at the downtown gas station. She only put in like $8 worth to get her home, and was in line when the kid in front of her paid for his gas and left. Then the cashier said her gas was $28 dollars, to which my wife said “what?” and in about two seconds it was determined that the kid had paid for my wife’s gas and was trying to pull a fast one. My wife rushed out just as the kid is ready to pull out in his SUV and stands in front of it with her hands on the hood. (It’s a good thing Randy Moss wasn’t driving.) The kid gets out, lamely admits that he’d made a “mistake”, goes back inside and pays up. Then, after he’s gone, the cashier says to my wife “Wait ’till I tell his mother about this.” Whoops…

  5. David Wilford says

    My small town has an eight-plex movie theater, and people are polite enough to be quiet. At $5 a ticket for matinees, it’s still worth going for the big screen experience, and they even had “Brokeback Mountain” showing for a couple of weeks.

  6. jbark says

    Hey what’s not to like about Bruce Willis movies?

    Pulp Fiction, Sin City, 12 Monkeys and the Fifth Element alone make for a geek extravaganza.

    I’m all on board with the Cruise boycott though. And yes, V for Vendetta rocked.

  7. Philip Whitford says

    I adore going to the movies because as a communal sensorial experience it is something which social animals like us humans NEED. I need to sit in a LARGE dark room, sharing the SAME visual/auditory stimuli WITH a large number of other people. I need my eyes to be set a far-focus, which relaxes the brain. I need to laugh, cry, and jump WITH other people. I need to absent myself from real life occasionally, go somewhere, share a powerful experience, then emerge, blinking, into the “real” world and think, “Why can’t, or isn’t, my life like that?”

    How about People’s Powerful Movie Experiences (PPME)? I’ll start it off by putting down two.

    1) First release of CARRIE. The horror has ended. Amy Irving bends down to lay her flowers. The audience is sighing, slumping in their seats, glad the horror is over.


    AND THEN THE HAND RISES BLOODILY OUT OF THE GROUND AND 400 PEOPLE STIMULTANEOUSLY LEAP UP IN THEIR SEATS! One minute later, everyone is walking out, and all have this facial expression of deep satiation on their faces.

    2) Go to see a preview of Aliens. No reviews have come out. James Cameron I know because I enjoyed the Terminator (perhaps the greatest “B” action movie ever made). About 500 people in the theatre. We watch it with intensity and enjoyment. Cameron rips us up and around with powerful action sequences, until Ripley, Bishop, and the kid get back to the ship. We relax. AND THEN THE MOTHER ALIEN . . (cut short description of even more intense action). Credits roll. Audience is absolutely numbed, drained, actioned-out, and, again, utterly, totally, and communally satisfied in a way which is simply not possible in a living room.

    BTW, I do tell people to STFU. It goes against my grain, but ya know, it works.

  8. Joe says

    My biggest pet peeve is the cell phone. Not sure why, but that always gets under my skin.

  9. says

    Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my small town in Atlantic Canada. 1 theater, 5 screens, and most of the other entertainment in this town involves alcohol.

    Still need to see “V” though.

  10. says

    Our town owns a nonprofit theater for foreign and classic films. The director always announces: “If you don’t know how to turn off your cell phone, bring it up here; I have a hammer”.

    Also, not to toot my own horn (which I would never do in a theater) but I came up with an idea for PSA’s about theater chatter, one starring Freddy Krueger…

  11. Jeremy says

    Meh, impolite people is one problem, the other is the massive increase in annoyance delivered by the theatre itself in the form of:

    * High ticket prices
    * Gouging prices for snacks ($3,00 for a coke that’s more ice than coke? Come on!)
    * Advertisements! Why in the vermillion hells am I getting advertisements at a threatre. I have no problem with trailers (makes perfect sense, and the trailers are usually entertaining as well.) But it’s detestable when I pay $20+ dollars for tickets and snacks for me and my date, and then have to sti through 20 minutes of commercials for Coke, Fanta and the local Church.

  12. says

    How about People’s Powerful Movie Experiences (PPME)? I’ll start it off by putting down two.

    A geeky one – Star Trek VI (seen in a college town):

    An entire theater full of people applauds the “Director” credit when it *didn’t* have William Shatner’s name there.

  13. says


    Sadly, since DVD makers have the ability to disable your “track skip” and “menu” buttons, this one turns up even when you’re watching a movie at home.

    Possible solutions:
    1) Put in the DVD before turning on the home theater system. Go fix popcorn / snacks / drinks. Turn on the rest of the home theater system and watch the movie.
    2) Remaster the DVD without commercials, for the really obnoxious ones.

    Back to the movie theater experience, though – ever reached for the remote at a movie theater? :)

  14. Great White Wonder says

    My favorite places to watch movies are in museums and film archives: no eating allowed.

  15. SteveK says

    If you don’t like Bruce Willis movies, you’ve got shit for taste, so how would you even know if you were going to to good or bad movies?

  16. Grumpy says

    * The sound quality is lousy. “Monaural sound, but really loud” doesn’t beat my home theater setup.

    Not being picky myself, I have no problem with the sound quality in a movie theater. Nor with the volume, since I got in the habit of wearing earplugs (or wads of napkin, in a pinch). I do have a problem with the volume in the theater next door, which invariably rattles my theater during a quiet scene.

    I remember the exact moment I gave up on theaters. I had just purchased a large soda at the concession stand. I grabbed it by the lid, which naturally popped off, dropping the drink and splashing onto the carpet. As much as I blamed my own clumsiness, I blamed the idiotic industry that hasn’t cracked the simple ergonomics of drink service.

    On the subject of hecklers, I’ll share two of my best comebacks:

    “Yes, he’s dead. Movie’s over. You can leave now.”
    –to a pair of knuckleheads fretting over Frodo’s encounter with Shelob at LOTR:ROTK

    “Why don’t you write down your prediction, seal it in an envelope, wait til the movie’s over, then open it up and find out if you’re right?”
    –to an older couple trying to out-guess the plot of — I kid you not — Mr. Bean

  17. natural cynic says

    Another PPME from a small town crowd:

    Sitting directly in back of most of the archeology grad students in Pullman WA on the opening night of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  18. Karey says

    I would take the old fashioned advertisements over what gets screamed at me now in the theaters. Slides for coke and local businesses, i can deal with that. I can not take the “Twenty” ad campaign played at a louder volume than the feature movie, for 20 minutes leading up to it. I’m not sure if its just me but I honestly don’t experience many people talking on phones during the movie. But the aggressive advertising, high price of tickets and snacks drive me off. Its very anti-customer.

  19. says

    Loved “V”. The Julie London “Cry Me a River” alone was worth it. Just got a CD “Sirens of Song” with that on it, and really love that version of that song….

  20. says

    V is great. And believe it or not, so is the Willis movie (although a different level of great, I’ll admit). He plays against type, and even the scene where it starts to look like just another Die Hard flick (when he comes out of the liquor store to save Mos Def’s well-realized character) changes pace quite quickly; I think Donner deliberately did the whole slo-mo thing at the start of it to sucker the viewer,and then amped it back to real life rather suddenly.


  21. says

    I envy your community movie experience. The last time I saw a movie in a theater the sound was so loud my wife resorted to ear plugs and I just managed to tolerate it. And this for an experience we paid for.

    Back in the 80’s I talked my brother into seeing Raiders of Lost Ark with me and sadly sat behind four teen or twenty-something women who talked through the entire showing. The experienced has not improved since then.

    My home theater, a twentyfive inch TV with no special sound system, is the current venue of choice.

  22. says

    This may be kind of obscure, but it was a brilliant cartoon called “Cats Don’t Dance”. The villainess concludes her song, electricity crackles around her face, and those evil, malevolant eyes are the last thing on the screen before all goes black. In that very short pause before the next scene, a little girl pipes up in the row behind me…

    “Mommy, I don’t like her”

    Perfect. :D

  23. Ian H Spedding says

    How about People’s Powerful Movie Experiences (PPME)? I’ll start it off by putting down two.

    2001: A Space Odyssey watched from front-and-centre in full Cinerama.

    Jaws – the whole audience jumping and screaming when the severed head fell through the hole in the upturned boat.

    The D-Day landings at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan

  24. Alexander Whiteside says

    Thanks for reminding me of my home town’s cinema/theatre. It was once art deco inside and out, but fell into disrepair on the inside the last time it closed down (shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 came out).

    It’s pretty much run as a charity now (literally was for a long time) so those involved take great pride in the building and keeping it clean. Most of the people who visit it are locals (plus the occasional tourist) so it’s invariably a nice place to be. The local theatre groups use it for pantomimes and plays, and there’s sometimes live music too.

    The benefits of small-town life.

  25. says

    I have posted in my blog about the movie theater, and I have to agree with most people here on reasons to stay far away from movie theater. Mostly the total lack of civility and consideration from people pretty much keeps me away. That and the fact I can get just about anything on DVD. Sure, I want to see “V for Vendetta,” but I know it will be on DVD soon enough. No movie is worth the aggravation from cellphone-toting morons. And if they gripe that they can’t live without it, just remind them what used to happen if you did not have one. You stepped the hell outside and went to the payphone to check on the babysitter or answer your pager (if you are a doctor for instance. A lame excuse these days. If stepping out worked before, I am sure it works fine now, you selfish people). Anyhow, nothing on this earth would convince me to go to a movie theater. And let’s not even go into the quality of movies or the price of the theater experience.