I’m curious. Can I love a theatrical experience for the crowd as much as I can hate it? We talk about the theatre as some discuss church. We love it. We admire it. We want it to be perfect. At the same time however the ways in which we enjoy it are flexible, and that flexibility comes from so many factors which are personal as well as external.
A couple of nights ago I went to my local — if movie theatres were religious denominations it would be the Lutheran headquarters of the world — theatre, Carib 5, to see Oculus, a film I was saddened I missed at TIFF from their Midnight Madness programme which I adore. Part of the alure of the Midnight Madness programme, in case you haven’t heard me tout it on any of the billion podcasts I’ve released in the last two years since I first ventured to Toronto, is that weird loveable crowd that gets behind the weirdest and goriest of horror films. They know that they’re dumb and enjoyable while still, at times, being down right frightening. When you’ve done a full day’s work or festing and you find yourself in a crowded theatre of people who will scream “RRRRRR!!!!” at a anti-piracy warning before the film comes on it’s glorious.
We’ve all written and talked about our hatred of poor cinema etiquette — and yes I can already sense your judgement at me calling it “cinema etiquette” — but let me skip passed complaining, we all know those complaints and they have been duly noted I feel. I’m curious about another element of this behaviour as well as how it becomes a complaint rather than something I enjoy.
The Crowd’s Behaviour?
I start wondering if horror as a genre brings these characters out? Films are, at their core, pieces of art that exist to affect us. And anything that affects us successfully will have a reaction, it’s only human and me complaining about that is as dumb as me thinking sunlight is dumb — and yes sunlight is dumb when it’s really really hot. I expect in comedies for audiences to laugh, in romances for us to cry, in dramas for us to gasp and in horror films for us to scream. Dependant on the kind of person you are you can copy and paste the right reaction to the right genre of film, and that’s okay — in case you needed my permission that is.
So the behaviour I’m talking about is this constant need to have a running commentary during the film in a public screening of a movie. Once again, this is a reaction and behaviour that I understand under the right context. Watching films at home it’s not unlike me, depending on the film, to start making jokes at the film’s expense rather than “properly” enjoying the film. However, the act of doing it in a public screening is odd. Even more odd is questioning whether it’s a fault/feature of the audience of this kind of film.
In the last five or so years of loving movies and frequenting my local cinema, wherever I am, as often as I have my worst experiences with audiences in this regard has always been in horror films. What is it about horror that does this to people?
The Genre’s Request For Reactions?
As I’ve already mentioned films are, by design, made to garner a reaction from the audience that watches them. Films are also, by design, unreal. While we love to discuss the Italian Neo-Realist movement, and even the modern “gritty” trend of filmmaking in the most unreal of stories it’s required, I feel, to understand that films as a basic commodity are not real. They are — even in their most earnest moments — are skewed and twisted perversions of reality that we decide to invest ourselves in so that we react and enjoy.
So why do horror films, more than any other genre, get this kind of reaction? The lack of belief of the fact that the girl is running screaming up the stairs away from the knife wielding psychopath?
Usually in reality when we can’t understand something people tend to repeat it just for the sake of doing so. I believe it’s because we just can’t accept this thing as fact. Take for example the story of the 1989 Tiananman Square Protest, which many will know by the famous image of the man standing in front of a tank trying to stop it from progressing, which as an image is insane. However, going further than that post this protest the Chinese government has cracked down on the discussion of what actually happened so hard (and so well) that for the most part people aren’t even sure what really happened during that world event.
When I talk about this fact of our world they sit in disbelief and can’t understand it so much that the first thing they say to me in response is to actually repeat it as if it’s the headline out of the next day’s newspaper. Is this the same psychological reaction that horror audiences are having? Is this why I had to endure the audience I did a few nights ago watching Oculus?
When I Think It’s OKAY?
So coming back to the mention of TIFF’s Midnight Madness audience, and others I guess.
I’m not so unlucky. I’ve had wonderful audiences. Audiences that I’d be happy to call myself a part of where collectively we’ve decided that we’re going to enjoy the heck out of a movie. Even in the horror genre. One of my favoured film going experiences was at the same Carib 5 watching Drag Me To Hell. Something about that audience understood Raimi’s kind of schlock and embraced it. I can even remember audience members throwing out a few jokes at the film and it made the audience, myself included, more accepting of the film. It even made the film itself better. Which is part of the reason I have such fond feelings towards the Midnight Madness crowd at TIFF. They go in with the most earnest of intentions when they enjoy those films. If someone breaks the clear cut rules of cinema etiquette they do it to help enhance the viewing experience for everyone in the theatre as opposed to being just for themselves.
Looking back at what I’ve written above, which I wonder at and others may call really hard bullshit on, I have to ask whether I’ve just explained my entire perception of the asshats in the theatre sitting beside me who can’t understand why I get angry and ask them to shut up. Or maybe I’m just giving a really detailed explanation of how much I’m a crazy person. I don’t know. I don’t even know why I’m ever going to press publish on this one. I just felt like writing and these thoughts and feelings came out of my fingertips.
What do you think about the idea of audiences relating to different genres of film?