What are you thinking?

I’m interrupting my own train of thought today.  I had intended to write a series of entries about pulp mysteries, with last week’s post about Dr. Mabuse leading into what was supposed to be this week’s look at Fantomas. . . and we’ll still get to Fantomas, I’ve just abruptly decided to interrupt that series this weekend because I just had a WTF moment I simply had to comment on.

On Thanksgiving day, I finally caught up with Skyfall (and the verdict is: my wife’s favorite James Bond movie to date, although my son thought it had some plausibility problems worthy of the Mythbusters).  But here’s the thing: 5 minutes from the end of the movie, during the dramatic and emotional climax, an elderly couple came into the theater and took their seats directly in front of me.

What were they thinking?  Why would you walk into a movie at the very end?

 

I mean, if you showed up at the theater 2 ½ hours late for your intended screening, then just buy a ticket for the next show, right?  Or, if you did buy a ticket to the next show, then shouldn’t you wait until it starts?  And if you actually bought a ticket to a different movie altogether, then you shouldn’t really be in this auditorium at all.

My outrage is exaggerated—I actually know full well why they came in at the end like that (or at least I have a plausible scenario).  My grandfather used to do that all the time.

Never once did he ever consult a theater schedule to see what was playing when.  If he decided he felt like seeing a movie, he would simply immediately go to whatever happened to be the nearest theater at the time and buy a ticket to whatever sounded OK, then go straight in.  It didn’t matter where he was in the story—beginning, middle, end, randomly selected.  He’d just stay put through the next screening until he caught up with where he came in, and then leave.

 

It was maddening to go to the movies with him—this cavalier way of disregarding how the filmmaker wanted their movie to be experienced struck me as disrespectful.  But you have to give it to the guy—this was terribly efficient.  Attending a movie from start to finish forces you to adhere to someone else’s schedule.  We intended to see an earlier screening of Skyfall but got caught in traffic and arrived at the theater 40 minutes late—so we dutifully killed time until the next show came around, which was wasteful and kind of frustrating.  My grandfather was a busy man (CEO of an energy company) and would never let someone else’s schedule dictate when he did anything.  He wouldn’t have squandered precious minutes at a Starbucks waiting for the next show to start—he’d have just gone in.  And if that meant, y’know, sometimes arriving just in time to see the very end, well, them’s the breaks.

Although I can define this strange behavior in terms of my grandfather’s distinctive personality, I also know it wasn’t unique to him.  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was marketed specifically with an admonition to the audience not to just saunter into screenings whenever they pleased, but to respect the advertised start times.  Which is, frankly, an outright bizarre thing to have to even address.  I mean, it’s not like people are in the habit of picking up books, flipping randomly to some point in the middle, reading from there to the end, and starting over at the beginning.

 

Certainly the experience of watching movies on TV encouraged the habit of cinema interruptus, and in general allowed audiences to become more casual and disconnected from the movie experience, but I have it on good authority from other family members that my grandfather approached movies this way long before he ever had a TV, and the Psycho marketing campaign implies that this was a widespread audience inclination prior to 1960, so I don’t think we can blame it on TV.

Instead it could be argued that this casual approach to screenings is rooted in the roadshow origins of film—that back in the late 1800s when movies first flourished, they tended to be shown in impromptu theatrical settings that encouraged viewers rotating in and out casually.  The gradual accretion of more serious theatrical trappings built up an infrastructure that mimicked the traditions of the legitimate stage, but never completely shook loose from those carnival-like origins.

Regardless of where the habit originated, it’s fair to say that filmmakers were forced to restrict their storytelling techniques to the most linear and easy-to-follow when they had to accommodate an audience that refused to play along.  The complex storytelling techniques of recent artists like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderburgh, and Christopher Nolan would have failed completely before pre-Pyscho audiences.  Can you imagine walking into Fight Club during the last 5 minutes, then watching it from the beginning?  What a way to cheat yourself. The only way more sophisticated narrative structures can develop is when the audience pays attention.

Along those lines, I’m not at all surprised that more complex and demanding approaches to storytelling have developed on TV in conjunction with the advent of DVRs.  This isn’t a coincidence—there’s no point mapping out some densely plotted multi-season arc if you think your biggest audience will encounter your episodes out of order in syndication.

I’m a busy person, too.  I become more like my grandfather every year—but this is one place I intend to hold a firm line.  Yes, waiting at Starbucks wasted a huge chunk of my day—and for that I blame traffic jams.  Curse you, Chicago traffic.  But that’s the price I have to pay to be able to see a movie from start to finish, on the filmmaker’s schedule.

0 Response What are you thinking?
Posted By Carol : November 24, 2012 11:43 am

Or the ticket was misprinted, which happened to me at a multiplex in 2005. Three of us bought tickets for a movie and sat down in the auditorium listed, also as directed by the theatre employees. We had arrived a couple of minutes late, so assumed that what was onscreen was a trailer. After a few minutes of growing confusion, the movie ended and we realized that we must be in the wrong place. Further investigation revealed the error on the theatre’s part. By that time we had missed a fair bit of the movie we had intended to see, so we ended up settling for something else entirely rather than wait for the next showing (none of us wanted to see the first part of the movie we walked in on, which was Syriana).

Your scenario sounds more plausible though.

Posted By Carol : November 24, 2012 11:43 am

Or the ticket was misprinted, which happened to me at a multiplex in 2005. Three of us bought tickets for a movie and sat down in the auditorium listed, also as directed by the theatre employees. We had arrived a couple of minutes late, so assumed that what was onscreen was a trailer. After a few minutes of growing confusion, the movie ended and we realized that we must be in the wrong place. Further investigation revealed the error on the theatre’s part. By that time we had missed a fair bit of the movie we had intended to see, so we ended up settling for something else entirely rather than wait for the next showing (none of us wanted to see the first part of the movie we walked in on, which was Syriana).

Your scenario sounds more plausible though.

Posted By Lamar : November 24, 2012 1:19 pm

I remember when it wasn’t unusual to enter the auditorium at a movie theatre and start watching from there. I never did it but it was pretty common. All the downtown movie houses opened at 8am with “continuous performances” all day and this continued well into the 1970s. People would drift in and out all day long.

Posted By Lamar : November 24, 2012 1:19 pm

I remember when it wasn’t unusual to enter the auditorium at a movie theatre and start watching from there. I never did it but it was pretty common. All the downtown movie houses opened at 8am with “continuous performances” all day and this continued well into the 1970s. People would drift in and out all day long.

Posted By Benboom : November 24, 2012 1:44 pm

Hm…if they had been younger would you have said “a couple the same age as me”? No, here what you’re doing is implying that because they are older they did this. Not fair at all.

Posted By Benboom : November 24, 2012 1:44 pm

Hm…if they had been younger would you have said “a couple the same age as me”? No, here what you’re doing is implying that because they are older they did this. Not fair at all.

Posted By davidkalat : November 24, 2012 2:48 pm

Benboom– I noted the couple’s age because I wanted to connect their actions to what I perceive as a theater-going habit of the past. I believe a younger couple would be less likely to intentionally enter a film at the end, but I’m looking forward to the comments section sharing their own experiences, as a way of checking my thesis.

Posted By davidkalat : November 24, 2012 2:48 pm

Benboom– I noted the couple’s age because I wanted to connect their actions to what I perceive as a theater-going habit of the past. I believe a younger couple would be less likely to intentionally enter a film at the end, but I’m looking forward to the comments section sharing their own experiences, as a way of checking my thesis.

Posted By Stu Detroit : November 25, 2012 10:14 am

When I was too young to go to the movies on my own, my older brother took me to movies in exactly the way you describe. I remember that it had some pleasures – figuring out who the characters were, and how they’d arrived at that particular point in the story — and the satisfaction of finding out whether I was right when the beginning of the move finally unspooled. The movie “Memento” brought back some of those feelings.

Posted By Stu Detroit : November 25, 2012 10:14 am

When I was too young to go to the movies on my own, my older brother took me to movies in exactly the way you describe. I remember that it had some pleasures – figuring out who the characters were, and how they’d arrived at that particular point in the story — and the satisfaction of finding out whether I was right when the beginning of the move finally unspooled. The movie “Memento” brought back some of those feelings.

Posted By Doug : November 25, 2012 3:24 pm

David, call me new fashioned, but I wouldn’t consider coming into a movie past the opening. If I’m late, I’ll wait. With multiplex theaters, there’s always another showing about to show up.

Posted By Doug : November 25, 2012 3:24 pm

David, call me new fashioned, but I wouldn’t consider coming into a movie past the opening. If I’m late, I’ll wait. With multiplex theaters, there’s always another showing about to show up.

Posted By Jonathan : November 26, 2012 3:49 am

“Can you imagine walking into Fight Club during the last 5 minutes, then watching it from the beginning? What a way to cheat yourself.”

Actually, I did do that, twice. Once for Fight Club and another time for A Face In The Crowd at a revival house. For Fight Club, I got the times confused and with the a different screen.

I am that type of guy.

Posted By Jonathan : November 26, 2012 3:49 am

“Can you imagine walking into Fight Club during the last 5 minutes, then watching it from the beginning? What a way to cheat yourself.”

Actually, I did do that, twice. Once for Fight Club and another time for A Face In The Crowd at a revival house. For Fight Club, I got the times confused and with the a different screen.

I am that type of guy.

Posted By chris : November 26, 2012 6:33 am

I’m like Alvy Singer: if the opening credits have already begun, I gotta wait til another time to see the movie.

Posted By chris : November 26, 2012 6:33 am

I’m like Alvy Singer: if the opening credits have already begun, I gotta wait til another time to see the movie.

Posted By 42nd Street Memories : November 26, 2012 7:35 am

Although I wouldn’t think if it today, entering a screening after the start was pretty common for me during my youth. In the 50s, 60s, dad and I would attend a double feature on 42nd Street in NYC.

First off, when we left the apartment we didn’t even know what we were going to see since the theaters on 42nd didn’t advertise. Imagine that today.

This was usually done after dinner (sometimes on a school night)and the selection process might take a while after I scanned the posters and stills outside the ten theaters that I could choose from.

Frequently we would end up at the Times Square theater which always had “Two Action Hits!” Most times two “B” westerns and we could sit there for a while before we even knew which movie we were watching.

After a few hours, either dad or I would recognize a scene and whisper “This is where we came in”.

Posted By 42nd Street Memories : November 26, 2012 7:35 am

Although I wouldn’t think if it today, entering a screening after the start was pretty common for me during my youth. In the 50s, 60s, dad and I would attend a double feature on 42nd Street in NYC.

First off, when we left the apartment we didn’t even know what we were going to see since the theaters on 42nd didn’t advertise. Imagine that today.

This was usually done after dinner (sometimes on a school night)and the selection process might take a while after I scanned the posters and stills outside the ten theaters that I could choose from.

Frequently we would end up at the Times Square theater which always had “Two Action Hits!” Most times two “B” westerns and we could sit there for a while before we even knew which movie we were watching.

After a few hours, either dad or I would recognize a scene and whisper “This is where we came in”.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 11:24 am

How soon we forget the common phrase, “This is where we came in,” which would have been uttered frequently by moviegoers during the pre-Psycho days, when a night at the movies would usually encompass either a main feature or a double feature (with “A” and “B” titles), plus an assortment of trailers, cartoons, newsreels (even in the age of TV), comedy shorts, local and national advertisements, public service announcements and so on. They’d play in sequence (all the short stuff would probably be edited together on one reel) and when the loop closed at the moment you came in, you’d call it a night.

I had the opportunity to have a look around a local vintage movie house a few days before it was torn down (okay, we broke in), and since I live in a naval town that would have been busy around the clock during the Second World War, I discovered that the projection booth had a one-room apartment right next door, perhaps to accomodate the poor sap who had to show the late night/early morning screenings that took place for all the shift workers from the shipyards and army bases around town. I don’t know if the movie theatre ran 24 hours, but a look at the newspaper microfilm shows they did run for more of the day than they do currently.

Posted By swac44 : November 26, 2012 11:24 am

How soon we forget the common phrase, “This is where we came in,” which would have been uttered frequently by moviegoers during the pre-Psycho days, when a night at the movies would usually encompass either a main feature or a double feature (with “A” and “B” titles), plus an assortment of trailers, cartoons, newsreels (even in the age of TV), comedy shorts, local and national advertisements, public service announcements and so on. They’d play in sequence (all the short stuff would probably be edited together on one reel) and when the loop closed at the moment you came in, you’d call it a night.

I had the opportunity to have a look around a local vintage movie house a few days before it was torn down (okay, we broke in), and since I live in a naval town that would have been busy around the clock during the Second World War, I discovered that the projection booth had a one-room apartment right next door, perhaps to accomodate the poor sap who had to show the late night/early morning screenings that took place for all the shift workers from the shipyards and army bases around town. I don’t know if the movie theatre ran 24 hours, but a look at the newspaper microfilm shows they did run for more of the day than they do currently.

Posted By fumanchu32 : November 28, 2012 2:30 am

Maybe they weren’t there to watch the movie.

Posted By fumanchu32 : November 28, 2012 2:30 am

Maybe they weren’t there to watch the movie.

Posted By YancySkancy : November 28, 2012 5:35 pm

Yeah, a ticket purchase used to be good for the whole day, basically. In my small town, even a theater showing a single feature would let you sit through it again, if you wanted. I remember sitting through PLAY MISTY FOR ME twice when I was about 13, because my cousin and I didn’t remember seeing a character who was listed in the end credits. (How a couple of unescorted 13-year-olds got into an R-rated picture, I’m not sure.)

Posted By YancySkancy : November 28, 2012 5:35 pm

Yeah, a ticket purchase used to be good for the whole day, basically. In my small town, even a theater showing a single feature would let you sit through it again, if you wanted. I remember sitting through PLAY MISTY FOR ME twice when I was about 13, because my cousin and I didn’t remember seeing a character who was listed in the end credits. (How a couple of unescorted 13-year-olds got into an R-rated picture, I’m not sure.)

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : November 29, 2012 6:33 am

I think theatres probably would still let you sit there nowadays — hoping you’d buy more $10 popcorn — unless they were really full up …

Has anyone made the obvious point that an elderly couple who had arrived and purchased tickets to the next screening may well have simply wished to SIT DOWN rather than stand around the lobby!

Or I suppose the mean quip would be that if they were elderly enough, they may even forget the denouement entirely by the time it comes back around — in which case one could hardly consider their enjoyment to be lessened anyhow !!!

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : November 29, 2012 6:33 am

I think theatres probably would still let you sit there nowadays — hoping you’d buy more $10 popcorn — unless they were really full up …

Has anyone made the obvious point that an elderly couple who had arrived and purchased tickets to the next screening may well have simply wished to SIT DOWN rather than stand around the lobby!

Or I suppose the mean quip would be that if they were elderly enough, they may even forget the denouement entirely by the time it comes back around — in which case one could hardly consider their enjoyment to be lessened anyhow !!!

Posted By Qalice : November 29, 2012 7:35 pm

I know that this used to be commonplace, and I learned that from a friend of my mother who took us all to a movie named “Ring of Bright Water” without consulting showtimes. I was young and couldn’t figure out why the credits happened in the middle! I saw the “Conan the Barbarian” sequel with the reels out of order many years later — and that taught me the secret. Your mind puts the movie together in order later.

Posted By Qalice : November 29, 2012 7:35 pm

I know that this used to be commonplace, and I learned that from a friend of my mother who took us all to a movie named “Ring of Bright Water” without consulting showtimes. I was young and couldn’t figure out why the credits happened in the middle! I saw the “Conan the Barbarian” sequel with the reels out of order many years later — and that taught me the secret. Your mind puts the movie together in order later.

Posted By Jmart : December 1, 2012 4:05 pm

I think they were just tired and wanted to sit down.

Posted By Jmart : December 1, 2012 4:05 pm

I think they were just tired and wanted to sit down.

Posted By robbushblog : December 5, 2012 11:12 am

This is actually a pet peeve of mine, along with people who leave five minutes before the movie ends and people who leave football games before they end. Irritating.

Posted By robbushblog : December 5, 2012 11:12 am

This is actually a pet peeve of mine, along with people who leave five minutes before the movie ends and people who leave football games before they end. Irritating.

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