What do you go to the cinema for? Stupid question. It's obvious, isn't it? I used to think it was. But increasingly, I'm not so sure. For many, the watching of the film now appears to be a by-product of the whole movie going experience. Almost an inconvenient disturbance.
Most of these extraneous activities are well documented, but they're worth repeating in the vague hope people decide that maybe they should try and avoid partaking in them, if only to be considerate enough to those in the auditorium who are there to, and I'll whisper this so as not annoy anyone, enjoy the BLOODY PICTURE.
The major irritants are:
Eating. I'm not opposed to it per se. Perish the thought anyone should go hungry. Although if someone can't wait for a couple of hours without stuffing their face with nachos, hotdogs and popcorn, it shows a certain lack of dietary discipline. What I'm opposed to is the loudness of the munching. Take the fellow audience member who was bang smack next to me during a recent weekend performance of Spectre. Even the very latest Dolby Atmos technology cranked up to 11 couldn't drown out the intensity of sound that accompanied her every mouthful. The deafening chomping was relentless. Heaven only knows where she was pulling the never ending stream of snacks from - I didn't dare look - but they lasted the whole length of the longest Bond extravaganza ever made. As the closing credits rolled, she then turned to her friend and exclaimed: "I really enjoyed that". I have a notion she didn't mean the film.
Sleeping. Bedrooms and boardrooms are for nodding off in and catching up with your rest, not multiplexes. Occasionally though, due to the acute tedium of the production, it's almost impossible to stay awake. Anyone who sat through The Fantastic Four will know the feeling. Therefore, I've long held the view that the BBFC should add a new classification - namely, the Z(zzzzzzz) certificate - signalling out any snoozefest as nothing more than movie Mogadon.
Talking. It's as if that couple behind you initially dropped into a busy branch of All Bar One and discovered they could hardly be heard over the din and decided instead to go to a nice quiet Odeon to carry on their conversation in peace. Whereupon, they engage in a series of exchanges which if it wasn't for the complete absence of humour, pathos, romanticism and charm could have come straight out of a Woody Allen script. Providing it was one of the early funny ones.
Smartphones. In-between making calls and sending texts (only permissible if you're Harvey Weinstein in a test screening - "Marty, it's sh*t, cut 50 minutes and reshoot the ending."), it's good to know people aren't entirely missing out on the magic of the moving image. The only shame is that what they're glued to is a succession of three minute You Tube clips on a five inch screen instead of a 119 minute full length feature on a 840 inch one.
Orphans of the storm. Treating the cinema as if it were their own home, they come in out of the rain, take their wet coat off and casually toss it over the seat in front of them - the one you're already sitting in. They then proceed to remove their shoes, so that their cheesy size 10s are inches from your nose. Finally, they cast off as many other layers of clothing as they see fit - Oh dear God , they're now down to their pants - eventually reaching a level of undress at least they feel comfortable with.
These bugbears alas are only the tip of the iceberg.
Others include the kissers, cuddlers and fumbling fornicators who you always seem to be hemmed in by, leaving you with no choice but to be the embarrassed and awkward bystander to their amorousness. Inevitably, this involves a great deal of sucking and slurping which confusingly is almost indistinguishable from all the other sucking and slurping going on around you, largely thanks to giant 44oz containers of cola.
Then there's the thoughtless soul who just as the movie is about to begin, stumbles in laden down with shopping bags containing half of Oxford Street. You look over at them and say to yourself: 'Don't, please don't', but it's useless. Without warning, they are the giant space rock in Michael Bay's Armageddon and they're heading your way.
As for those with a bladder weaker than the dialogue in Jurassic World, well, they also seem to constantly end up in your immediate vicinity. Every five minutes, with barely an "Excuse me", you're kicked in the shins as they stumble to get by on their way to relieve themselves.
What happened to the civility of cinema? If it ever existed, I fear it's gone the way of everything else that once upon a time made a trip to the flicks an event to delight in.
To bring back the joy, here are a few things I'd personally like to see the return of.
Usherettes. Like Rosa Klebb, only sexy, they checked your tickets and pointed their torch to where you should be sitting; the beam of light revealing the identities of those who had tried to sneak into the wrong seats as if they were East Germans trying to escape to the West, circa 1966 when Michael Caine was Harry Palmer in Funeral in Berlin.
Balconies. Paying a bit more allowed you to go upstairs. It felt as if you were turning left when entering a plane, and as a reward for your wealth and elevated position, you were allowed to throw Poppets onto the heads of the paupers in the stalls below.
Shorts. The equivalent of the restaurant starter. Be it a cartoon, a documentary or a fledgling director's first effort, these 1970s cinematic versions of prawn cocktail, whitebait and pate maison whetted your appetite for what was to come next.
Intermissions. Those 10 minute breaks when the projectionist changed the reels, thereby giving you time to go to the toilet, chat, get something to eat, engage in a bit of hanky-panky. In fact, all the infuriating things that these days people do during the actual film.
Double Bills. Once commonly seen, they're currently nothing more than a novelty on the independent circuit.
Where the movies are concerned, it's an oft-heard complaint that they don't make 'em like they used to. Unfortunately, the far bigger problem is that we simply don't watch 'em like we used to.
Now pass me that Kia-Ora. I'm suddenly feeling very thirsty for the past.