16 July 2012


It isn't often that I allow my inner curmudgeon out in public.  The poor grumbling fellow is kept in reluctant confinement, released only when in the company of fellow curmudgeons, or when extreme circumstances warrant unleashing him on some unsuspecting moron who is just begging to be set straight.

Today is feast day ~ a rant against an entire class of human beings whose intrusive self-indulgence irritates me almost to homicide.  Here's the setup ~ when I pay the exorbitant admission fee at a movie theater, I do so with the expectation of cinematic drama, spectacle, or whimsy.  In my lexicon, a "movie" is entertainment for the masses, the lowest common denominator.  A "film" is a work of art, and should be absorbed with respect for the craft, regardless of how many stars you may assign to it afterward.  In either case, the intent is entertainment, and hopefully enlightenment.

Increasingly over the past 30 or 40 years (keeping pace with our nation's entry into obesity), for many people going to the movies now includes a ritual of gluttony.  People line up at the snack bar in the lobby (which is the real financial ripoff for movie-goers), pay through the nose for junk food laden with salt and fat and empty calories, with no redeeming nutritional value, load up an entire tray with half a dozen containers of drek, and then proceed to find a seat in the theater (usually the seat next to me or immediately behind me) .... where they proceed to stuff their faces as noisily as possible, crinkling wrappers, rummaging through popcorn, and sucking on soda straws.

And this is before the movie even begins, during the commercials and film previews.  It isn't uncommon for people to make a second trip to the snack bar, just minutes into the actual movie.  Visions of someone tripping in the darkness and spilling a carbonated beverage down my back, dance in my head.  The gustatory orgy goes on for up to an hour into the film.

Arriving early to pick a seat away from likely-looking porkers sometimes works, but not always. Many junk food junkies think nothing of arriving at the last moment, then sitting ~ you guessed it, right next to my ear.  The ritual of eating to excess in theaters genuinely puzzles me.  Could these people not have eaten a real meal before leaving home?  What is it about noisily grazing on greasy popcorn or sugary snacks that requires being in a movie theater?  It's surely not a social event, like a meal where people dine while talking to each other.  These swine (and I refer only to noisy eaters, not to quiet ones) are staring at the screen, their hands on automatic pilot ferrying food from container to mouth.  Where's the real pleasure?

If I owned a theater (one of my fantasies, since I would book quality films that the public doesn't normally get to see), there would be spacious and comfortable seating, but there would be no snack bar.  Anyone caught sneaking in food or drink would be escorted outside by hulking jack-booted bouncers, no refunds, you're welcome.  (Well, maybe not jack-booted.)  You're here for the movie, the film, and for the repartee among the audience beforehand and afterward.  Think about it.

I do give affectionate credit to one art house for its approach to mixing food with film ~ the rather exotic Baghdad Theater & Pub in southeast Portland, Oregon, has a street-level pub and restaurant, as well as a snack counter for movie-goers.  Here's what's interesting ~ both the theater main level and the balcony have actual tables and chairs, rather than Spartan rows of seats (see image above, click to enlarge).  There patrons can enjoy a pizza and a glass of ale while they watch the presentation.  Spacing seating rows apart from each other is a nice touch, and minimizes noisy intrusion between neighbors.  Pretty cool.  The last time I was there was in the late 1990s, so I don't know if that arrangement still exists.  I rather hope so. If you're ever in Portland (and everyone should experience the city at least once), check it out.

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