Monday 26 September 2016

James Dempsey: Where do we draw the line at anti-social behaviour at the cinema?

Published 23/11/2012 | 15:27

Man sitting in empty cinema
Man sitting in empty cinema

YOU get four minutes just after the first half hour.

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Don’t worry if you miss it, there’s still time to finish slurping on that bucket of cola, or to shovel the now luke-warm puddle of sherberty ice mush left at the bottom of the cup down your gullet. After all, there’s a second chance in Silver Linings Playbook, at the 1 hour, 7 minute mark, right after Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany turns to Bradley Cooper’s Pat and plaintively says, “That’s a feeling.”

Whether or not writer-director David O. Russell meant that feeling to be an aching bladder remains to be seen, but RunPee, a smartphone app dedicated to finding the most opportune windows to relieve oneself during a movie, thinks so.

Created by Dan Florio, and staffed by members of his immediate family, RunPee advises you when to dash for that slash, filling you in on what you’re missing while you’re busy trying not to miss the bowl. For €0.89, this ingenious app will be a lifesaver for countless movie fans, the kind of cinemagoer for whom no beverage is too big in the quest for hydration.

For others, though, this app is surely taking the piss, committing a double whammy of cinematic faux pas: not only by encouraging patrons to get up and take a leak in the middle of the show, but to also check their phones in the hallowed darkness of the multiplex.

Like a moth to a flame, try as you might, you cannot look away from the pearly iridescent light burning into your retinae. It’s like a solar eclipse, hypnotically pulling your focus from the screen and sending your blood boiling. Some merely scoff, tut-tutting their disapproval with labial clicks and pointed sighs.

Others get vocal, politely grunting “Do you mind?” through gritted teeth or bellowing “Turn off your phone!” like the incredible sulk. Sometimes the heated debate which follows is more entertaining than the film, and the rain of greasy popcorn launched in their direction by wayward teens is a satisfying end, provided none of it finds its way towards you.

It’s hard to know just where to draw the line at anti-social behaviour at the cinema. It’s very easy to point the finger at the Johnny-Come-Latelies, the Jenny-Reads-Texties, the nose-whistling mouth-breathers, and leg-hopping aisle-shakers without making amends for our own past grievances.

Have you never sneaked a peek at a phone, nor put your legs up on the seat in front? Perhaps you are courteous enough to unwrap each of your sweets individually before entering the screen, or do you rustle with crinkling plastic while someone on screen dies a laboured cancer-ridden death in the middle of a weepie?

Asking around my friends, the stories of what’s deemed unforgivable vary wildly; on the milder side, robbing pre-booked seats, making lewd catcalls at the actors and choosing a seat right beside you when there are loads of free ones readily available. On the wilder, eating a tin of tuna, shouting at the screen telling the actors to shut up, and in one particularly questionable story, a patron in the seat in front pleasuring himself.

Film reviewers don’t fare much better, with those professionally paid to sit there and take it all in equally unable to ignore the siren song of the Samsung and cannot but cast their eyes on iPhone screens. And we’re only human, so bladders fill and need emptying, but you’d be surprised how many opinion-defining critics up and leave during pivotal moments. So much for suffering for our art.

In the end, the best way is accepting that going to a cinema, seeing the film on that massive screen, is a public event. The collective mood of the crowd will affect your viewing pleasure, making the funny funnier and the scary scarier.

If you have a problem with loud people, inform the ushers before the shushers get out of hand and it ends up in a brawl. You’ve paid your hard-earned money, and are entitled to a service, and besides, you’ll need to be listening out for your RunPee cue to leave.

Follow James: @jim_on_a_whim

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