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Meme of the Moment: Cinema Code of Conduct

Note: You can find the full list of participating blogs here. Kudos to all involved, and especially to CinemaScream for putting it together.

I feel somewhat humbled to open this post with an admission of a breach of blogging etiquette. Those who frequent the site might have noticed that I have been somewhat absent from the blogging world in the past few months – my postings are sporadic, cobbled together from a car ride or bus ride on an iPhone screen. I won’t dare to make a series of excuses about how things have gone upside down of late, or make reference to increasing commitments. We all have those, and yet most manage it far better. Anyway, I owe a sincere apology to CinemaScream – I agreed to take part in this rather ingenious (and thoroughly practical) meme, but it completely slipped my mind. So this post is somewhat more haphazard than usual. But only somewhat.

Basically, the Cinema Code of Conduct (as proposed by Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo) is intended to make going to the cinema a far more pleasant experience for those involved. In this era of mobile phones and iPods and such, it’s a rather wonderful idea to attempt to codify the behaviour that should be considered acceptable in modern cinemas. I really wish that a few major chains would consciously publicise the list to promote it among movie-goers. The ten items, included below, are not excessively harsh or intrusive – they are in fact relatively minor things which, if everybody did them, would make going to the cinema a much more enjoyable experience.

It is also worth noting that Debrett, the etiquette authority, produced their own five-point guidelines to acceptable behaviour in cinemas:

  • Refrain from kicking the seat in front of you – get comfortable before the film starts and sit still
  • Don’t talk or whisper with your companions during the film – your chatter will be disruptive for others
  • Being overly affectionate in public is embarrassing for others, so keep back-row smooching to a minimum
  • Be punctual for the start of the film. Nobody wants their viewing interrupted by you trying to find a seat
  • Don’t rustle sweet wrappers. Open packets before the show starts, or wait for noisy scenes to avoid disturbing your neighbours

I must confess that I have violated at least two of those. I’ll leave you to guess which two.

The Meme asks me to suggest a possible eleventh rule to be added to the original ten. Ten is a nice number, and it fits the template (perhaps these should be “Cinematic Commandments”). However, looking at the above list, they are all prohibitive – they all list things you can’t or shouldn’t do (they all start with “no”). In fairness, that’s the way that Western society works, your freedom is generally treated as absolute (and couched in abstract terms like “life”, “speech” and “liberty”) save a couple of rather pointed qualifications. We don’t much care for general obligations – just try not to interfere with anyone else, really.

So it seems a bit trite to offer another prohibition as my mythical eleventh entry on the list, when the guys pretty thoroughly cover the bulk of objectionable behaviour. The only other things I could think of to ban are things like chewing gum (because you know where that ends up) or the rather scumbag-esque habit of putting your feet up on the seat in front of you. However, neither of these seem important or grand enough for a possible proclamation.

A shining example of cinema...

So, let’s go for gold, here. Let’s be as pretentious as we like to be. Let’s throw something crazy out there. Let’s dare to put an obligation in the lap of movie-goers. Instead of commanding you to curtail an activity that you enjoy or don’t think twice about, let’s actually put the onus on you to make something of that ninety minutes of your life. Sure, this sounds very condescending and partonising – and I don’t mean it to, but it comes out that way, but here goes…

Think.

Too much entertainment these days is built around the premise that you go into a dark room, see something which affects you viscerally (or… doesn’t), turn the lights up and go home. As if you might as well be lightly snoozing for the hour-and-a-half watching the dreams of Tony Scott or whoever. This sounds incredibly patronising to say, but how many film-goers forget a film immediately after walking out of a screening?

One of the best parts of a movie isn’t the big car chase in the middle, nor the lead performance. It’s what happens after. It’s that bit when I kick around the idea in my head a bit, and I see a little bit of genius in a film that I missed or spot a problem that I didn’t see when it played out the first time. I google movies to find out what people far smarter than me have made of it, and then I factor that into my own opinion of it – do I agree or disagree.

I am not talking about crazy things like whether The Shining is the story of Native Americans, but even things as elementary as what happens if you take the movie’s ideas and extrapolate from them. What does The Reader have to say about the Holocaust, for example? How does a given movie treat women? What does The Blind Side say about race?

Even more than that – think about how it made you feel the way it did. How did it get you to invest, what cinematic tricks did it use? What made it work, and what held it back? Did anything give you pause?

There are those who will suggest that this doesn’t do a movie justice, that you might “overthink” it or that by looking too closely you might kill some of that celluloid magic. I don’t think good movies suffer from over-analysis – quite the opposite, I am certain that theses have been written on Airplane!.

A good magician, a really skilled one, wants you to try to figure out the trick – he might not want you to succeed, but he wants to know that he captured your imagination for more than the five minutes he was on-stage. In fact, the real magic doesn’t disappear when you focus on it, it becomes increasingly beautiful and complex.

Conversations off the back of this are absolutely ingenious and – to me – the best part of the experience is discussing it afterwards, throwing out ideas and perhaps finding something clever with a proper sparring partner. Too many movies these days actually aspire to be forgettable and disposable – as if that’s a virtue – and hide fairly frustrating subtext. Surely the quality of movies would improve if everybody expected a bit more or took a closer look at the films.

I admit that I sound a bit patronising – or even just cranky. I apologise. But I do think that the audience doesn’t just owe it to their fellow movie-goers not to disrupt a film experience, but that (at the price of tickets) they probably owe something to themselves.

5 Responses

  1. Great point Darren. This is actually one of the main reason I absolutely refuse to see two movies in one day or even 3 or 4 movies in a week. I like to let my mind wander around a movie for a day or two (or more if it was good) and it doesn’t do justice to many movies to forget about them right away.

    • I’m with you on this one, too. Besides the ethical issue of theater jumping, my brain is usually still stuck on the first one anyway, well unless I deliberately want to forget something I just watched (i.e. Expendables), which I wish I could banish from my memory forever.

      • If you want to forget The Expendables, watch The Last Airbender – Your disbelief at the fact that a film can be that bad will quickly replace the painful memories of an Expendables viewing. I only made it through about ten minutes before walking out…Don’t ask how I ended up there in the first place.

  2. good shout. having a chat about a movie afterwards is often as good as watching the bloody thing itself. i often find my initial score in my head for a film (we all do that, surely?) will change from the time i leave the cinema to a few hours later when ive had time to think about how good/crap it was.

  3. Probably my favorite of the original, additional codes of conduct. People tend to treat art as disposable, something they shut their brain off to and zone out over for a couple of hours. Just don’t do it, people. You’re smarter than that. (At least, that’s my optimistic belief.)

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