Across the harbor in Manhattan, audience noisemaking and activity are tabu except when they appear in more specialized situations (Rocky Horror Picture Show, which got its start at the Waverly in 1976 would be one example, and another, the sexual excesses at Variety Photoplays).
Otherwise, Manhattanites observe rigorous protocols, to this day, thanks to what remains of the Brahmin caste of serious movie watchers. Case in point: just Google “talking in a movie theater” and see what you get. When I did, the first thing that suggested itself was New York Times Crossword Answers, and the suggested offering was, “nono.” Shushing is your punishment at Lincoln Center Cinemas, and the Paris, while it still exists.
Serious movie buffs may not be quite as zealous as opera-goers (you know, that thing about unwrapping the cough drop in advance of the opera, because, forget talking, just unwrapping is a sin at the Met). As I said...serious moviegoers may not be quite as zealous as opera-goers, but they’re a close second. I don’t know about the Bronx and Queens, but Manhattan and Brooklyn have their etiquette, and you better keep your comments to yourself.
I’ve always assumed L.A. is more or less like Manhattan; but recently I happened on an L.A. Times piece on the effect theaters with recliners and full-service food appear to be having on what activities people choose to do in the dark facing a communally-observed screen. The author, a movie reviewer who attends a lot of matinees, was actually complaining about diaper changing!
Now that’s something nobody would have thought to do in 1976. The point Glenn Whip tried to make in his column is that “...by turning theaters into replicas of people’s homes, you are essentially creating an atmosphere where moviegoers are lulled into thinking they can behave as if they are actually relaxing in their own living rooms...”
Of course, the problem of inappropriate behavior in theaters isn’t confined to movie houses. Way back in 2014, but still relevant, theatergoers were complaining on broadwayworld.com about the behavior of other audience members — people who texted throughout the show and even videoed it. In one particular instance, the theater manager was pleased to be tipped off about the videographer, as cast members had seen her screen, but couldn’t pinpoint the exact row. She was ejected.
Back in 1976, we didn’t have anything like the tech we have today, which is why the world I describe in my posts seems almost medieval. No texting, selfies or apps possible back then; after a while you just had to settle in and watch! What a privilege! The “willing suspension of disbelief” to quote Coleridge was easily possible; these days, we have to struggle to suspend.
I’d like to refer back to Glenn Whip of the L.A. Times, who wonders if theaters should revert to using wooden church pews. That reminds me of how the first indoor movies, the nickelodeons, got their start: plain wooden benches, in some cases borrowed from funeral parlors. Great place to change a diaper!
There are numerous lists of bad movie etiquette out there, a good thing, as it means some people actually remember their childhoods.