I have a slightly uneasy relationship with the Wachowskis. I enjoyed The Matrix, but I'm not sure it really holds up on subsequent viewings. The first Matrix sequel was so frustrating, I swore off the Wachowskis. I still haven't seen V for Vendetta. But then Speed Racer happened. And I loved Speed Racer. (Seriously, this is an underrated film, and if you haven't seen it, you should take the time to watch it. It's worth it, stylized and fun, and, to me at least, exactly what a live action adaptation of that tv show should be.)
Recently, sm and I saw Cloud Atlas.1 We think we really liked it...?
There were distractions.
I go to the movies a lot, and I deal with my fair share of annoying audiences, but this was something else.
I actually thought that it would be a fairly empty theater - the movie had been out for a while and didn't seem to get the kind of popular reception that would draw the typical attendee of this particular theater.
I was wrong.
The theater was packed, every seat sold (maybe even oversold), and people kept coming in for the first 20 minutes of the film.
Apparently these particular viewers never learned how to behave in a theater.
There was a lot of talking. And by talking, I mean: not the generally acceptable slight murmur to the person sitting next to you, but talking, laughing, shouting, mostly not about the film at all, and loudly enough that we couldn’t actually hear the dialogue for the first several minutes of the movie, and at various points later on.
Part of this could, in a way, be blamed on the theater itself. For some reason, the managers decided to air only one trailer, so when the movie actually started, most of the audience didn’t realize it. Interesting, isn’t it, how conditioned we are by the 15 minutes of pre-programming that run at AMC or Regal before the lights even start to come down and the additional 20 minutes of previews play? I’ve never thought about it before, but that pre-show, like the shorts of the the past, really serve a purpose in prepping the audience. Not having it, at this independently run movie theater, was a bit of a shock.
But not all of it can be blamed on the theater. An audience goes to a movie knowing they are seeing a movie. They should be ready, the moment the lights dim, to settle into their seats and watch the film.
During this movie there was so much talking that there was literally2 a hum coming from all around us, pervasive and omnipresent.
But it wasn’t just from the talking. It was the answering of phones, the walking in and out of the theater, the food wrappers (seriously, I’ve never heard so many!), the door opening and closing. The woman who yelled at her kids for making noise.3 The crowds of kids who kept entering and exiting the theater.
There was the woman who came in really late and stood in the doorway, with the light from the hallway streaming in, while she searched for a seat. She finally sat in the front, and wouldn’t you know it, she had verytall hair. Throughout the film, she stood up, moved around, and blocked the screen at least six times during the three hour movie. For those keeping score at home, that’s once every thirty minutes.
And there was the creepy guy who hung out by the wall for fifteen minutes before he decided on a seat. He kept edging in close to us and then backing up again. It was... awkward.
But all of that, I could have handled, and written off as annoying, but not the end of the world. But this audience did something that was unforgivable.
There were people in this audience who could not handle the content of the film and so they loudly made fun of it.
Spoiler alert:Cloud Atlas is about human existence and nature, among other things, so there is a lot of violence and a lot of sex, including some sexual pairings that are outside the norm of what is portrayed in mainstream filmmaking.
Now, the audience was fine with the violence. For the most part, they barely batted an eye. But anything that was vaguely sexual drew loud commentary.4 They loudly discussed one actress’s nude body, and how unappealing they found it. They couldn’t handle the onscreen depiction of gay love. And they really couldn’t handle the idea of an older couple getting it on. (And, it should be noted, this was only hinted at, not shown on screen.)
And that made this the worst audience I have ever encountered.
I spend a lot of time watching films and thinking about how the audience deserved better. Sometimes they are good films that could have been great, sometimes they are bad films that could have been good, and sometimes they are abysmal films that shouldn’t have ever been greenlit.
But Cloud Atlas is different. It is, I suspect, an incredible film. Smart, well-woven, eloquent. It expects a lot from its viewers, in the best possible way. This audience never rose up to that challenge. This audience failed it. Cloud Atlas deserves better.
Now hopefully, you’ve read this and thought, “Wow, that sounds awful! I’m glad I’ve never been a contributing part of such a bad movie-going experience!” I’m sure you are all masters at being theater-going audience members. But just in case you aren’t, or on the off-chance that you know someone who isn’t, my next post is going to talk about some theater-going guidelines to help you level up as an audience member.
1 Well, actually we saw it about a month and a half ago now, a few weeks after it was first released, but I’m only getting around to talking about it now. Which is okay, since this isn’t a post about Cloud Atlas. Even if it was, it would still be okay.
2 And I don’t use this word lightly.
3 I swear, I’m not making this up.
4 I am actively putting aside how sad it is that we handle violent scenes like a pro, but can’t do the same with love. That’s a conversation for another time.
Cloud Atlas. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski. Warner Brothers, 2013. Film.
Speed Racer. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Warner Brothers, 2008. Film.