THE FIRST time it happened—one kid in a movie calling another on the other side of the theater to talk about the film—I wasn’t sure what was happening.
When it happened several more times during the show, it became clear that one rude kid wanted to gab with a friend several rows away about twists in the film. So they just kept calling back and forth, until one of the people sitting nearby went out to get an usher to put an end to it all.
I wasn’t sure which explanation of their behavior is more obnoxious: that they were too self-absorbed to understand what a pain they were being, or did and didn’t care.
Sharing this story with a friend recently, she suggested what I’m doing today, sharing some of the oddest moments I’ve witnessed in 30 years of reviewing movies.
One of the oddest came the first time I saw spotters in a movie with night-vision glasses. It happened at a screening of a film at the Virginia Film Festival that was a potential target for bootleggers, as it was being shown more than a month from its wide-release premiere.
There were a half-dozen or so of them, fanning out from the front of the theater and taking up spots where they could sweep the crowd to find anyone making illegal recordings of the movie.
Things intensified when one of the spotters, who were all dressed in dark clothing, went into one of the rows to search a moviegoer. She turned out to be just texting, something always obnoxious in a dark theater, but not what the spotters were there to stop.
Since that first time I spotted the spotters, I’ve seen them turn up a handful of other times in local theaters, always for big-name movies.
Another thing I’ve noticed at times, but made a conscious attempt not to focus on, has been the amorous moments shared by couples in dark corners of our theaters.
Most times it’s just been kissing, hugging and some low moaning. But on the few instances where I’ve seen feet go skyward, well, let’s just say I tried really hard to just look at what was happening on screen.
And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a moviegoer fall asleep and start snoring loudly, I’d have hundreds of nickels.
One of the worst moments I’ve witnessed in a local theater happened in one of the horrible films about nice families who go off into the boonies and then get terrorized by cretins who want to cut them into pieces. I was suffering enough just having to see this film to review it, but soon enough noticed moviegoers nearby who were suffering even more.
They were two young children whose parents had thoughtlessly and callously brought these kids—who looked to be maybe 4 and 6—to a film that had an R rating, which for good reasons cautions parents that it’s not suitable for children under 17.
And yet, because they probably didn’t want the trouble and expense of getting a babysitter, these parents brought their kids to this movie that surely traumatized them for years to come.
It got worse. As the movie went on and blood and sadistic torture began filling the screen, the children began to whimper and cry and say they didn’t want to see that horror. The parents responded by harshly telling them to put their heads down and go to sleep, something that wasn’t about to happen with all the noise and gore on the screen.
Did I do anything? Sad to admit I didn’t, though I considered going out to report them to a manager. My rationale for not doing that was the rules saying parents can bring kids into an R-rated movie if they want to, and no one really has the power to tell them they can’t.
One thing I used to see more of was witnessing the actual film burning on screen. It doesn’t happen now that theaters have switched from real film in large spools to digital footage played from computer hard drives.
There was one local theater where that used to happen often, the film getting stuck and staying so long by the hot lens that you could watch the celluloid actually melt on screen.
Another time, at the same theater, I went to a morning show on a Saturday when it had rained the previous night, hard enough that water had leaked through the roof and left a pond of water in the front of the theater.
Rather than cancel the show, the theater started the film and had someone come in to mop up the huge puddle. Because this was in the days before stadium seating, the person doing the mopping was blocking about a third of the screen, and wouldn’t stop even though many in the show complained.
One thing through the years that has added excitement on nights when big films premiered were the hard-core fans who show up dressed as their favorite characters, be it Harry Potter, Deadpool, Bilbo Baggins or Luke Skywalker. Some went all in with amazing costumes.
Thankfully, the theaters have gotten over the notion of opening big films on Thursdays at midnight—or at 2 a.m., for one of the “Star Wars” films—to generate excitement. They’ve come to realize what moviegoers already knew: We’re just as excited, and maybe more, when they début at 7 p.m.
One of the wildest scenes I’ve witnessed in a local theater was the début of “Magic Mike,” a film about male strippers.
The crowd was largely female, ladies enjoying being silly together, hooting and hollering at every racy moment on-screen. More than once, women tried to tuck dollar bills in the pants of the young male ushers who periodically came in to check on the crowd.