Out of control – What the audience can add to a movie
Everyone present in the theatre knows that this play, this concert, this dancing performance, will only be executed exactly this way once in history. Tomorrow is another day, with a different audience and a different mood that will change it.
The show carries a flavour of uniqueness and the nerve of unpredictability. Anything could happen.
We normally don’t think of movies in those terms. Once the final cut is approved, once the copies are out for distribution, it’s repetition. Everyone, regardless of when or where you watch it, will get the same experience.
But on a second thought I think it’s not the entire truth. There is certain randomness about movies too, as long as you watch them in a cinema rather than in your home home.
There is an unpredictable factor, with the potential to make any movie into a complete disaster, namely the audience.
Reasons to fear them
We have every reason in the world to fear them.
They laugh in the wrong places, making a sport out of turning the most emotional, subtle scene, loaded with withheld emotions, into a joke. (I guess they enjoy smashing sand castles for children on the beach as well.)
They rustle their cans of popcorn and try to spread as much of its content as possible over the floor, as if they’re hoping that nobody will sit around them if they just manage to be repulsive enough.
They smell. Of everything.
They cut their hair into the most extreme sort of hairstyles to cover as much as they possibly can of your view over the screen.
Some seem to live in the notion that we’ve paid extra just to hear them commenting loudly on what’s going on, “explaining” the movie to their neighbour and everyone else.
Yes, there’s no doubt that a bad audience can suck the best out of a good movie.
But what about the opposite? Can an audience actually add something to a movie experience? Yes, I would say so.
The chemistry in the room
The most obvious example is of course the premier nights of movies that are surrounded by a dedicated fan community, fans who have queued for days just to get tickets to the first showing of it. I don’t think it’s only about the joy of seeing it a couple of hours or days earlier than they else would have done. It’s also the audience that is attracting them. If you got to the premier, you know that you’ll be surrounded by other fans, by connoisseurs who are likely to appreciate what they see, giving standing ovations as it ends, even if there’s no one there to receive them. You have the chance to participate in nice nerdy conversations in the queue and no one will give you a strange look as you demonstrate how much you know about pointless details. The more, the better! And in some cases you can even dress up or enjoy watching other people who have dressed up. The movie you’re actually going to watch is just a minor part of the happening as a whole.
However, I think an audience also can play a role even in a less than half full theatre with an audience that is more mature than fanatic. It’s more subtle, but sometimes there is some kind of a chemistry going on between the people in the room, a certain atmosphere, which enhances my own emotions. I see a remarkably touching scene on the screen and I can sense the audience respond to it, not necessarily through noises, sobs and sniffing, but in quiet way. I can feel their sadness, their emotional response, and they can feel mine. As it adds up, it is as if we become co-creators to the movie experience. And this experience can be almost as much of a one-time-only event as performing arts can offer. Or maybe it’s all in my head, a product of my imagination?
On my own but not lonely
Given the choice I prefer to watch movies in a cinema than to see them on my TV at home. It’s not just that the screen is bigger, the sound is better and I can concentrate better, free from the distractions of a home. For how annoying they are, for how much trouble they can cause, those people in the salon also add something.
Even if I’m on my own, I never feel lonely, as I’m wrapped up in the dampening blanket of the soft darkness, enjoying the silent presence of others who are sharing the same experience as I do.
As long as they don’t munch, smell, babble or place themselves right in front of me, they’re my friends, my brothers in arms, members of the same secret society of film lovers.
In rare cases they can even be the added spice that makes the difference between an excellent and an extraordinary movie experience. Sadly enuogh it’s not in the power of the film maker to make it happen. It happens when it happens and all we can do is to enjoy the drink as long as it lasts.