The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Out of control – What the audience can add to a movie

with 10 comments

Performing arts have an aspect that film lack. Or at least that’s how we usually see it.

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.

Written by Jessica

August 3, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses

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  1. There is one thing I disagree:
    even if you watch a movie home alone, you still can get different experience:

    you know what will be next and because of that you see some scenes at the start of the movie differently
    you know main story and have more time to notice little details that seemed unimportant at first
    something happen in RL and suddenly you notice that old movie fits, you watch that old movie from different point of view.
    you might just be in a different mood.

    Yes, pictures are the same when you watch movie for the 2nd or 128th time, but you are different.

    Bad movies are still bad when you watch them again.
    Good movies are usually different every time you watch them.


    August 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    • That is actually a good point. Even if the audience is as small as just yourself, you’re still sort of unpredictable, or out of control. Sometimes a second or third viewing of a movie can surprise you. “Woaaa! This is bad! What did I see in this movie that I thought was so good?” or “Woaaa! This is just so good! And I thought this was boring and bland? How could I be so blind?”


      August 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  2. I can see both sides of the coin here.

    Ash and I attended the recent Harry Potter movie premier. The atmosphere was great. I wouldn’t call the audience “mature” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it was respectful. These were true fans, and no one wanted to ruin the experience. The laughs were appropriate. There was applause at the deaths of certain characters. There were tears at the right times. We saw it a second night… no applause. In this case, I would say it enhanced the movie. Then again, I’m of the mind that having others along always heightens an adventure. For more serious fare, maybe it wouldn’t be as neat.

    On the flip side, my uncle built a mini-movie theater in his basement. He is a huge movie buff, and it is reflected in what he has done. Plush recliners for the front row of the mini-stadium seating. Vintage cinema chairs behind. Acoustics mapped out and engineered so that there are no dead spots. A white wall painted with the proper cinema screen paint. An expensive high definition projector and matching sound system. A popcorn machine outside the door. All the bells and whistles. He “premiered” the Return of the King (from Lord of the Rings) for my wife and I. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen them, but man was it an epic experience. Just us, no distractions, optimal viewing conditions. All the popcorn we could eat… after the movie :-).


    August 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    • OMG, that mini-movie theatre… it sounds fantastic! Of course that kind of home-movie watching could compete with a “real” cinema. I cirtainly couldn’t tell the difference. But that’s not anything like what it is to watch a movie on my television screen at home.

      Re: your HP experience… I may be a bit oldfashioned, but I actually think I would be a little bit bothered by applauses at certain characters deaths in the middle of the movie. No matter how well they deserved it… But I’m glad you didn’t feel that way.


      August 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

  3. I definitely prefer seeing movies in the theater. There are definitely fewer distractions than at home, and I’m able to stay focused and just let the story take all of my focus. Yes, there are cases where a bad audience can mess with a film, but those are an exception. Often, the feeling inside the theater that you describe is what happens, and the audiences are respectful. I just wish I had more time to see movies in the theater. Nice post!

    Dan Heaton

    August 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    • Thanks! Yeah, I agree. While there’s a risk in what the audience might do to mess up a movie, on the whole it’s usually a better experience at the cinema. Nothing that can distract me. No telephone, no family, just me and the movie.


      August 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  4. I has a story.

    The year were 1983. Was a different era back then – no spoilers leakin’ out on the interwebbies, no buggers campin’ out fer days on the sidewalks, no midnight showings, no elaborate costumes. Mebbe they had them in LA and New York, I dunno, but sure weren’t none of that silliness where I done lived. So, when me friend Karl and me scored tickets fer the 5:00 show on opening day of Return of the Jedi, were basicly the premier, far as anyone in the theater were concernified.

    20th Century Fox logo comes on the screen, and the crowd goes wild.

    “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” and the cheering cranks up several more notches.

    “STAR WARS” and the music kicks in, and we’s at rock concert levels of screaming.

    Fer two hours, we was the happiest, most excited, most pumped up room full of nerds on the planet.

    Seen me a lotta movies since that night. Big movies, small movies, loud movies, quiet movies, crowded theaters, empty theaters, theaters with crying babies, theaters where they done bring ya yer dinners, VCR, DVD, streaming…. ain’t nuthin’ ever come close ta the intensity of that night. Is one of them childhood memories what I always gonna keep.


    August 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    • Awww! I can totally see why that became one of those golden memories to pull out chill and dark days to cheer you up a little. Thank you for sharing it!
      And yes, the enthusiasm of an audience can definitely add something. I come to think of when I saw Qadrophenia in Brighton in… I think it was probably 1981. There was a mods gathering going on in the city and the entire room was filled with enthusiastic fans, who turned the entire film into a sing-a-long experience. I had never seen anything like it, I was absolutely fascinated and I was on the edge of transforming my at that time die-hard-punk-appearance into something mod-like in a snap. It was infectious!


      August 7, 2011 at 8:22 pm

  5. […] writer is now running a new blog about film called The Velvet Cafe. This is one of her posts about what the audience can add to a movie. I’ve been thinking about this, because going to see Captain America on opening night in San […]

  6. […] writer is now running a new blog about film called The Velvet Cafe. This is one of her posts about what the audience can add to a movie. I’ve been thinking about this, because going to see Captain America on opening night in San […]

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