A fellow movie blogger from Sweden once told me that anyone who sits as ridiculously far back as in the third row can’t be considered a true cinephile. He asked rhetorically:
“Why would you want to have rustling and tilting heads and talking and whispers between yourself and the movie?”
To be honest I’ve spent the majority of my movie going life in the far back of the room, which is pretty stupid considering how short I am. I have a vague recollection of that it originally somehow had to do with this problem. If I had the seat in the last row I could make my own arrangements to see better, such as sitting on my knees, without having to take into consideration how this would affect the view of people in the rows behind me.
As years have gone by, I’ve moved forward, row by row, and nowadays it’s not rare to see me in the second or third row. Maybe I’m turning into a cinephile after all? But the first row I still usually avoid, unless there are no other options available. I just don’t enjoy too much of neck bending.
I hate having heads in my sightline as much as anyone else, but my strategy to avoid them is to look for seats on the sides, which generally are less popular. I also try to pick a seat which allows me to sit down and take as much time as I want to watch the credits or put on my clothes without having a queue of impatient people waiting for me to leave so they get passed.
Almost every time I go to a movie, I pre-book my seat over Internet. Once I get to the cinema I pull my credit card in a machine and pick up my ticket.
It’s been like this for many years in Sweden by now. The only place where the free seating remains is in the last remaining independent theatre in my city. Whenever I go to one of their shows, I just buy a ticket, enter the room and pick whatever place that is free.
Stacking in the middle
So what do I make of the reservation system? Well, I can see some disadvantages.
I often go and watch movies on my own, so it’s not a big deal to me, but for people who want to go in company with friends, I can see that there might be a bit of a hindrance of spontaneity. Assume that you buy your seats for a certain row and a few hours later your friends decide that they want to go too. In that case you can’t be sure they’ll get places anywhere close to you.
Before the Internet booking took over and we still bought the tickets at the cinema, you could also see some pretty strange placement drama going on in the theatres. For some reason the people who sold the tickets always assumed that you wanted to sit as close to the middle as possible. And they were obviously instructed to pack the audience efficiently together, making sure that no seats would be wasted. That’s the kind of ticket you’d get unless you specifically asked for something different: a seat close to the middle in the middle row or maybe a little bit further back. As a result, you’d often end up in a small island of 10-15 people, gathered in the small centre of a huge sea of empty seats.
Those islands made us uncomfortable. I know it’s not the case in every country, but in Sweden, the personal zones are serious business. If you’re entering a bus for instance, and there are only a few people on it, you’re expected to spread more or less evenly. Sitting down next to someone in that situation would be considered creepy, hostile, bordering to criminal.
Honouring the rules about personal space, people often started to change places, spreading out a little. The problem was that you could always bet that someone would turn up late to the movie, claiming the very seat that someone just had moved to. And more often than not, this latecomer would be obsessed with keeping the right order, so instead of just taking any of the one hundred other free seats, he or she would insist on the seat thief to move away somewhere else. The entire audience would get involved, because the space betweens the rows is generally so small that you have to stand up to let people through. Oh, the joy…
Nowadays those situations won’t rise quite as often. People book their tickets online and as they pick their spots, they spread out a little, if not evenly, at least sufficiently enough not to intrude the unspoken laws about how to share a space with others without being considered a threat.
Don’t need to queue
Seat reservations are for good and for bad. The bad thing is that it’s so inflexible. If a guy who could candidate for a freak show thanks to his length sits down in front of you, you can’t adjust to the situation, moving a couple of seats, without risking to cause a mess.
The good thing about it is that you can choose your favourite spot days in advance. You don’t need to stand in a line inhaling the sickening fumes of popcorn; you don’t even have to turn up at the cinema until the movie is about to start. It’s very convenient if you’re the planning type.
So: what’s your favourite seat in a cinema? Are you the kid in the front row? Do you hide in the back? Or are you going for the sides in the hope not to get someone in front of you?
Please feel free to share your views as we’re about to enter the weekend, sipping a cup of coffee or maybe something stronger!