I'm going to let you in on a secret: white people think black movie audiences talk too much and too loudly. I realize this subject is controversial, but if I didn't stir the pot every once in a while I wouldn't have been named "Baltimore's Raunchiest Drive-Time Shock Jock (AM frequency)" three years in a row.
Personally, I like loud black audiences. (that was really brave of me to say, wasn't it?) They've got ideas, suggestions. They're contributing to the art form. If a black audience member feels a character shouldn't check on a noise in the tool shed without first loading an automatic weapon, he or she will kindly let you know. If a black audience member worries a charactization is too "gay", rest assured you will be apprised of that opinion by way of raucous laughter and hi-top sneakers thrown at the screen in celebration. And if a black audience member enjoys a film, he or she will stand up, raise a glass of Chenin Blanc (on ice) to the heavens and declare, "Author! Author!" I think it would be nice if each new DVD release featured an extra audio commentary documenting the real-time reactions of an exclusively black audience in a packed theatre* in Times Square on the film's opening night. The entertainment inherent in the experience could do for white-black relations what Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has done for heterosexual-Keihl's relations.
Truthfully, I think black people unfairly absorb all the blame for being stereotypically unruly during movies - blame that should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the elderly. For instance, earlier this week I attended a film in an audience composed almost entirely of the over-60 set. I usually don't see that many older people in one place, because I don't attend synagogue and I don't really ride the bus, but my friend, Neille, scored tickets for a screening of Japanese Story, basically a horrible romantic comedy about wacky mismatched cultures, filtered through the dour lens of arthouse dread. The tickets for the screening were made possible by a giveaway at NYC's public radio station, WNYC, which explained the abundant presence of senior citizens, as well as faint odor of lilacs and aged tote bag canvas.
When viewing films with the elderly - something I haven't done since I was unemployed and made matinee appointments - one should attend with certain minimum expectations:
- First, you should realize that no one over the age of 55 has purchased food or drink from a theater concession stand since before the Hays Code. This doesn't mean old people never get hungry. In fact, if you're attending a 1:30pm showing, Old Person Dinner Time will fall somewhere toward the middle of the film.
- Old people do not eat normal foods at the movies. The reason movie theatre snacks are served in boxes rather than cellophane bags is that boxes are silent and bags are not. The same golden rule is responsible for the shortage of movie theatre concessions selling potato chips, Pop Rocks, and sizzling Wo Bar. OLD PEOPLE CARE LITTLE FOR THIS RULE. So expect to hear the sound of cellophane crinkling as butterscotch candies are unwrapped. Do not be alarmed when you hear the rustling of a paper bag or aluminum foil; that is just one of your neighbors retrieving a liverwurst sandwich. And prepare yourself for the extraordinarily unpleasant smells and sounds of a slow-moving mouth masticating 8 ounces of wet tuna fish salad. Movies!
- Old people pee a lot. Whether it's at home, in a crowded theatre, or on your couch, old people have a compulsive - some would say uncontrollable - need to urinate. If possible, give them the aisle seats. And unless the theatre is absolutely crowded - if you're attending City Slickers 3: Oy Vey It's Crazy Out Here, for example - try not to get boxed in. You will spend a lot of time standing up, and you will miss Billy Crystal's wonderful rejoinders.
- Old people cannot understand most international accents, as well as many regional American dialects. Expect many unanswered inquiries into dialogue.
- Old people rarely comprehend the mechanics of any technology invented after the comb. If you want to endure a very special torture, try attending a screen adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story in a theatre full of senior citizens.
- Old people do not have indoor voices.
- And, perhaps most importantly, if you see old people seated at the back of the theatre, do not sit in front of them. They came there to fuck.
At Japanese Story, I had the rare pleasure of being flanked by two pairs of different, but equally aggravating senior citizens. Two elderly women were seated behind my right shoulder, and each one spent the majority of the film asking the other what had just happened. This would be followed by silence, as the other woman would never know herself. "What happened" was asked no less than a dozen times, alternated with "what did she/he just say?" (i should point out that the two main characters, featured in nearly every frame of the movie, had an australian and japanese accent, respectively. the seniors should have been warned that this movie should was rated a 7.0 in dialect difficulty, somewhere between Goodfellas and Nil by Mouth.)
Behind my left shoulder were two older gentlemen who somehow believed they were watching Notting Hill, except funny. They seized upon every opportunity to burst into smug laughter, particularly when the leading Japanese character presented his business card with two hands or spoke with an accent. When the two leads fucked, they laughed. When they talked about freezing to death in the desert, they laughed. When the film took a very sudden and dark turn, one of them laughed and the other chided him for it, saying, "that's not funny." Then he considered it for a moment and corrected, "Oh wait. Yes. Yes it is." (it wasn't.) I would have shut them up right there, if they hadn't just shared their Tupperware container of boiled, skinless chicken with me a few minutes earlier.
Reading over what I just wrote - well, imagining reading it over, anyway - I can imagine some people would arrive at the conclusion that I do not like senior citizens. Absolutely not true. I think they're adorable, like Chinese babies. Actually, I love older people, when they're on park benches or dressed up like Santa Claus or eating soup alone or playing rock guitar and giving people the finger and screaming, "piss off, dick-hole!" in David Spade films. I just think there's a time and a place for everything and everyone. And the time for older people is "before noon", and the place is "Boca Raton".
[Addendum: a gypsy just crossed my path and put a curse on me. now i'm an old man! And i've got only 48 hours to find the amulet that can lift the curse. Oh, but how can I, and old man, do it alone??? I wonder if those nice old people I met on the bus - Kirk Douglass, Maureen Stapleton, and Robert Duvall - can help me? Or maybe Robert Duvall's beautiful grand-daughter, Jennifer Aniston, who is exactly my pre-curse age, can help. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I do know this: someone is going to get the finger.]
*For a change, I decided to use the British spelling of "theater", to appeal to homesick European readers and pretentious American jerk-faces.