Lights! Camera! Distr-Action!

BY MEREDITH KELLER
Keller Instincts
Published March 22, 2001

Although going to the movies is looked upon as a form of mind-numbing relaxation, it packs in as much Zen as a monster truck rally. Cinema paradiso? I think not. It"s a mad mad mad mad movie world.

From personal space-invading spectators to crunch-happy candy connoisseurs, recent experiences at theaters have been almost as unbearable as the films that are playing. Those who saw "The Mexican" know what I mean. Although I would like to thank the Academy for providing me with images of Brad Pitt"s face the width of a Volkswagen, those baby blue peepers were hardly an adequate penance for the cinema sins committed by the defiant ones in the audience.

Unless you have recently been adopted by Daddy Warbucks, or unless you call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home, chances are that a private screening is not in your near future and going to the movies will be a whole community affair. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder with far-from ordinary people, these airtight conditions could give sardines claustrophobia.

Contorting their bodies more than a sideshow act from the greatest show on earth, further adding to these movie-going crimes and misdemeanors, restless patrons strike a number of poses in an attempt to vogue their way into the unattainable comfortable position. Swaying to the rhythms of their bobbing bodies, risking vertigo for a glimpse of the screen, you begin to wish that Dramamine was sold alongside the Kit Kats at the candy counter. And should you happen to sit in front of a Tae Bo devotee, brace yourself for the reflexive roundhouse kicks to your rotator cuff, and keep your fingers crossed that this time the complimentary post-film mint will be replaced by a free neck brace and shiatsu massage. What the pesky patron Billy Blanksing the back of your chair doesn"t know is that they"d better watch out or they could face your wrath with a swift 400 blows to the head!

Despite the unforeseen annoyances of mid-movie motion sickness and post-screening whiplash, what really frosts my cookies about the audience is why, nine times out of ten, this desire to snuggle with strangers continues even in the emptiest of theaters. Why is it that, despite the 148 equally sticky seats that are available, as luck or lust would have it, the next oaf to walk in will decide to park his patootie adjacent to you? And although TRL wisdom would have us believe that "Nobody Wants to be Lonely," I for one did not buy tickets to rub elbows on the armrest, unless of course you are Ricky Martin. But when Bobby America plops down next to you with his fresh from the microwave-hot dog topped by a cesspool of onions, hot peppers, and nacho cheese even the apocalypse now seems more inviting than listening to Bobby hoover-up his jalapenos and excuse his inevitable ass-chatters. Recall the theater is not the ballpark thou shall not covet thy neighbor"s hotdog!

Despite my issues with audience interaction, however, perhaps the roots of all reel-evils can be directly traced back to one seemingly sweet spot the concessions stand. Hades with Heath Bars, this cavity-creating counter serves up just what the already gluttonous and sloth-like average American really needs, a U-haul full of Goobers and a kiddie-pool sized cola while they sit wedged in their seat for the next two hours. Increasing candy quantity exponentially with the length of the films, behemoth boxes of bon bons have become unjustly analogous to the cinema experience. (Rumor has it that somewhere in Oklahoma the new World Record for pole vaulting was set with a stale theater-bought Twizzler.)

Now did we come here to hear your molars grinding up kernels of imitation Orville Redenbacher? No, we paid $7.50 to hear what makes Julia Roberts worth $3,472.22 per second and envy her ability to buy four pairs of Gucci pants with every syllable she utters. So do the right thing - forgo the foodage. Stop swallowing your pride along with your Snowcaps, mind your movie manners, and help put the "Shh" back in shh-owtime.

Meredith can be reached at makeller@umich.edu.