By Kerry Tinga
My friend and I almost jumped out of our seats, what was that sound? We were at a late-night showing of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name that had just come out, a coming-of-age romantic drama set in Northern Italy in the 1980s. I whispered to my friend that Armie Hammer looked about a foot taller than everybody else in the film.
There it was again, and I realized then that a man several seats away from me was making the sound. Every time there was even a rustle in the cinema because someone was adjusting their seat, or a whisper because someone was expressing their views on the film to a friend, there was this hissing and hushing by some guy at the movies. I tried to ignore it but throughout the length of the film, every 10 minutes or so, something seemed to tick this guy off and he would make that awfully loud sound.
As the film ended on a beautiful close-up of the protagonist, the young Italian-American Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet), the lights started to turn on. The guy at the movies let out a sigh and began speaking loudly and obnoxiously to his companion beside him, “That is it, I am never coming to the cinema again, people are so stupid… but we already knew that.” He walked out and everybody else stared at him with an expression that seemed to ask what is that guy’s problem?
It reminded me of a scene in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, the man in the cinema who sits at the balcony and spits on the people below who annoy him. Thankfully it was just words coming out of the man’s mouth that night but nonetheless his behavior was still an unacceptable level of rudeness.
I am a sucker for films about films, from Singin’ in the Rain to The Bad and the Beautiful to even Tropic Thunder. Yet, Cinema Paradiso is a bit different in that it is a film about loving films and the cinematic experience. It is told through the flashbacks of Salvatore (Toto for short), a successful director living in Rome, after he has heard an old friend has died. It is in the 1950s in a small town in Italy where Toto starts his love affair with movies, working with Alfredo, the local projectionist, at the only cinema in town. The priest of the town demands all scenes of kissing and affection to be cut out with a ring of his bell, Toto peaks through the curtains and giggles as Alfredo splices the film to take the scene out. After a fire burns the old cinema and it is reopened under new management, the townspeople finally get to watch a movie that does not have a kissing scene cut out and noisily react, some with excitement, others with disdain at what they believe is something immoral to have on the screen. The beautiful thing about this is that every reaction is valid (so long as it does not encroach on anybody else’s).
I have always loved movies, and have always loved going to the movies, because it is a wonderful, shared experience: to laugh, to cry and to gasp (even to scream if it is a horror film) at the same time as everybody else in the room. It is an experience to share with your family, and your group of friends, and even with strangers in the dark. The whole point of the movies is to get a reaction from its audience, and it is completely absurd then to expect utter silence at the cinemas, as if it were a library or an exam hall, where we should stare straight at the screen and make no sounds or expressions.
In the final scene of Cinema Paradiso, Toto watches a montage of all the cut out kissing scenes that Alfredo had secretly kept and spliced together. The scenes in the films are still there, even if watched years and years later, even after all attempts by the town’s priest to get rid of them, just like how “shushing” someone in a theater does not necessarily get them to stop reacting to what they are seeing. It is impossible to simply cut out the passion.
Most people who know me well and have gone to watch a movie with me know how much of a crier I am, whether it is tears of joy or tears of sorrow. I do not talk a lot during movies but sometimes I will whisper to a friend how I love the music, or how the film looks, or how cute the actor is, or even ask what is going on (especially during a Transformers film). It is all part of the experience of watching and engaging with a film, and nobody can tell a person or bully a person into reacting a certain way or keeping in their reactions. (Of course there is a level of chattiness that is also unacceptable, but a decent human being could simply ask politely for a person to be a bit quieter.)
Everybody going to the movies should acknowledge that they are not the only one there. I think we all go to the cinemas so that we aren’t alone. If I wanted to be alone I would watch something on Netflix at home. In the darkness of the movie house we all come together from different walks of life to appreciate the same film and to escape. With a large screen in front of us and a blaring sound system, for two and a half to three hours, everybody in the cinema is transported to wherever the director wants to take us, together.
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