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Sounds Of Cast And Crowd Clash In Movie Houses

November 11, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The film starts rolling and the tongues keep wagging - and there you have the sound and the fury.

Casts and crowds have been clashing ever since silent movies disappeared in 1928 with ″The Jazz Singer.″ Today’s audiences, though, seem a lot noisier and a lot ruder.

″Today’s society is a noise generation,″ said Jerry Bulger, the Midwest advertising director for the Chicago-based Plitt Theaters Inc.

Since 1978, Plitt has spent about $35,000 a year to produce a comedy short called a trailer asking people to behave in theaters. This year’s version, starring a top area disc jockey, shows Big Foot stomping out abominable behavior.

The trailer works while it entertains, said Bulger.

However, according to Robert Selig, president and executive director of the Theater Association of California, which represents the state’s 2,000 screens, noise remains a problem.

Trailers may not be effective, he said, because through ″some curious psychological reaction, trailers remind people of ways to buck authority.″

Albert R. Marston, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, agreed: ″I hear a lot of negative reaction to trailers. People have paid money and they don’t want to be lectured to.″

No smoking trailers worked, however, and were often applauded by audiences, he said. ″But ‘don’t smoke’ had legal clout behind it. ‘Don’t talk’ doesn’t have the same force. You are not working with the same kind of prohibition,″ Marston said.

There are many reasons why noise has increased in theaters. With the advent of the home video, for example, people forgot they were not in front of their TV sets. There are other reasons as well.

″People use the excuse of darkness to be less inhibited,″ said Marston. ″Movies are also more realistic and more involving, so people get more emotionally aroused. Talking may be a way of relieving tension.″

People are given less time to adjust to darkness, he added. Before a movie, ″a whole social thing develops while the lights are on.″ Then, while still eating, drinking and talking, the audience is put in the dark and the feature begins.

″I didn’t pay $5.50 to hear extremely rude people discuss their personal problems,″ said movie enthusiast Tod Thompson, a teacher at Glendale High School. He sees at least three movies a week, and talking is always a problem.

Noise has become such a problem that part of the ShoWest ’86 convention next February will deal with unruly theater behavior. The convention annually draws more than 3,000 exhibitors from the United States and 12 foreign countries.

Talking used to infringe on newsreels, cartoons and coming attractions. Those, however, are things of the past. Now talking intrudes on the credits, which very often include important keys to the film’s plot.

Once into the movie, people sometimes discover they don’t like the film. ″They made a mistake or find it boring, offensive or disturbing in some way,″ Marston said.

Thompson said he didn’t think noisy audiences were aware they were even bothering anyone: ″I would say some of them are also bothering the people they are talking to. I don’t think they’re morons - just rude, unaware people.″

The size of a theater can have an impact on noise. In smaller theaters, people tend not to feel lost in a crowd. ″They feel less invisible,″ Marston said.

However, it was the smaller theater that ushered out the usher who often was able to monitor talkers. Many movie fans and theater owners agree that turning the offensive chatterer over to an usher is the easiest way to cope with talkers. But it isn’t likely that theaters will bring back ushers because of the expense, Selig said.

Marston said people act differently in those areas where movies are the major form of entertainment than in areas that have several forms of entertainment.

Those in the industry think theater chatter might be a tough problem to solve. Sometimes, just asking the offender to stop will work.

″A large percentage of the time, a firm, assertive request will get the desired response,″ Marston said. ″A lot of the time, fights are the result of the offended person waiting too long. If you wait too long, you overreact. Hostility and anger have set in.″

There’s also some irony in asking another member of the audience to be quiet, Marston said: ″You are put in the position of talking to get somebody else to stop talking. That makes the people around you mad at you.″

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