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Pardon Us, but We Paid to Hear a Movie

August 04, 1994|T. JEFFERSON PARKER | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

At a recent screening of the movie "Speed" at Edwards Island Cinemas in Newport Beach, my buddy and I had the misfortune to sit in front of three couples who carried on conversations during the movie.

My friend could only take about five minutes of this; he finally turned and asked the chatterboxes to be quiet. They grumbled, talked a little quieter for half an hour or so, then resumed their full-volume discourse.

To understand the loudness of their talk, you must realize that "Speed" is about a crashing elevator full of people, then about a bomb-rigged bus careening through Los Angeles. There isn't much dialogue, but there's the constant high-decibel shear and torsion of the action movies, pounding away at you from the theater's prodigious sound system. To be heard over that, you really have to exert.

But the braying behind us continued, and midway through the movie I couldn't take it. After some deliberation I turned to the sociopaths behind me. They were three young couples--in their 20s, maybe--slumped back in their seats and exercising their First Amendment rights with gusto.

"Can you guys please be quiet?" I asked. "This is a movie. This is not talk radio."

The young man directly behind me stared at me blankly for a moment, then said, "Turn around."

I stared blankly back at him for a moment and came this close to reaching over my seat back and popping him a good one. I imagined it to be like the pop that Muhammad Ali gave George Foreman in Zaire, a perfect right cross that would leave my foe dazed and defeated, or, as Norman Mailer described Foreman after the punch, looking "like a butler who has just heard tragic news."

My heart was pounding hard, and I had visions of fleeing through Fashion Island while his girlfriend screamed and pointed and Newport's kindly policemen drew down on me. I even wondered if the money in my wallet that night--40 bucks--was enough to post bail on an aggravated assault charge. Likely not. I tried out my explanation to the judge: "They wouldn't stop talking, so I punched him in the face." Hmmm.

A begrudging silence issued from behind us for another five minutes, after which their conversations were held to a slightly more muted level. The movie ended (mercifully), and after the credits I turned to confront the morons behind me, but they were gone.

Less than a week later, I was invited by a friend and her 3-year-old son to see "The Lion King." I smiled in true horror, the blood draining from my face. The prospect of watching a Disney cartoon with a theater full of moms, dads and brats was so drear I couldn't express myself, which my friend took for a "Yes, I'd be happy to go."

So I did.

Steeling myself against the tribulation to come, I packed a pair of earplugs in my shirt pocket. I thought of smuggling in some airline bottles of gin, but it was a noonish "family" matinee, and I do have principles.

As a sociological note, I should point out that the theater was in Riverside County, and that--to my mild surprise--there was a sign right on the ticket window that said something like:




Thank you! Too bad 3-year-olds can't read, I thought, consoling myself with the fact that it was 103 degrees by now, and the air-conditioned theater--chaotic and ear-splitting as it was sure to be--could only be an improvement over the Stage 10 smog-alert atmosphere prevailing outside.

Just as nervous shock can overtake you without your being aware of it, so can a pleasant experience simply sweep you up, ignorant, and carry you away with it. Fifteen minutes into "The Lion King" I was hooked on a story that promised to deliver (and did) growth, pride, decline, redemption and triumph, along with one really good lion fight.

I found myself laughing out loud--something I love to do but am rarely moved to by a movie--at some of the expressions and lines of the meerkat. I found myself noting some of the classical story elements so effectively employed by the writers, who had borrowed from the Old Testament, the Greeks, Shakespeare, and, of course, Hollywood. I was truly dumbfounded to find myself in the middle of a good movie, and a cartoon at that!

But that was nothing compared to my stunned realization that this theater full of 3- to 10-year-olds was actually . . . quiet. I reached up to remove my earplugs, but they were still in my pocket. Had I in fact imported some Bombay Sapphire Blue and slipped into a pleasant coma? No. I looked around me left and right, behind, up ahead. Yes, an ocean of children watching a movie without talking ! I rubbed my eyes, then slapped myself smartly on the cheek.

"You OK?" inquired my adult friend sitting next to me.

"Mosquito. Don't talk please."

Walking back outside into the scorching, apocalyptic haze of the Inland Empire, I realized that the "Silence Is Golden" signs are probably a large part of what draws people to this challenging climate.

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