Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No popcorn please, we're British

It's not April Fool's Day, so this story from The Guardian must be true. A movie theater in Norwich, England, is experimenting with a no-popcorn night. Through September, the 7 p.m. screening on Tuesday will be popcorn-free.

"If it's a success, and I've no reason to suspect it won't be, we'll roll it out across all our cinemas and make it a permanent fixture," says Gabriel Swartland of Picturehouse Cinema. "People either love or hate popcorn. It makes sound business sense to cater to both these audiences."

Apparently, the no-popcorn movement has been gathering steam across Britain. I had no idea those little golden kernels were the object of so much scorn and outright hatred.

Daniel Broch, the owner of Everyman Cinema in London, who recently bought 17 other theaters, says he's going to "de-popcorn" every one of them. 'It has a disproportionate influence on the space in terms of its overwhelming smell, the cultural idea of it and the operational problems created by the mess it produces."

Nicolas Kent, artistic director of the adorably named Tricycle cinema and theatre, is even more derisive. "Popcorn is horrible stuff and I won't have it anywhere near my cinema,' he said. 'It's a form of junk food and that encourages junk entertainment. Its smell is all-pervasive, it makes huge amounts of mess, and it distracts and annoys people intensely."

The no-popcorn movement also seems tied into a desire to brand your movie palace as a more sophisticated place than the run-of-the-mill multiplex. "My ambition to make a night at the Rex a glamorous, dignified and civilised affair. People dress up to come here. It's special. Popcorn isn't," explains theater owner James Hannaway.

Frankly, I find it hard to get worked up over this issue. I used to get popcorn all the time at the movie theatre. It was just part of the experience. I always got a small size and usually polished it off before the movie began so I wouldn't be disturbing anyone. (I'm a very polite person).

I think it's different when you're at a play or musical and you're paying 10 times as much to get in and the actors' voices aren't booming all around in surround sound that would tend to drown out the sound of someone chomping away. And certainly some movies could be ruined by the sound of incessant chewing and gulping. But Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, well that's made for popcorn, Junior Mints and a super-size soda.

Popcorn, candy and soft drinks are pretty tried-and-true part of the moviegoing experience. I honestly can't say I've ever been bothered by someone eating popcorn at the movies. The smell doesn't bother me. I don't think it's nearly as messy as someone spilling a sticky, sugary soft drink on the floor or as noisy as someone opening a candy wrapper. I'm usually at a sparsely attended matinee, so I'm never sitting all that close to anyone anyway.

It's true, you can go overboard with anything. I once read a very funny book by Kevin Murphy called A Year At the Movies, where he and his family actually snuck in and ate an entire Thanksgiving dinner - turkey and everything - while watching Monsters, Inc. Ok, I like a snack now and then, but that's taking things too far.


Stella Louise said...

I saw Pineapple Express on Sunday morning at about 11 am. There were maybe a dozen (probably less) people in the theater. The guy sitting two rows behind me was eating popcorn. I could tell he was TRYING to do it quietly, but it was still immensely annoying.

But I am easily annoyed, I admit that!

Esther said...

Well, I do see where it could be extremely annoying having someone munching away while you're trying to watch a movie. It's not a restaurant or your living room, after all! Like you say, some foods simply cannot be eaten quietly.

It's not a bad idea to have one screening where food and beverages are barred. I rarely eat or drink anything at the movies anymore - the prices are just so outrageous. Plus, I'm not usually hungry when I go. I mean, you go to the movies or the theatre to watch what's up on the screen or on the stage, not to eat! (Except, apparently, for the person I mentioned in my post).

Still, the story just struck me as kind of funny. I mean, movies and popcorn just seem so inextricably linked - like peanut butter and chocolate or champagne and orange juice!

Plus, some of the theatre owners want to banish it because it doesn't quite fit in with the posh image they're trying to cultivate - an image that also comes with higher ticket prices, no doubt!

Amanda said...

The noise of popcorn doesn't bother me at all - in fact, I don't recall ever even hearing it, I must tune it out automatically - but I can see where the smell would get to people. In Wisconsin, I worked for Blue cross for 4 years and people cooked microwave popcorn all day long, so you could always smell it. I got to where I hated that smell so much that going to the theatre was torture. I've since gotten over it - it's been 3 years since I worked there - so I'm no longer bothered.

I think one of the big reasons for this push might be because of cleanup. I know people who work clean up in theatres and popcorn is nasty and messy, especially when it sticks to those floors you so perfectly described. I don't like sitting down in seats that are sticky, wet, or greasy, nor do I like those gritty disgusting walkways. I think the idea of snack-free movie going is interesting. I doubt it'll catch on here, though.

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment Amanda! Yeah, I think most Americans feel pretty strongly about our inalienable right to eat in movie theaters. And I agree, it's the stickiness more than the smell that bothers me.

Stella Louise said...

Clean up is a good point. I once went to the first showing of a movie and the theater was littered with popcorn! It was pretty gross.

I love the smell of movie popcorn--too bad I can't really eat it anymore (maybe if I could, I wouldn't mind so much the sound of others eating it!)...