Confessions of a CinePlex Heckler
The (nearly) indomitable Joe Queenan set out to annoy innocent moviegoers with rude outbursts, just to see what they'd do. Here he gives us his astonishing account of how nobody beat the crap out of him.
The poignant film has reached an impossibly anguished moment. Marooned high in the Andes mountains, as winter curls its icy mantle around them, the two dozen famished survivors of the 1972 airplane crash come face-to-face with the most horrifying nutritional dilemma a human being will ever confront. Completely out of food, the shivering group of seemingly doomed young rugby players must decide whether to eat the frozen flesh of their fallen--or starve to death. The audience sits transfixed as the emaciated young men gaze into the yawning abyss of cannibalism. Then, just when it seems that neither the actors on the screen nor the audience in the theater can stand another moment of primal human horror, a voice rings out from the back of the theater:
"Eat Vincent Spano first."
It is a tasteless comment, and, in some ways, a stupid comment, since the character played by Vincent Spano is still very much alive. Several movie patrons turn to look at the disruptive, albeit good-looking, fortyish man in the darkest recesses of the theater, murmuring, "Shhh!" and "Asshole!"
The patrons turn back to the screen, weary of such gauche, unsolicited comments. For the past hour, the garrulous asshole in the last row of the theater has been taunting the characters on the screen, making it all but impossible for the two dozen people in the audience to concentrate on the ponderous moral and philosophical issues posed by the film. When Ethan Hawke, very convincingly cast as a college-aged Uruguayan rugby player, had announced his decision to go and look for the missing tail of the ruined airplane, the heckler had giggled, "Whose tail?" In between such comments, the maddening jerk-off had regaled the hapless audience with remarks like, "Could somebody please pass the A.I. sauce?"
Now, as the sensitive, life-affirming film races towards its conclusion, Ethan Hawke and two friends at last find the missing airplane tail, containing the all-important radio. But they also stumble upon something else. Frozen corpses.
"Great," cackles the heckler from the eerie bowels of the cinema. "Dessert!"
Finally, a patron can stand it no longer. "You got some fuckin' attitude on you," the man opines in a heavy Spanish accent. As he speaks, his wife and two teenaged sons turn to catch a glimpse of the heckler.
"I got some fuckin' attitude?" the heckler fires back. "You take your family to see a movie about cannibal rugby players and I got some fuckin' attitude?"
The man turns back to the motion picture.
"You got some fuckin' attitude," he reiterates.
He is right. I do.
As the savvy, prescient reader will have suspected from the very outset, it was indeed I who was sitting in the last row of the Hawthorne, NY, 10-plex making all those tasteless, insensitive comments that glum Thursday evening this past February. But I was not being a complete asshole merely for the fun of being a complete asshole. Far from it. I was being a complete asshole for lofty, professional, journalistic reasons. I had been sent out to the cinema in my greater metropolitan region by this very magazine to find out what it is like to stand in the shoes, and sit in the seat, of the talkative asshole who always seems to be sitting two rows behind you in the movie theater, making an endless series of idiotic comments about a movie that you're trying to enjoy.
My purpose in tackling this assignment was twofold: one, to find out how far movie audiences would allow themselves to be pushed before they complained to the usher, confronted the heckler, or drew a switchblade; and two, to find out whether being a complete asshole is any fun. I will supply the answer to the second question right away.
Generally speaking, it is not a whole lot of fun being the asshole who always seems to be sitting two rows behind every movie viewer who is trying to enjoy himself at the pictures. Tormenting helpless human beings is not really my idea of entertainment; with one or two exceptions, I would never do it just for the hell of it. I'd have to get paid.
On the other hand, I would be lying if I didn't admit that there were certain moments during my 10-film odyssey through the world of the remorseless heckler that were absolutely sublime. It's always fun to taunt people who have premeditatedly paid good money to see Vincent Spano movies. It's fun to holler out, "You're overpaying!" when Robert Redford writes a check for a million dollars in exchange for the right to sleep with Demi Moore, who looks like she should come a lot cheaper. Finally, it's always fun--exhilarating, breathtaking fun--to torment French people when they're trying to concentrate on a pretentious, art-house movie like The Lover. What kind of red-blooded Yank wouldn't accept a job where he gets to torment French people? This is the kind of stuff I would do for free.
Over a three-month period that began early this year, I made life miserable for viewers at 10 widely divergent films. The films, accompanied by genre description, were:
Nostalgic, Ontario-based horseshit
High-class kiddie porn
The Dark Half
The usual Stephen King crap
The finest $7,000 Tex-Mex film' ever made
Husbands and Wives
Interiors III: First Blood
The Crying Game
Formulaic Irish Republican Army cross-dresser melodrama
To Proxenio Tis Annas
Typical, rollicking Greek fun
Fresh slime from Adrian Lyne
The venues for the films ranged from generic, suburban multiplex human abattoirs, to snooty, midtown Manhattan art houses such as The Paris, to the lower depths of the Museum of Modern Art, where you can always find plenty of empty seats at a festival with a title like "Cine-Mythology: A Retrospective of Greek Film." The most important thing that I learned while mercilessly tormenting my fellow audience members at these 10 movies is that by and large the public seems fully prepared to take a huge load of shit from annoying people like me. I estimate that I must have colossally pissed off approximately 1,000 people, yet on only one occasion was I ever thrown out of the movie theater, and on only one occasion was I physically confronted by an audience member and told to shut up or I could expect to get my teeth kicked in.
This was the most valuable lesson that I learned, and by far the most important lesson that I have to impart to Movieline's long-suffering readers. Based on my journey to the bottom of the cineplex, it's safe to say that the average person takes way too much unnecessary abuse from hecklers when he goes to see a movie, and really has to toughen up his attitudes if he ever expects to enjoy a motion picture in a serene, tasteful environment.
The basic problem lies in the movie-going public's excessive dependence on the word "Shhh!" I'm six feet tall, I weigh 180 pounds, I exercise regularly, and I'm widely perceived to be a bit of a prick. Although I am, in reality, the kind of person who can be fucked with, I do not look like the kind of person who can be fucked with, and I neither look like nor am the kind of person who can be fucked with by people who look like they can be fucked with. So if you're a short, thin French tourist and you think that hissing the word "Shhhh!" at me after I've screeched "Child molester!!!" at the 32-year-old Chinese playboy who seduces the fetching little French schoolgirl in The Lover is going to get me to shut up, think again. Fuck you, frog face.