Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I love watching films, but I hate going to the movies. As a card carrying curmudgeon, sitting in a movie theatre with people who think nothing of talking, coughing and crunching their way through 120 minutes of cinema is, at best, difficult and, at worst, intolerable. At a 2pm screening of MILK this afternoon, I experienced the latter. Having watched 80 minutes of a 2 hour film, I can tell you that Sean Penn gives an Oscar worthy performance. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how it ends because, at minute 81, I had to leave.

The afternoon started out well—Mrs. Winston, having read a good review of the new Gus Van Sant film, suggested we take in a matinee. We purchased tickets online, selected the perfect seats and arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to buy popcorn and Junior Mints—so far, so good. Until, over an hour into the movie, during a quiet, contemplative scene, I heard a strange, repetitive sound—Tssst, tsssst, tsssst, tssst. I thought it was a glitch in the sound system and looked around for an usher to complain to, until my eye caught the shiny glint of an oxygen tank sitting on the seat a row in front of me. Apparently, the emotional nature of the film caused an elderly woman to require a bit more oxygen in order for her to stay and enjoy the movie. Now, before you get all worked up and decide that I am an insensitive lout, let me assure you that I’ve got nothing against the aged. I rather enjoy older people and hope to become one myself some day. What I am vehemently opposed to, however, is people making noise while I am attempting to watch a movie that cost me over $14 a ticket.

The intermittent hissing was making it impossible for me to concentrate so I pondered my next move. I toyed with the idea of alerting the woman to the noise disturbance and politely asking her to turn it off. As I pictured the inevitable ruckus my request would cause, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not an option. “Pardon me, Mamn,” I would ask, “Can you please turn off your breathing machine?” She’d look at me helplessly, “But it’s keeping me alive.” “Still,” I’d say, “It is rather loud.” I imagined her burly son jumping to her defense and starting an old fashioned brawl. There’s no way I’d come out of the situation looking like anything but a really bad guy. And I’m not…really.

It just doesn’t seem fair that one person’s ailment should interrupt another person’s enjoyment. Should it? Maybe I’m in the wrong here, but I think that if your health is so frail as to require noisy life saving measures, you should wait for the movie to come out on DVD. After all, crying babies aren’t allowed in the theatre. You don’t see people being wheeled in an iron lung to take in the latest 007, do you? In any other situation, I’d have been able to tell an usher about the noise and the person would be asked to quiet down or leave. But this is what is commonly referred to as a ‘no win’ situation, so we did the only thing possible under the circumstances—we left.

I am still not completely satisfied that we did the right thing, or that it was entirely fair that my wife and I had to leave while “Breathless” enjoyed the movie. So dear readers, what do you think? Leave a comment telling me what you would have done in my situation and/or tell me your movie horror stories. I’ll publish the best ones in an upcoming column. Until next time, remember, “The audience is listening.” And so am I.