January 7th, 2004

Tom Lehrer is Smug


The most interesting thing about this evening's viewing of Return of the King (5:30 showing, Loews Boston Common) may not have been the actual film itself. It may have been the antics of one audience member in particular.

The theater wasn't packed, but it wasn't empty either. A right moderate audience-to-emptyseat ratio if you ask me. And we started the film rather nicely, I thought. But then, in the silence that followed the first major Gollum-Frodo-Sam scene (notice the complete lack of slash in that phrase) it happened. The Scream.

It came from someone behind me and to my left.

"PRECIOUSSSS!" she screamed. "MY PRECIOUSSSSSS!" And the entire audience whipped its collective head around and stared at her. There was a second or two of absolute stunned silence, then some people managed to get out a good stage-whispered "shush!" and we all turned back to the film.

We were right to be stunned, you see. This hadn't been a whispered joke to a friend. Nor had it been in any particular Indoor Voice. It had been a loud, brazen, full-on scream. One that, in the first few milliseconds or so, made your nerves leap into that white-hot Holy Shit Something's Wrong mode. And it scared us.

And really, we had no idea who the person was behind the scream. Was it a member of society whose mental development might have been sufficiently stunted so that they were not aware that you Do Not Do That in a movie theater? Perhaps. It's happened before. Was it someone actually possessed by the One Ring that they felt compelled to scream along with Gollum? Not bloody likely -- though you never know cause brother, that's one evil ring. Or perhaps it was someone being a complete and total jackass to amuse her friends? If so, her friends were not impressed. There were no juvenile snickers after the scream. If anything, the people seated next to the Source looked alternately embarassed and infuriated. Perhaps it was just a joke gone awry.

And the theater managed to stay silent for a few more scenes, until the Woman Sitting Two Seats Apart From The Screamer leapt into action. I hadn't heard what the Screamer had said, but apparently she'd said something else, and it was enough to set her neighbor off.

"STOP MAKING NOISE!" the Neighbor roared in one of those authoritative "That's All I Can Stands And I Canst Stands No More" voices. "YOU'RE RUINING IT FOR EVERYONE. JUST STOP MAKING THAT NOISE."

And then the Screamer petulantly offered up her defense. I swear to God, this is what she said:

"Chill out. All I said was 'My Precious' really loud."

Wow. Just ruminate on that for a moment. The Screamer explained it as if it had been No Big Thing. Of course it hadn't -- people routinely say things Really Loud in movie theaters, all the time, especially in a very silent moment between scenes. Well, as you may well expect, it wasn't enough for the Neighbor.

"You're a fucking selfish bitch," the Neighbor responded, and I think she got up and changed her seat.

Now, from a storytelling perspective, this is one of those moments that should end in appreciative applause from the audience members who care. But it didn't happen. Perhaps we were all still a bit stunned by the second loud outburst of the evening. Maybe we were waiting for the fight to continue. But it didn't. And the Screamer, apparently suitably chastened, stayed silent for the rest of the film.

And it was a pretty good movie, too. I teared up at the end and was the only one who stayed all the way through the closing credits.