SOUND OFF! "Is it ever OK to heckle a film?"

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SOUND OFF! "Is it ever OK to heckle a film?"

MST 1.jpgI'm hoping to stir the pot here and get a strong talk back going in the comments section below. The idea for this came to me while writing my review for Womb. Womb is a film that's getting a lot of love here at ScreenAnarchy and I'm certainly a strong supporter of the film and was dismayed by the amount of heckling that took place at the April 10th screening at Cinefest 2011. But I can also understand the reasoning behind many of the comments, apart from the homophobic, ignorant comments being made by some imbecilic frat boys.  If it weren't for my own personal connection to the material, I probably would've hated the film as much as the people who sat around me. Art is subjective, DUH! I'm sure there are those out there that think Ghosts of Mars is John Carpenter's masterpiece. There are those out there that think Casshern is a masterpiece (heh).

There used to be a film festival here in Philadelphia called The Back Seat Film Festival. Touted as "the drinking man's festival," the organizers would spoon feed attendees free beer and vodka while encouraging audience interaction, both positive and negative. The opening ceremony consisted of strippers and porn stars destroying the screeners of films rejected from the festival with large sledge hammers. It was essentially the Gong Show of film festivals. If a film sucked and was heckled, the programmers had no problem stopping the film and moving on to the next. It was a raucous fun time, and it completely ruined me.

As an artist and fellow maker myself, I understand the importance of paying respect to someone who's spent a lot of time and hard work on making a film even if I don't like it. Yet, there are times when I feel insulted, even offended by someone who actually thinks that their terrible picture is worth a public audience's time.

Case in point, Tron Legacy. I loathed Tron 2. Apart from being completely stupid with no story or even a cohesive plot line, it was boring and lacked fun. I went in wanting to like it. I was hyped, particularly after reading Harry Knowles FAN-tastic review.

My best friend kept falling asleep during the screening and was audibly snoring. A few people made some snide remarks enabling me to feel more comfortable in joining in. Oh, peer pressure. As time went on, the majority of the audience turned on the film. This was a packed house of stoned, drunk hipster nerds growing anxious from the lack of action and suspense promised by the trailers. Random hysterical catcalls were being shouted by numerous attendees, and before I knew it, the entire screening became one huge shit show.  The audience actually booed during the credits. And as much as I hated the film, making fun of it with a theater full of strangers became the most fun I had at the theaters in a long time.  I also have a long standing tradition of seeking out bad Hollywood horror movies with a group of fellow filmmaker and writer friends with a bottle of Jack in tow with the singular intent of heckling the film. Doom might have been one of the worst films ever made, but I never laughed so hard in my life.

But when the audience spooled out into the lobby after Tron, I heard one young woman complaining to her boyfriend that she had honestly loved Tron Legacy and the audience completely ruined the experience for her. She was livid, and at 15 bucks a pop to see the damn thing in 3D, I understood her anger and felt guilty that I partook in the inappropriate behavior. Ironically, I normally just walk out of a film if I dislike it that much, but just like her, at $15 a ticket, I couldn't let myself walk out.

After reading Tim League's long response to inappropriate behavior at a recent screening of Rubber, it begs the question, "Is there a ever a time when it's OK to heckle a bad movie in a theater environment? 

Share experiences of seeing a movie heckled that you enjoyed and vice versa.

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AirchinapilotApril 21, 2011 3:17 PM

I think it's a judgement call. There definitely is a tipping point with an audience. I'm not an asshole so if I sense that the audience is really digging the movie, even if I think it is shithouse I'm not going to try and convince everyone else it is. But there have been times when I most definitely reacted differently to a movie and got called on it by people nearby. There was a samurai film that I really really thought was trying to be out and out entertaining and fun, so I laughed at what I thought was laughable and cheered when the blood started flowing. But this was in an arthouse cinematheque type theatre. After that I heard loud comments like: "we would have enjoyed it more [for the art it is] except for those asshats". My buddy and I looked at each other: did those guys not see the same film? I bet the reaction would have been entirely different in a regular theatre in a college neighbourhood.

AirchinapilotApril 21, 2011 3:23 PM

And also more recently, "Battle: L.A." was definitely improved by the loud groans and laughter coming from the audience. My argument against that movie is that it wasn't bad *enough* to make it more enjoyable. I'm sure that film would have played differently in, say, an American army-base town.

arturoApril 21, 2011 4:12 PM

There should be no time to heckle a movie, if you don't like a film then just leave the cinema, don't ruin it for the rest..I hate it when people make to much noise when i'm watching a movie, it's happend a couple of times and i have told the person to SHUT THE FUCK UP....

jacklaughingApril 21, 2011 4:55 PM

Back in the 90's, a group of my coworkers and I formed a guilty pleasures movie club where we'd go see a Friday matinee right after work. We specifically picked films we either thought might be so bad they'd be good or films we were otherwise embarrassed to admit we wanted to see. As a result, I saw films I absolutely loathed (Emmerich's Godzilla), films I ended up liking in spite of their stupidity (Spiceworld), and a couple of absolute gems (Wild Things).

Eventually I moved on to another job and took the concept with me, but I could only motivate my new coworkers to see truly bad films like Battlefield Earth and Dungeons and Dragons (both of which are miserably awful drek and hilarious because of it). We didn't talk through the films, but we laughed long and hard, typically at inappropriate moments, because these films were so incredibly bad. I remember feeling sorta sorry for the handful of folks in each screening who had clearly showed up expecting these films to be good, because our laughter was clearly ruining their experience. After a couple outings I quietly let the group disband.

Personally, I have no problem laughing at a film if it deserves it, intended humor or not. But I do feel uncomfortable ruining someone else's good time, even if their taste in films is awful. So I save the bad movie-watching for home now.

SaltonerApril 21, 2011 5:13 PM

I agree, there is a fine line. A movie like Battle LA should not have vocal heckling. Just because an individual thinks it's bad, doesn't mean someone else in the theater who just shelled out $12 isn't loving the hell out it. Bite your tongue and get through it or leave. Something as ridiculous as Spiceworld, or Showgirls absolutely demands audience heckling. Movies this terrible combined with biting/funny audience quips makes it a cult classic and turns boredom into fun. A lot of "art" cinema I feel also deserves heckling. An art student brat who makes a lousy movie and pawns it off as true cinema deserves to feel the backlash from a movie-going audience. Just because you have a camera and actors and find a theater gullible enough to show it doesn't mean you deserve a patient, quiet audience.

nfrsbmschmckApril 21, 2011 5:15 PM

I think the only appropriate time to heckle a movie is in your own home. We had a particularly fun time tearing Precious apart on my comfy couches, but I would never have done that in theaters. Heckling a movie is not constructive and is usually a bunch of self congratulatory remarks that are more masturbatory than anything else. The heckler's remarks are boastful and self aware; the enjoyment one gets from making fun of something is based around a gleeful egotism and self absorbed cleverness. This can be rather fun, but I don't feel it is right in any context to ruin someone else's experience. Also, would you have done the same thing at a play? Just because you can sit in the dark and get away with it doesn't make it appropriate.

Niels MatthijsApril 21, 2011 5:39 PM

Pretty much agree with the commenter above. If it's in your own home, and you know that everyone is in on it, sure why not. One other instance I can recall is these Night of Terror screenings, which people attend just to shout at the screen. I will never visit those, but at least they are advertised as brawly and shamelessly noisy film screenings, so I guess that's okay.

Apart from that, you're in a public place where others paid quite a lot of money to watch a film, better not to disturb them, no matter how bad you think a film is.

ToryApril 21, 2011 7:11 PM

I'd never heckle a movie unless I was A) at home or B) at a screening where heckling is encouraged. You know, something like The Room. But if I'm just watching the movie of the week and I'm not digging it, I'm going to try to find something to like about it. And if that doesn't work, I'm going to keep my mouth shut because everybody else has paid enough that they shouldn't be bothered by someone else's BS . Far be it from me to ruin a terrible movie for someone who actually likes it. It's not my place to do so.

malackowApril 21, 2011 7:55 PM


Never OK. Only a fuck-stick would have to ask the question.

Unless it's advertised at the Box Office as an Audience Participation Show, shut DEFUCK up. You don't like the movie? Get up. Walk out. Don't disturb anyone else. Go to the Box Office and ask for a refund.

You talk at the screen or to your companions --- you disturb anyone else --- you're a twat.

You're breathing my air, bitch. I don't care about your opinion. If I wanted it, I'd've asked for it.

I walked out of INCEPTION. You saying it would've been OK for me to tell you what I thought of that stupid nonsense as I was leaving? Yeah. TRON LEGACY is bound to be somebody's INCEPTION.

At TOY STORY 3 I sat in front of a mentally-challenged young man who suffered from some unique form of Disney Tourette's. Whenever he saw the logo during the pre-show, he'd scream "Mickey Mouse" at the top of his lungs. Sure, it was unnerving, but he had as much right to be at that show as anyone. The two frat boys at the end of his row who decided it would be a great chuckle if they joined in and shout "Donald Duck" to mock the man and show their dicks became the problem.

I had 'em tossed. I followed 'em into the lobby to make sure they felt like pricks.

By the time I returned to my seat, the film had begun, and there wasn't a single inappropriate peep from the other man through the entire screening.

We live in a country where every little asshole thinks they're a hair's width from being the next great entertainer, center of the universe, V. I. Fucking. P.

Time for you all to ask your grandmothers about manners.

J HurtadoApril 21, 2011 8:46 PM

I don't think I've ever actively heckled a film, but I have laughed out loud spontaneously at things that were not meant to be funny. The climax of The Ward might have given me the giggles.

Greg ChristieApril 22, 2011 2:31 PM

I guess this was a failed experiment. Hurtado, I think laughing out loud at unintentionally funny moments is most definitely a form of heckling. Hell, I had no problem laughing at Precious and I'm glad someone else here can admit that it's one of the great American comedies. Any film with a character who has down syndrome who's named Mongo and has a scene where a morbidly obese woman is knocked unconscious by a friend chicken leg thrown by her mother transitioning into a violent rape flashback can not and should not be treated seriously. Precious is an urban Pink Flamingos. But I'm not condoning heckling by any means. There's a special place in hell for people who interrupt films, but by that same token, movies are not some holy sanctuary.

There are implicit, unwritten public rules of conduct, but there are some gray lines in between. That was the idea behind all of this. When does audience interaction become intrusive, distracting, inappropriate behavior? I can't draw the line and say when it is and isn't ok, and I still stand by the validity of the question being asked. Maybe a better question to pose would have been, "what even constitutes as heckling?" People who cheer, clap, and yell at violent scenes in horror films like Saw could be considered intrusive and annoying. There are those out there that think the Saw franchise is a legitimately scary psychological horror film.

Also, by even going out to see a film in a public space where there will be strangers who's actions are out of your control, are you not making a decision to share that experience with other people, people who might, I don't know, act differently, something people fucking do. And if you're so uptight to suggest that something like Saw 4 deserves the upmost respect..... please. There was a time when Battlefield Earth and The Room or even Showgirls played theaters straight faced right? And it's still a subjective argument whether Showgirls is meant to be campy and funny. What separates a film like those and Battle L.A.?

I'd hoped people would actually lighten up and be able to have fun with this rather than jumping out with angry, socially mal-adjusted, film geek knee jerk reactions. Trolling internet columns and throwing insults out at strangers while hiding behind the anonymity you think the internet is giving you is a form of heckling too is it not?

GeneralErrorApril 22, 2011 3:11 PM

Why did that girl pay money to go to a film screening, aren't film screenings free? I don't understand that at all.

The problem with kicking people out for talking is that it IS okay to yell at the screen. When I saw Kill Bill, Uma Therman called Vivica Fox a "Bitch". This guy yelled "yah bitch!". He was obviously a fan of blaxploitation and was super pumped... unfortunately that was the only "blaxploitation" segment so he had nothing else to say.

When I was young I used to see Jackie Chan movies and people would get out of their seats yelling in excitement. You can't help it if the experience of seeing a certain film has changed your life. And as much as I like when people get pumped at a film, I was super annoyed when the old lady next to me at Avatar said "wow" and "gosh it's so three-dimensional". But I can't tell her to shut up.

Now I was pretty annoyed when people heckled "the Fountain" -it was definitely not christian enough for the average American. And when I saw "the Cell" my friend and I hated it so much we just said "this sucks" and left (not so the whole theater could hear) -we still pissed off the sicko behind us.

It's not okay to "heckle" but I am saying that it is a problem to expect people to quietly sit like they are in detention, laughing only in the allowed places. That is equally unenjoyable, and if you expect people to behave like that not only should you not got to the theaters, you shouldn't even leave the house.

GeneralErrorApril 22, 2011 3:18 PM

Wait you think an art student deserves heckling for a no budget film, but if hollwood makes a pile of garbage for over $100 million dollars you must respect it? That's nuts.

ToryApril 23, 2011 1:44 AM

Saw is different, I think. And cheering at a Saw film and loudly making fun of it are two different things. And The Room is also a different situation. That's just a terrible movie and I can't see anyone getting any enjoyment out of it as a drama. But I can definitely see someone enjoying the spectacle of something like Battle LA or Transformers 2, even if I didn't care for them personally. It's not that I see a movie theater as a holy sanctuary. I just that if someone's paying 50 bucks for a ticket, popcorn, and drinks, then they deserve to enjoy the experience. I'd be pissed if someone ruined a movie I was digging. And if you don't get that then I think we just come from two different schoolsmof thought. And I hardly think my reaction was angry. Did you want, and I say this without a hint of intended snarkiness, did you just want everyone to agree with you?

Greg ChristieApril 23, 2011 12:53 PM

I was not writing in response directly to you or to you at all. I think you made some good points. So, I say this without a hint of intended snarkiness, but do you.... eh, forget it. You didn't call me a "fuckstick" just for posing a question. If you've ever read any of my articles, I usually discribe the audience interaction with the film and my annoyance when people ruined the experience. But I also like to gauge a film's success by the way the crowd reacts and that's half the fun of seeing a film in a theater anyhow. But I'm also trying to be empathetic here cause I'm not perfect and I've been an ass on a few occasions. I never even made a direct point for people to agree with, just a question to be humored. Where is the line drawn between audience interaction or rawdy times at B-movies? I admit that I think the line was crossed with my screening at Tron, but is it any different if the majority of an audience is going after a bad film? I run drunken film screenings in Philadelphia with a pretty eclectic line up of films and it's frustrating how people are conditioned to act. The audience reactions for quieter fare like Make Out with Vioence was the same for Lady Terminator. But I screen films in a bar atmosphere, it's simply the way it is. I don't promote for people to heckle at all, but with the fact that alcohol is involved, it's inherent. And when the crowd went nuts for Lady Terminator or Hard Ticket to Hawaii, it was a blast. Which then even leads me to play devil's advocate with Tim League and The Alamo Drafthouse. If your theater serves booze and is known for throwing wild, drunken parties, can you be upset when drunk film goers interrupt a film?

davehausleinApril 23, 2011 3:33 PM

I think it's okay to throw bricks and let out primal screams of rage at Tyler Perry films. Otherwise, it's a case to case basis. Also, I have known Greg for years and can confirm that he is not a fuckstick.

SaltonerApril 23, 2011 9:11 PM

Of course I don't think that's okay, stop defending shitty movies, you knew what I meant. I'm just saying, I'll watch Battle LA a million times before I'd sit through 10 minutes of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.

SaltonerApril 23, 2011 9:14 PM

Bravo. Amen.

ToryApril 24, 2011 1:40 AM

No, I don't think so at all. If that's what the theater is known for, then I'd see no reason for anyone to be upset. And as far as cheering goes, I say sure, have a blast. Cheering is 100 percent cool with me. I'm just against a lone group or a few small groups heckling or ruining a movie for the whole. I guess it just depends on the vibe you're getting from the audience. I don't know.

magiclandofjordanApril 24, 2011 8:14 AM

The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds has "Creatures of the Nights" screenings on Saturdays at 11:00 PM where such participation is sanctioned and encouraged and it can be great fun – that said, most regular screenings are so sparsely attended that one can sit far away enough to not be heard by other groups anyway, though that's not really a good thing. And I do wish they'd show films that I was interested in more often rather than horror and perhaps repeat them at a time which doesn't exclude so many people – but more so, that more cinemas around the world did screenings like these, so that people aren't restricted to watching videos of the films at home or risking annoying people to be able to partake in the pleasure of a good heckle.

BUT I will say even if it's going to open a whole other can of wormies that, having experienced both, I would moderately prefer someone heckle a film then get out a mobile phone during it. At least talking doesn't stop me seeing the film (would be a different case were it, say, purely music or spoken theatre)… And has a grand tradition behind it, if nothing else.

And, not forgetting, TRAILERS and ads, which no one there is paying for specifically, I cannot see any argument against always being free to heckle, which my parents once chastised me for (making Garfield talk, with a moving mouth, does not deserve to go uncommented on).

AirchinapilotApril 25, 2011 11:39 AM

It's an audience for godsakes. An audience of people in all their glory. They can be stupid, angry, respectful, coarse, all the above. If you don't want to share that experience there's a place for you and that's in front of your own big screen TV. These days the same experience can be had at home with you on your sofa. The only thing I find annoying is if the reaction ISN'T about what is being projected. For example, people talking loudly about something that isn't in the theatre. But if they are responding to what is on the screen, that's called audience reaction. Really the reason to go out to an actual theatre IS to have that shared experience.

Agent WaxApril 26, 2011 1:05 AM

I suppose it never occurred to you that a theatre full of complete strangers might not want to or be comfortable having a shared experience with YOU?

Sharing a movie-watching experience in a theatre does NOT mean having to listen to some drunk idiot loudly mock the screen, director, actors, plot, etc. That's only a step down from pissing at the screen or masturbating. Other people have the right to enjoy the film in their own way as well. That is NOT negotiable.

klevelend4April 26, 2011 3:47 PM

As has been stated above, it all depends on the venue you are watching movies at. There is a local theatre I have been going to since I was a child and that theatre is notorious for it's assholes, who the hell brings a three month old to a midnight screening of Terminator 3. I had to actually scream at the mother to take her child out. That aside, I should know better, being the neighborhood it's in and the people that attend there I have come to the realization when I want to see a terrible movie I go there for the atmosphere. I'll smuggle my 40 oz. of Old English into the theater and watch Shaft, Land of The Dead, Saw, Avatarded Etc...

The only time I have ever agreed or started heckling a movie was Star Wars Episode III, I just couldn't take it anymore and began to bad mouth the movie very loudly. By half way through the movie the entire crowd was on my side. And sure this is solely my opinion, but if you enjoyed Episode I-III you have no credit as a person who enjoys cinema. There are popcorn movies and then there is trash, these fall under pure trash. I'm still pissed that I allowed my friends to drag me to that piece of garbage. These movies would be my only real caveat.

Though, as much as I hate to say this: you are going out to a public theatre to enjoy a movie with dozens if not hundreds of other individuals where when crowds gather people tend to act out. Yes, there is theatre etiquette, people who text or talk on phones during a movie should be dragged into an alley and shot. If you want that solemn experience, go to the arthouse theatre's where there still is a modicum of respect left for public cinema. If you don't want to be around people, who tragically feel it's their God given right to express their unwanted opinion, stay home.