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Movie Rant: Clapping In A Movie Theater

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 14, 2012 9:25PM

Image Credit: Marshall Rosenthal
The new year was still very new when it happened to us for the first time. A film ended, the credits started to roll, and some members of the audience started clapping. Many of us non-clappers chuckled in a way meant to convey, audibly, derisive scratching of the head. This wasn't an adrenaline-courting action movie: this was the buttoned-down (if lively) prestige import, The Artist. As far as we could tell, neither of the film's BAFTA winners Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin nor Golden Collar Award winner Uggie were at the River East 21. So what exactly, we wondered, gives?

Then it happened again, at a different movie. And again. And yet again. Sometimes it was just a smattering. Once, at a showing of A Separation at the Music Box, it was one pioneering applauder. Nevertheless, while twice is a coincidence, four times is a trend. We feel compelled to ask that we all come together on this one: Clapping at a movie theater is not necessary.

The etiquette of the movie house is pretty noncontroversial: Talking in the movie is a no-no. Talking at the movie is context-dependent. Cell phones are never okay, even if you're just looking at your (Hello! quite bright) screen. Eating snacks, including those you have smuggled in, is almost always okay. Apologize to people disrupted by your arrival. But clapping... do we really have to tell you why that's weird?

During a film festival or any showing where those individuals who worked to create the movie might be in attendance, it is perfectly acceptable to clap at the end of the movie. In that case an entirely new social contract between performer and audience is introduced, and the expectations are aligned with those for a live performance. We will even allow that if some particularly triumphant or emotional turn of events on screen moves you to clap, then you ought to go ahead and do that. It's not as if countless sports-related spectacles haven't had us clapping in a sports bar several thousand miles away from the individuals who deserved it. Who are we to deny the same joy from the audience of Rocky or Free Willy or whatever has moved you to that degree.

The issue is that clapping at the end of a movie seems self-congratulatory, as if the audience were applauding itself for its own taste as much as for the movie itself, which-we have to stress-cannot hear you. We remember a standing ovation at the Davis Theater for Farenheit 9/11, and that just about said it all. Save your clapping for when it counts. Spread the word and we can nip this in the bud before the multiplex becomes filled with more hollow applause than a State of the Union speech.