I was enjoying a late lunch with Margaret, a woman I had been messaging on my singles dating website. After a longish telephone conversation, we decided to meet each other at an inner city cafe. We were soon chatting away like old friends, and I invited her to continue our time together by seeing a film at a nearby cinema.
I was quite familiar with this old 1930s picture theatre, having seen many a film there in my younger days before it was converted into a multi-screen cinema complex in the 1990’s.
As we arrived, it was apparent that further renovations were underway by the hive of activity being conducted by half a dozen or so white helmeted men, wearing orange safety vests – all of which I thought could do with a good wash.
A similarly adorned woman, holding a spinable yellow STOP and GO sign, guided us through to the foyer entrance along the partially blocked off footpath, the walkable sections marked off by an orange mesh safety fence.
There was further evidence of works being carried out inside the foyer as well, with tarpaulins protecting the period carpet, and newly plastered walls that had yet to be painted. We purchased our tickets, and made our way up to cinema 3, where we claimed seats L9 and 10. We hadn’t been seated very long when we first heard the noise that was emanating from the ceiling. It sounded like someone was drilling holes through concrete, a vibratory noise that reverberated throughout the cinema.
We weren’t the only patrons to gaze up at the ceiling. “I guess they’re working up there while they can before the film starts,” I said to Margaret. “I’m sure they’ll stop when it does,” she replied.
After a few more bums sat on seats, the house lights were dimmed down to half and the coming attractions were shown. As we worked our way into THE FOUNDER preview, the noise started again, and continued on as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone danced their way through the LA LA LAND preview.
It was a jarring sound, an annoying noise that you hoped would not go on for too long, like a dentist who keeps drilling for a a filling way past the point of your ability to endure it nicely.
After a word from our friends at Telstra about theatre telephone etiquette, and an add showing joyous couples insanely happy with their choice of home insurance, the lights faded out, the noise stopped, and the film started.
We had gone to see THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, a tender drama about a lighthouse keeper and his wife living on an island off the coast of Western Australia, who rescue a baby they find in a rowboat that has somehow drifted into the shallow waters by the light.
About twenty minutes into the film, the lighthouse keeper’s wife suffers her third tragic miscarriage during a terrible storm, and I have become deeply emotionally involved with the character as this truly dreadful moment in this poor woman’s life unfolds before us on the giant screen, and yours truly is tearing up as THE FRICKIN’ NOISE STARTED UP AGAIN!
I had now reached the point of either accepting the situation and not let it spoil the film for me; or to voice my displeasure to management. With the luxury of having read the book, and therefore able to miss a bit of the story without falling behind, and doubting if this lighthouse keeper bloke would have stood for this, I decided to play the hero and sort a few things out.
“I’m going downstairs to sort things out,” I said to Margaret,”This is just not good enough.”
“OK then” she said.
I squeezed past the knees of two ladies occupying L5 and 6, “Are you going down to complain?” L9 asked me. “Well, I think someone should, this is just not good enough,” I replied in sotto voce, as I carefully stepped into the aisle, to march towards my managerial confrontation.
Halfway down the stairs, I came upon a young man attired in cinematic livery, “Where can I find the manager?” I asked him, in a stern but still friendly mode. “I am a supervisor sir,” he said, his wariness trait kicking in, “Perhaps I can help you?”
“My friend and I are seeing THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS in cinema 3, and someone appears to be up in the roof making a hell of a noise with a mega builders drill, which is absolutely ruining the film for us. Would it be possible for you to please do something about it?”
“Well, what we can do sir,” he replied, “Is to issue you with complementary tickets for another session.”
“The thing is, I don’t want complementary tickets,” I told him, “I want to enjoy the film that we have traveled a fair way here to see without the disturbance of somebody drilling in the roof.”
“As I have already advised you sir, what we can do is to issue you with complementary tickets for another session.”
“Then I need to speak with the manager,” I said, “Where can I find him?”
“There’s another supervisor at the ticket counter sir.”
“And what’s his name?”
I walked down the rest of the stairs and trod the tarp-covered carpet to where Dean was and re-addressed my complaint to him.
“Well, what we can do for you sir,” he replied, “Is to issue you with complementary tickets for another session.”
Quite clearly, I would not be returning to Margaret a hero by proceedings so far. An escalation here was clearly required, and immediately met by two new filmgoers who were approaching Dean’s counter.
“Excuse me,” I said to them in my outside voice,”If you’re about to see a movie here, you need to be aware that there are workers in the roof making loud noises with power tools.”
Dean instantly nodded his head to the right to indicate that our conversation would now take place over by the candy bar.
“I don’t want complementary tickets,” I told him, “I want to enjoy the film that we have traveled here to see without the disturbance of somebody drilling in the roof. I fully understand that you are undergoing renovations here at the moment, but this cinema should not be open if you are aware that such work will be happening while paying people are watching a film.”
Dean hit his repeat button with “Well, what we can do -”
“I’M NOT INTERESTED IN COMPLEMENTARY FUCKING TICKETS” I said, now in a capitalized boldened voice, “I JUST WANT TO ENJOY THE FILM I HAVE PAID TO SEE WITHOUT SOME ORANGE VESTED PERSON JACKHAMMERING AWAY IN THE FUCKING ROOF!”
“I’m afraid sir, if you are going to use that language here, I’m going to have to call the police,” Dean said, upping the ante to mark his score one to my zero.
“That’s up to you,” I said, “But I’m returning to the cinema now to see the rest of the film, and when it has finished I will want my money back.”
I rejoined Margaret, who leaned into me asking, “How did it go?”
“He’s calling the police,” I said.
It had just gone four o’clock – we had met each other at fifteen minutes past one. I settled back into my seat, and returned to the problems of the lighthouse keeper and his wife. My plight was beginning to override theirs.
After a while I began to notice a man who was walking backwards down the fairly steeped left side aisle, whom I thought perhaps had been to the toilet and was looking for his seat in the dark. But when he crossed over to the right side aisle and continued to search, I recognized him as Dean, and that he was looking for me.
“I think he’s looking for me”, I said to Margaret, whose eyes remained screen-bound, and was quite possibly now in stopwatch mode, counting down to when she would reach the safety of her car that could quickly take her to the chardonnay cask in her fridge.
I didn’t squirm back into my seat to avoid being captured, but sat there as dignified as I could be – as I did once as a teenager, whilst attempting to enter a drive-in theatre free of charge by hiding in the boot.
Seeing an old V8 Ford Customline full of teenage boys queuing for tickets, the gate attendant asked my mate Larry to open the boot. As it was flung open, his torchlight found me in the dignified pretence of sleep, rudely cut short upon my humiliating expulsion from my hidy-hole, and my walk-of-shame back to Maroondah Highway to the cacophony of car horns.
But no expulsion took place here; failing in his hunt, Dean departed, the film finally concluded, and the house lights came on. “I think it might be best if you leave on your own, and I’ll deal with whatever happens downstairs,” I said to Margaret, “And I’ll meet you outside.”
“No, I’ll go with you,” she said.
When we reached the exit doors of cinema 3, the supervisor that I had first encountered on the stairs was standing there, and other patrons had stopped to complain in rather strong terms about the noise. We ended up a group of eight pissed off people.
Then, much to Margaret’s horror, I suggested to my fellow hell-raisers that we should voice our displeasure in the downstairs foyer, and led the way.
Facing our gathered throng, Dean went through his management dictated spiel regarding complementary tickets, but found himself coming up against the same repeated question of why was the cinema open to paying customers if they knew there was to be building works taking place directly above it.
By this time other sessions were due to begin, and the foyer was filling with new filmgoers and their ambient noise. I returned to my outside voice to suggest that if he was unable to answer our question, then perhaps he should call the appropriate person from management who could explain their lack of regard to their patrons.
I’m not too sure whom he had phoned, but the word ‘police’ was mentioned. As he continued the call, the other supervisor handed us all complementary tickets, at which point I suggested to Margaret that we leave. As we walked away from the cinema, two police officers passed by us on their way to the foyer. We continued to walk towards Margaret’s car, but as we prepared to cross the busy road, I noticed them approaching us.
We turned to face them, and discussed what had happened, and how silly the whole thing was. The constable took down my name and address, and that was that.
As we walked across the road to her car, I said that as a person, I firmly believed in standing up for what is right and just, and that I was actually kind of proud to have encouraged others to do likewise. I apologised for involving her in the argy-bargy, and offered her my complementary ticket as compensation.
She thanked me for the ticket, opened her driver’s door and sat behind the wheel. She lowered her window for the goodbyes.
“By the way Margaret,” I said, “I don’t usually behave like that in a cinema, I’m a fairly quiet sort of person mostly. Anyway, all things considered, I’ve enjoyed your company today, so how would you feel about meeting again?”
“Well, it certainly has been an interesting experience,” she said, starting up her engine, “But I don’t want to see you again,” and with a that’s-that expression, she drove away heading east, away from the sunset.
Yeah, fair enough I thought.