Saying Something Nice, for a Change

I’m told that my column Tuesday about talkative movie audiences was too harsh. Not everyone in a movie audience is constantly yakking and munching and slurping during the film, said the anonymous man on the phone.

The problem with wise-guy columnists is they’re always looking for the little things that are wrong and ignoring the good things, he said.

I suppose I could have written about the movie viewers who were not talking, but I didn’t notice them. That’s not so amazing. We all tend to take for granted what’s right and concentrate on what’s wrong. If you sit on a tack, you immediately forget about how comfy the rest of the seat was.

But there is some truth in what the man said, so today I’m going to redeem myself. Today I’m going to tell you about the most uniformly well-mannered movie theater audience I ever saw.


It was in a theater in Santa Ana, and it must be a high-class one, because the marquee says it’s a “theat re .” The marquee also says that playing this week are “Sexorama” and “Flesh Pond.”

This is the Mitchell Brothers Santa Ana Theatre across from Santa Ana College. All the prattlers in all the usual shopping-center theaters should be a little ashamed, because they are not nearly as quiet and attentive as the guys inside this place.

I went there on a weekday afternoon (as a professional observer, of course). I could tell right away that this was not your usual movie audience.

And I was impressed. These guys were considerate. They didn’t say a word. They just walked into the theater and sat down, but never near anyone. There were 50 or 75 men in the audience (no women), but no two were sitting within 10 seats of one another.


They didn’t buy noisy popcorn to munch, even though it was cheaper here than in the usual theaters. They didn’t buy anything from the snack bar.

No one made a noise or even stirred. During the silent screening of the theater’s statement that they were even now exercising their First Amendment right of free expression, the theater was in dead silence.

When someone wanted to leave, he left by a side exit. They all came in through the lobby, but no one seemed to leave that way. They all must have been concerned about adding to the congestion there.

They needn’t have worried. The lobby was utterly empty. It’s a big lobby, built as part of a big theater that was intended to be the United Artists house in the Honer Plaza shopping center.


But UA backed out of its lease more than a decade ago, and the Mitchell brothers moved in. The City Council has been in and out of court ever since, trying, unsuccessfully, to move the Mitchell brothers out. The City Council doesn’t like the movies there. Myself, I can’t venture an opinion, because while I was there I kept my eyes carefully averted from the screen.

But the City Council certainly couldn’t have anything against the theater itself. Except for the marquee and movie posters, you can’t tell it from any other theater. And it had a really clean bathroom with no graffiti.

And the City Council certainly could have nothing against that audience. They are quiet. And they are dedicated moviegoers, too. The day I attended, I called the number for program information at 8:30 in the morning, and the line was busy.

Perhaps the Mitchell brothers have stumbled onto something that regular theaters could use to eliminate audience chatter. I called the brothers in the San Francisco Bay Area (where three of their four theaters are located), was connected to Jim Mitchell, introduced myself and asked what his secret is.


“Who is this again?” he asked.

Steve Emmons. I’m a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

“And what’s this for?”

I want to write a column on why your audiences don’t talk and make noise during your movies.


“Well, why do you think? There are no kids in there, only adults. It’s a good crowd. You don’t want to get into trouble in an adult theater. We get very few problems.”

Yeah, but adults talk in regular theaters.

“It’s a different kind of action on the screen.”

Why does everyone sit far apart?


“Did you sit next to anyone?”

Well, no.

“So look in the mirror and ask yourself.”

I did, but myself had no answer that myself wanted to talk about.


Given Mitchell’s reluctance to reveal his secret, we’re going to have to live with theater chatter until we discover it ourselves. If you think you know the secret, please pass it on. I promise to forward it to Mr. Edwards and Mr. Mann and Mr. United Artists.