AMC Presents Cinema Paradiso, Showing Nightly

My friend was crestfallen and confused.

"Say it ain't so," he said.

'I'm afraid so," I said.

"Let me get this straight. You mean there's no talking during the movie?"

"That's right."

"I don't think it's fair for them to single me out."

"They're not singling you out. There's not going to be any talking from anybody once the movie starts."

"Not even the previews?"

"You can probably get away with it then. But if you're disruptive during the movie, an usher is going to ask you to be quiet. If you don't, they'll ask you to leave and they'll call the cops if they have to."

"Who's the Einstein who dreamed this up?"

"AMC Theaters. They did some research and found out that what bugs people the most about going to the movies was people in the audience who talk."

"Hmm. I woulda thought it was people over 6-foot-3 with good posture."

"That's probably No. 2 on the list. But they can't do anything about that."

"Hey, man, this sounds like Russia to me. What about free speech?"

"Their thinking apparently is that most people who shell out six or seven bucks for a movie want to hear what's going on on the screen and not the saga of your sister's teen-age son and the high school principal."

"You always tell me how funny I am."

"You are funny," I said, "but not in a theater when people are trying to watch a movie."

"Let me ask you this, Mr. Smart Guy. If you don't talk during the movie, when are you supposed to talk?"

"How about at home before you leave? Or in the lobby before the show starts? Or, here's a thought--how about after the movie? Why don't you go somewhere with someone and discuss the movie afterward?"

"Hey, when they make a movie that's worth discussing afterward, I'll do it. Most of these movies I've forgotten by the time I find my car in the parking lot. What, you want me to go to a nice restaurant and discuss 'Die Hard 2' with somebody? Or maybe as we're sipping a nice cappuccino, we dissect the character development in 'Robocop'? Come on, those are audience-participation movies."

My friend is not the swiftest of thinkers.

"They're not saying you can't laugh loudly or react to something in the movie," I said. "Their complaint is with people who maintain a running commentary, as if they're auditioning for Siskel and Ebert. This may come as a surprise to you, but most people can figure out the plots by themselves without any help from you."

"Hey, man, have you been to a Mickey Rourke movie lately?"

He had me there. "Any responsible theater management would undoubtedly waive the no-talking rule for any Mickey Rourke film," I said.

"So, what's the big deal? What's wrong with asking an occasional question during the movie?"

"It's not the occasional question. It's your constant chattering. You seem to feel compelled to let everyone know your reaction to everything."

"I'm just getting into the movie."

"I'll give you a perfect example. You know how you love mysteries and cop thrillers. You've been to dozens of them, and you've never figured one out yet. Inevitably, something happens and you always say, 'I didn't see that coming at all.' "

"So? I suppose you always figure everything out?"

"No, but if I don't, I don't feel compelled to confess it to everyone sitting around me. Trust me, total strangers don't care whether you saw something coming or not. Your degree of surprise in the plot twist is not interesting to them. And when you insist on someone explaining things to you on the spot, it's distracting. People start listening to your conversation and not the movie."

"I paid good money too."

"All right, listen up. Here's the way it works in a society. There's an implied contract among people when lots of them gather in one place for a common event. Sort of an unwritten code of conduct. Within certain boundaries, you're expected to act a certain way for the good of the group. It's a simple matter of civility."

"Sounds like conformity," he said.

"Let me ask you this. What would you do if you went to a baseball game and some guy next to you brought his violin and broke into a concerto?"

"I'd tell the moron to stuff it."

"Aha. Finally, you're starting to get the picture. Now, can I ask you one more thing?"

"Sure."

"Will you shut up and let me watch this movie?"

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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