Should I forgive inappropriate laughter at old movies?

Most of my classic film watching has been at home, but I’ve been catching some old flicks on the big screen lately. Today I saw a Hitchcock double-feature. First up was Rear Window; it’s my favorite of his, and I was particularly mesmerized seeing it in a theater for the first time. The audience was sparse and well-behaved.

For the second film, The Wrong Man, the theater filled up. I hadn’t seen it before, and I have to admit, backed up to Rear Window, it seemed pretty dreary; there’s little or no humor to break the tension, and Henry Fonda makes for a pretty milquetoast paesan. But it’s a decent docudrama, has some cool NY street scenes, and I was glad I got to see something a little different from Hitchock.

The thing that got under my skin, however, was the tittering from a certain subsection of the audience (maybe 15-20 people out of 100). It mostly started after Anthony Quayle hit the screen; he plays an attorney who represents Fonda’s character, and I guess his acting style seems a little dated. The laughter intensified when the scenes between Fonda and Vera Miles, playing his wife, become a tad melodramatic as she descends into madness.

So, you see what I’m getting at; the laughter wasn’t due to any Hitchcockian winking and nudging, but because a portion of the audience couldn’t move past the old-fashioned acting and concentrate on the story. It’s the sort of thing I remember from watching old movies in high school, but I was sorely disappointed to encounter it sitting in an art-house theater.

Am I overreacting?* Is it disrespectful to essentially scoff at the movie that other patrons are trying to view objectively? Or should they be forgiven for recognizing that this particular movie, while perhaps well-made, is simply not “timeless”?

*Not that I’m too worked up about it, but it felt like an SMDB post.

I remember watching **Sergeant Rutledge ** a.k.a. “Captain Buffalo”, and thinking it was a pretty decent movie until the very end whenThe killer gives the most unrealistic courtroom confession in history- even Perry Mason wouldn’t buy it. So old-time cinematic conventions can be jarring to modern audiences.

Sure, forgiving them may be hard, but your only other option is nursing your anger and resentment until it explodes into an orgy of mindless violence. And who needs that, really?

I laugh at old movies while enjoying them at the same time. Not a big deal.

I was watching an animation festival movie in a theatre once and there was this woman who just kept laughing throughout the movie. Which was annoying because some of the works were clearly not intended as comedies. But this woman apparently was convinced that cartoons must be funny so she was laughing to show everyone she “got it”. She apparently failed to notice that the rest of us weren’t laughing with her.

Well, if they were laughing it means that they were enjoying it as well, just in a different manner. Either that, or they were uncontrollably stoned.

Objectively speaking, they had as much right to be there as you did, and the same right to enjoy it without outright ruining it for the entire theater.

Was it the giggling that bothered you more, or the fact that you didn’t agree that it was kinda funny?

[sub]The above should not be read as being accusatory in any way, just questions.[/sub]

Sometimes things don’t hold up well, and when you’re in a group, they’re even funnier. The old Twilight Zone, Black Leather Jackets, comes to mind. I always knew it was horrible, but I wasn’t aware just how hilarious it was until I watched it at a fourth of July BBQ recently.

I guess it was just that the laughter was loudest during the scenes that were supposed to be deadly serious. I can see how the scenes came off as kind of corny, but if they hadn’t laughed I don’t think the corniness would faze me.

I think my brain goes into “old movie mode” the way it goes into “sci fi mode” and can overlook any inconsistencies with our ultra-hip modern world.

That’s a good point; I was alone and trying to stay focused on the movie. I probably have too much built-in respect for Hitchcock, but even I have to admit it’s not a very fun movie. Had I been with a group, maybe I would have been in it for the cathartic Chuckles the Clown funeral-type laughter.

I’d agree with you. If you’re going to an art house theater to see a classic (if dated) film its pretty damn rude to laugh at it like Joel/Mike & the bots or Homer Simpson! Its just a question of situational awareness. A venue like that is to enjoy a movie for what it is, not for what its not.

The Wrong Man is one of my favorite Hitchcocks; top three easy. I can’t imagine laughing at those scenes.

But yes, you should forgive ignorance. At least in your heart; outside of your heart, you should give them the “I know you’re retarded, and now you know I know I you’re retarded” glare.

I don’t think that you are out of line.

My wife loves old movies, I don’t. I can’t stand the pacing, the overdone music, or the overdone acting (especially of the actresses). If she is watching one of her movies at home, I usually usually leave the room and do other things, making rude comments (MST3K style) or immitating the actors as I walk by (I do a great Bette Davis). I think that this is OK, since we are in our own home.

Occasionally I will accompany her to the art house movie theater to watch some old movie or some foreign film I am not interested in. I know what I am in for going in, it would be major jackassery for me to ruin her fun and the fun of others by laughing and acting stupid during the film. It is hard for me to do it, but I stay quiet because it is appropriate for the venue.

I say that the people going in should have known what they are in for when they bought the ticket and shouldn’t laugh at the stupidity of the movie to the point that it infringes on those who are there to take it seriously. A little giggle here and there is one thing, but laughing every time someone over acts would be too much. They deserve at least “the glare.”

I 'unno, a modern Hollywood scriptwriter looking for ideas?

I suppose the flip side of all this is sitting through what was considered a hilarious comedy 50+ years ago and not even managing a mild chuckle.

If you’re in a venue with other, unrelated people, no, you should try not to laugh. But I gotta confess, I’m a third-grader on the inside - every time the word “gay” comes up in an old movie, as in “You’re looking very gay today, sir!” or “Oh, everything’s all very gay to you, isn’t it?”, hell, I’m howling in the aisles. Friday we were watching some old British movie the name of which escapes me, and there was one of those “I’ll go knock up Mrs. Smith.” “Yes, that would be the sensible thing to do.” moments, and we had to pause it for a bit. I mean, it never gets old! I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

It’s rude to other audience members and does the viewer herself a disservice is she goes into the movie with an attitude of putting herself above it. “Oh, look at this movie, it’s so dated and silly, I’m going to make sure everyone knows I noticed!” Just stay home, genius. Sometimes certains elements may be especially jarring and can’t help but color the viewing experience a little (for instance, the subtle references to Rock Hudson’s sexual orientation in movies made waaaaaaay before that was common knowledge, though it was pretty much an open secret in Hollywood), and the laughter may be genuine, but I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.

I remember a Doper here, from China I think, wrote that he got pissed off when people started laughing during Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon when the wire-fu scenes first started. A lot of people in the audience might not have been exposed to that type of cinema in the past and if you’re unprepared it can look quite silly to American audiences.

So should the OP forgive the laughter? At the very least you’ll just have to let it go.

How old is old? I was watching the **Star Wars ** revitalized 4-5-6 over the weekend (well, really, just flipping back and forth) and I don’t think I truly realized how bad the writing is and how Mark Hamill can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.

Yeesh. But I guess the special effects were good for their time.

I’m unhappy when people even laugh at new movies at inappropriate times.

When we saw Return of the King in the theater for the first time, we sat next to an imbecilic couple who laughed every single time something unexpected happened on the screen. They weren’t showing how they were above the silly fantasy movie; it was just their way of reacting to any kind of stimulus.

Sam strangling Gollum? ::laughter::
Nazgul shrieking and everyone cowering in fear? ::laughter::
Gondorian soldiers being massacred in the failed sortie? ::laughter::
Pippin finding Merry near death on the battlefield? ::laughter::

They finally got the message when my husband leaned forward in his seat and glared at them fiercely and they cut it out.

:: off-topic:: The Film Forum, right? Their current definition of “noir” is a little loose. ::end off-topic::

The worst example of this was the screening of The Searchers. The 20-somethings in the audience rolled with laughter at some of the most dramatic parts, while the more mature patrons glared.

Yeesh, the most dramatic parts of The Searchers can be pretty heartbreaking and intense. I can’t imagine thinking it’d be funny, even if I found the acting outdated (which I don’t). What yahoos.