In a previous installment of The Exhibitionist, I've addressed the annoyance of noise inside the auditorium. But another complaint I often have is about the noises outside. In fact, I typically find this to be even more annoying.
Recently, I went to my local independent cinema to see No Country for Old Men. If you've seen it, you're aware that it's a very, very quiet movie. Not only is there little dialogue, there's little anything on the soundtrack for the majority of two hours. And this is a movie that works best because of its silent moments. It has a chance of being ruined if there's any distracting sound.
Surprisingly the entire crowd kept quiet throughout -- and this was a sold out, every-seat-filled show. And it's a movie that's sometimes hard to follow, a movie you'd expect to hear at least some whispers of, "wait, who is that on the floor?"
The employees outside the auditorium, however, were a different matter. I could hear whole conversations about what they were doing after work. And I could hear the cleaning of the popcorn bins and counters -- recognizing each step, since I was once a concessionist myself. As you can imagine, I became very distracted and very annoyed. I don't blame the employees, though. They weren't even very loud compared to other theater employees I've encountered. Instead I blame the construction of the cinema, which doesn't have enough soundproofing to keep that noise outside of the auditorium.
In this situation the problem was with the doors, a common fault with small theaters. Unlike a lot of multiplexes, small theaters don't have room for two sets of doors, or hallways leading to the auditorium, or any other method to keep the sound from outside the doors from reaching the moviegoers within. Many small theaters also don't have room to keep the concession stand, which is usually a noisy place, far enough away from the auditoriums.
In addition to my local independent, there are countless bad cinema designs. The most infamous that comes to mind is a well-known art house in Manhattan, which also has the misfortune of having its concession stand located a few feet from most of its six auditorium entrances. The worst thing about the construction of this theater, though, is that all its auditoriums are located in the basement of a building. And there's a subway system close by, so every show comes complete with the noise of rumbling trains going by.
Is it really too hard or too expensive for these theaters to install proper soundproofing? It appears so, and at least in the case of the independent, which is family owned, there isn't likely much chance of the problem being fixed. The ironic thing about these theaters is that the ones with the poorest soundproofing are typically the ones that show the quietest films.
Soundproofing problems aren't exclusive to small independent cinemas and art houses. Many multiplexes have their own faults, more often regarding their walls rather than their doors. Surely we've all attempted to see a quiet movie -- say No Country for Old Men -- when it finally gets distributed to our remote, suburban area, and have had the misfortune of hearing most of some blockbuster -- say Transformers -- which is playing in the adjacent auditorium. Some of this error is because of thin walls and poor soundproofing, though some blame must go to the person who makes the decision of what film plays on what screen. I've actually had a double dose before when watching a quiet drama that was mistakenly sandwiched between two very loud action movies.
I notice the multiplex problem less and less these days. Many of the giant theaters I frequent are newer and have apparently been designed and constructed appropriately. My hometown multiplexes, which have only been around for about fifteen years, are the ones that commonly have such sound issues. In the next five or ten years, they'll at least be torn down to make way for deluxe replacements.
Interestingly enough, my local independent theater, where I watched No Country for Old Men, does sometimes show big movies like Transformers. But I've never had an issue with sounds coming from other screens. Maybe its because the auditoriums aren't laid out like units of a self storage facility the way many multiplexes are. Still, it is one of the many old theaters that has been diced up and added onto in order for it to feature additional screens. Normally I find that if an old single-screen movie house has been divided into two auditoriums, the walls have the worst soundproofing possible.
Normally I put up with the faults of the independent theater because its problems give it character and charm. But since I missed a number of Tommy Lee Jones' soft-spoken lines in No Country for Old Men, I am wondering if I should return to the cinema the next time it's showing a quiet drama. Considering I choose to watch big movies at another theater with better picture and sound, if I avoid this theater's offerings of indie and foreign films, there won't be much else to see there. And honestly I love the place, and I like helping to keep it in business.
If anyone has any ideas of how better to soundproof auditorium doors, please share them here so that I can pass them along to the theater's owner.