Friday, October 7, 2011

Design of Modern Movie Theaters: Encouragement of Privacy

Last night my wife and I saw The Help. It was a very enjoyable movie that suffered from the same malady as our previous escapades to a theater, restless and talkative audience. This got me thinking of why this is such a prevalent problem with the movies I've seen in the past decade and how I don't remember this being an issue when I was younger. To be fair, perhaps I am turning into a curmudgeon in my old age. Then again this might be due to something else: the changing design of movie theaters.

Black arrows represent the movement of staff while movie is playing. Note the limited amount of movement in a modern theater's design compared to the pre-modern design. The further you sit from the black arrows (staff presence) the greater the afforded privacy, and hence modern designs afford vast areas of privacy and ability to act against social rules.
Before the 2000's most movie theaters were designed with the theater sinking downward from where you entered the room. From my experiences, you would have two doorways at the back of the theater and another two at the bottom. These two entrances led to open pathways that split the theater along the sides, leaving the bulk of seats in the middle, similar to how modern theaters are designed. The difference between modern and earlier theaters is that the entrances now lead you to the middle of the room, where the back half of the theater is angled upward from where the entrance led you. This design breaks the flow of people entering the theater with people walking up to the back of the theater and walking down to the front of the theater. This results in the back of the theater being more secluded as no one needs to walk up to this area unless there are empty seats. Theater staff who check on the movie during a screening never enter the back half of the theater as their business is located in the front. As the staff only need to walk to the front (I don't really know what they do there) and the entrance opens in the middle of the theater, this creates a situation where movie goers know that the staff will never be walking near them. This adds a greater amount of privacy and freedom for them to act whichever way they wish.

I am not suggesting that a theater's staff would solve all the problems of rudeness in theaters. Instead I am suggesting that the possibility of staff entering someone's vicinity will create a sense of paranoia. I believe most movie goers know what is socially acceptable and not acceptable. Privacy encourages someone to act whichever way they wish for there is no fear of punishment. The possibility of the presence of staff removes the sense of privacy and has movie goers acting in a more socially acceptable manner for fear of punishment. By eliminating the traffic of theater staff to the back half of the rooms, designers have unintentionally created a space of privacy that allows for socially unacceptable behavior. The solution to making movie theaters a quieter and more enjoyable place is to eliminate private spaces and induce fear of punishment. To this end, staff must be sent in both directions from the entrance of modern designed movie theaters.

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