I’ve always wondered what it was like for the first, the original, Hitchcock audiences. To be at the front of the line for Psycho and experience all its twisty glory completely unspoiled… I always imagine that to be something magical; sitting in a theater, immersed, watching who you assumed was your heroine get stabbed to death. I don’t know why I think of it as something transcendent; some defining cinema moment. Maybe because that’s how it’d be for me. Or rather, how it was when I first watched it as a tiny girl in a modern setting.
I think sometimes we romanticize the days of yore. All you have to do is read fiction from the 19th century, or criticism born from the mid 20th to see how little things have changed. We aren’t some brand new species with brand new ideas and reactions. Sure we’ve adapted and have the internet (man, that’s a whole nother thing…) and tiny phones, but we’re still the same in many ways.
So I don’t know why I would think that folks off the street would have sat silently, in reverence, as they watched Tippi get attacked by gulls. I guess it’s the same reason I assumed that a Sunday evening screening of Strangers on a Train would be filled with appreciative fans. I mean, that’s not something you just happen into, is it?
To address talking and lit up cell phone screens in a movie theater seems redundant. It bothers us. As film fans, we have an inherent respect for the film-going experience. We don’t do these things and it confounds us that others would. Honestly, it no longer surprises me, and it’s one the reasons I avoid multiplexes. Did I think I’d get it during Hitchcock week? No, but I wasn’t left slack-jawed. It was distracting, sure, but what really shocked me was the laughter.
Comedy is subjective and that’s all too obvious when I’m left silent as theaters erupt. Myself and a few others chuckle at one thing and others go for something else. Hey, that’s what makes comedies so difficult to pull off! But Strangers on a Train, for all intents and purposes isn’t a comedy. There is dark humor spattered throughout. Pat Hitchcock’s character spews quippy, often morbid lines of dialogue, and when Robert Walker’s Bruno calls for “Guy” in his singsong tone, I can sort of see the humor. But this isn’t what was getting laughs. The exchange the cops have about not wanting to crawl under the carousel IS funny. The carousel collapsing in on itself is not.
To say the raucous laughter “ruined” the experience for me is a sort of dramatic. I’ve seen the film multiple times before, and as with any favorite, you wait for *the* scenes or lines. And the chance to see them in a theater! Joy! Until the audience cackles through the tennis scene. You probably know the one. As Guy sits down he (and the camera) focus in on the crowd assembled to watch the match. The heads whip back and forth following the action. All except for one. Bruno stares past the players and directly at Guy. This is an eerie reminder of how focused the man is; how fixated. It’s often called out as one the greatest Hitchcock scenes. But people laughed. And loudly. Sort of broke the tension.
The audience giggled when Bruno strangled Miriam. They exploded when Bruno’s dog doesn’t bite Guy (that one confused me). They found the whole cat and mouse, Bruno hunting Miriam, amusement park scene a laugh riot. And I fear that this comes off as me being some kind of pompous laugh monitor. Laugh at want you like, I just don’t understand.
There were also 4 very drunk older women right beside us. Maybe that wore me down and caused the amped up aggravation.
SoaT was a product of the (early) 1950s. Many folks don’t watch classic cinema. There’s still a stigma attached to black and white. Tones and sensibilities the average person may not get, or care to get, are on display in these older films. Maybe there’s a disconnect. Perhaps if you don’t understand them, you laugh at how foreign it all seems. Either way, the rowdy crowd wasn’t something I expected. But then again, people are people, and I can picture the audience exploding as the knife slashed across the screen towards Janet Leigh.