Choosing what to see isn’t necessarily the hardest part of a night out at the movies. Sometimes the bigger question is, where do you sit? On the aisles for easy access to Twizzlers and Diet Coke refills? Or do you map out the closest fire exits and plant yourself there, just in case? Do you sit in the front row because you enjoy the feeling of being swallowed by the film? Or do you chose the middle? There’s a reason that people sit in the middle, I’m just not sure what it is.
Over on his blog at the Chicago Sun Times, film critic Roger Ebert is discussing where people sit in the theater. Inspired by a post he read on film historian David Bordwell’s site, Ebert tells us that growing up he liked to sit in the middle, but over time he has drifted towards the back in order to gracefully sneak out when nature calls. (This assumes you are in a theater where the exits are located near the rear; in many of today’s multiplexes, the exits are located off an aisle behind the first four or so rows and in front of the majority of seats.) However, he notes that many film critics prefer to sit in the front row. As Bordwell puts it, the front row has many advantages: “Nobody’s head looms in front of you. You’re less disturbed by latecomers. You have more leg room, and it’s easier to stretch out for a snooze. And should you wish to leave, the front row is the only one that lets you sneak out easily from any seat.”
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For those lucky enough to make a living reviewing films, watching a movie is not just about bathroom proximity and leg stretching. It’s about studying the screen from characters to lighting to direction. Where you sit in the theater can define your experience. Ebert, for example, prefers an outer aisle seat so he can watch movies “diagonally.” Bordwell opts for the front row because he likes “scanning the frame in great saccadic sweeps and even sometimes turning [his] head to follow the action.” He notes that “CinemaScope and Cinerama give your eyeballs a real workout,” which is a workout you can’t get in a gym.
As for us mere fans, there are benefits to sitting in the back. Remember that classic Seinfeld sketch where Jerry was busted for making out during Schindler’s List? That wouldn’t have happened had he sat in the back row. As for sitting near the front of the theater, as a shortie, I have always preferred to sit near the front of the theater to avoid having someone block my view. Not only because tall people are, well, tall, but because there is something about a silhouetted head that just brings me back to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the snarky commentary kicks in, which can ruin even the most heartfelt drama. (And this is when I should apologize to everyone who sat near me during Melancholia.) However, even in theaters with stadium seating, I still find myself gravitating towards the front. When you sit near the screen you can immerse yourself in the action. Characters loom large, explosions are bigger, tragedies are felt more strongly. I sit near the front so I can really put myself into the movie — preferably right next to Ryan Gosling.
Where do you like to sit in the theater? If you opt for the middle, let us know why in the comments below.