The Undeniable Scientific Superiority of Seat F7

Jeff Labrecque, University Advancement

Honorable Mention

2018-2019 Staff Essay Contest

 

I think a lot about where I choose to sit in a movie theater.

“Going to the movies” might be a fading pastime in the age of Netflix and other streaming entertainment, but for me, movie theaters remain magical palaces with the power to transport an audience to any corner of the universe and any period in human history. When the veil of blackness comes down and the light of a story is projected on the screen, your emotional senses are sharpened and your imagination is cracked open. The subsequent passions that are unleashed are magnified by the communal nature of the movie house. Seeing a film in a crowded theater can be an electric experience, with the laughter and shrieks from the strangers in the next row becoming as much a part of your memory as the exploits unfolding on the screen. I can’t think of There’s Something About Mary without remembering the waves of laughter that washed over the theater the first time I saw it, and the reason Seven still sends a chill down my spine is because of the woman in the audience who shrieked hysterically when she realized Gwyneth Paltrow’s head was in the box.

So, obviously, I care about how I see movies and where I see them. Despite some evidence to the contrary, I’m not a theater snob—though I admit a preference for massive screens, superior sound systems, and old-school non-reclining seats. (I’d opt for a rusty bleacher bench instead of an overly cozy recliner that lulls a symphony of snorers.)

But it doesn’t matter if it’s an enormous IMAX screen or a more intimate movie house like the Garden Theatre on Nassau Street—my strategy for finding the perfect seat is the same.

No. 1, Find the centermost available seat to maximize screen symmetry. That’s straightforward common sense.

No. 2, In the case of stadium seating, choose the row that places your line of sight at an ever so slight upward trajectory toward the screen. It feels right to gaze up at movie stars just a tad, but you don’t want to develop a kink in your neck from staring up at the screen at too steep an angle. Contrarily, no balconies: no movie fan should be forced to look down on the action.

No. 3, And this is what separates the true connoisseur from the amateurs, select the row closest to the front from which the screen nearly fills your entire peripheral vision. Too far forward, and you have to swivel your head from side to side to follow the action from one corner of the screen to another. Too far to the back, and the screen resembles the pull-down projector screen from 7th-grade health class. In other words, sit as close as is comfortably possible in order to appreciate the sheer vastness of the picture.

Movies are meant to be big, with faces projected on the screen the size of Mount Rushmore presidents or Norma Desmond’s vanity.

When I go to the theater, I like to try out several seats before I settle in, and rows E, F, and G are typically my happy place. From there, even the action on a modest-sized movie screen feels larger than life—or at least more hyperreal than the stories that unfold on the Smart TV in my living room.

So it goes without saying that I avoid theaters that insist upon online-reserved seating. Clicking the optimum blue square on the Fandango website is always a crapshoot when it comes to my three-step seating strategy. Fortunately, such tech-savvy theaters are also the ones that typically boast fleets of those La-Z-Boys that induce two-hour naps, so the combination of both is a double-whammy deterrent.

Instead, I’m that person who arrives early to general-admission showings in order to scope the primo seat. It’s a habit ingrained from the pre-internet days when coming attractions—or trailers—were exclusive to the theater experience and not to be missed. Back then, there was a palpable tingle of anticipation when the Motion Picture Association of America’s green band appeared on screen before the feature, signaling a first peek at something that until that moment was just a rumor, something that promised to become the next Casablanca or Star Wars—even if we understood it was bound to ultimately disappoint upon closer inspection in six or eight months. Whatever dreck you were about to sit through, the trailers always represented the hope of something magnificent just around the bend.

Today, trailer premieres are global social-media events, with millions of fans clicking their computers and smart phones to play the video in just the first hours after an online debut. I can’t recall the last time I saw a trailer in the theater that was not a “rerun.” And yet, I’m still conditioned to get to the theater early, and my entire moviegoing experience feels tainted if I miss even a single one of the recycled coming attractions.

If you’ve read this far, it may come as no surprise that I often go to the movies by myself. But I’m never alone. On Friday nights, you can find me surrounded by kindred spirits, most likely in or near Seat F7, just as the house lights are about to go down in a theater where a buzzing packed house is hoping to experience something special—an adventure, a romance, a comedy—that will, with any luck, become part of who we are and how we view the world. And it all starts with choosing the right seat.

 

Listen to Jeff Labrecque read his essay here.