Going to movies in the modern age has its pros and cons. Plush, reclining seats practically kick back into bed, like a first-class flight. Those are great. On the flip side, there are those people fiddling with their phones that distractingly glow like magnesium flares. Of course, people have been talking in movie theaters since, well… probably since the Lumière Brothers invented the movies.
We love the movies, and go all the time, don't get us wrong. That is how we develop these pet peeves. Another one is the coming-and-going of the audience in the middle of the film. It breaks the fantasy and sucks your attention away from the screen. But imagine if the crowd was constantly arriving and departing, if the doors to the lobby were swinging open and shut throughout the flick, if ushers were shining flashlights up and down the aisles as you tried to concentrate.
This is the way it was for the first half of the 20th century. Some of you might remember. Because movies did not have showtimes until 1960.
That sentence might seem so strange to younger generations, so let us repeat it. Movies did not have set showtimes. Remember, this is the era before cineplexes, when most films were screening for a couple of days in a grand movie hall or local, single-screen theater. The theaters simply projected the movies on a loop throughout the day. People would come and go as they please. You could enter when you want and stay as long as you please.
In hindsight, it's a little hard to fathom. You and your date walk up to the box office, purchase a couple of tickets, and settle into your seats — in the middle of the movie. You watch the ending, sit through some newsreels, and catch the beginning that you missed.
So why did this all change? Besides the obvious inconvenience.
You can thank Alfred Hitchcock, his twist endings, and perhaps the first spoiler alert in movie history.
In 1960, the Master of Suspense was releasing his latest shocking film, Psycho. Suffice it to say, you would not want to walk into the theater just before the final act to see Norman Bates… well, spoiler alert. Those who have seen Psycho (and who hasn't?) know that seeing the ending before the beginning would ruin the entire story. Which is why Hitch appeared in newspaper advertisements instructing audiences to show up to the theater on time, at a set time, at the beginning.
"Surely you do not have your meat course after your dessert at dinner," the ad began. "You will therefore understand why we are so insistent that you enjoy PSYCHO from start to finish, exactly as we intended it to be served." Hitch tapped at his watch with a chiding look on his face next to the text.
The director went to even more extreme measures to secure the details of his devilish twist ending. He purchased as many copies as possible of Robert Bloch's novel that inspired the movie. He held back the film from critics.
But set times were his greatest achievement. Some marquees in front of theaters commanded, "SEE THIS THRILLER FROM THE BEGINNING."
If Hitchcock hadn't done it, perhaps George Lucas would have gotten around to it. Can you imagine walking into The Empire Strikes Back just as Darth Vader declares, "Luke, I am your father!"
Sorry, spoiler alert?