August 15, 2008

Pop Like You Just Can’t Stop

In a grim dark alleyway round the corner from the Picturehouse Cinema, a seedy youth with an ugly cluster of facial piercings sidled up to a smartly dressed young couple, an oozing and malodorous bag protruding from the half-zipped front of his filthy hoodie.

His dark-ringed eyes burned with a haunted, unspeakable hunger and his hands trembled in his tattered pockets as he plied his filthy trade.

His eyes briefly caught the man's, then shifted away.

This one's worth a try, he thought.

"Psst! Wanna score some popcorn?"

The couple shuddered, averted their eyes and walked on a few paces. But then the man turned back, leaving his girlfriend waiting, in the neon glow of the cinema frontage.

The light, reflected from the August puddles, was shattered and twisted by a passing prowl car.

"How much?" asked the boyfriend.

"Seven quid regular, nine quid family size," hissed the youth.

"Is it good stuff?"

"Ask no questions, hear no lies. But listen, man: you won't need extra salt."

"When was it popped?"

"Fresh this morning."

"All right, give us a regular. Can you break a tenner?"

"You kidding me?" The boyfriend caught a cold steely glint in the pusher's bloodshot eye.

"Never mind," said the boyfriend. "Keep it, just let me have the bag."

"Here you go, man. Have yourself a good time. Just don't eat it in the Picturehouse, that's all."

Cruel fantasy, perhaps, but who knows where it could all end if more cinema chains stop selling the golden kernels?

For those of you who aren't following (we know where you live), let's backtrack. Daniel Broch, proprietor of 18 cinemas across the country (including Bath's very own Little Theatre Cinema), believes that the smell and the rustling of popcorn bags distract his audiences from their enjoyment of the artistic experience that is modern cinema-going.

He is even reported as saying: "I will de-popcorn every cinema that I acquire.

"It has a disproportionate influence on the space in terms of its overwhelming smell, the cultural idea of it and the operational problems created by the mess it produces."

Now you might think that anyone who bandies about words like "de-popcorn" and "disproportionate" deserves all they've got coming.

But in a spirit of conciliation, here are a couple of solutions for Mr Broch.

First, everyone knows that it's only the sweetened stuff that smells foul, and that culture, cinema and salted go together like - well, love and marriage.

Salted popcorn is as much a part of cinema culture as James Dean, Doris Day, and the '50s drive-in: pure, unadulterated teenage fun. So do away with the sweet, and keep the salted.

And if Mr Broch is worried about the potential mess, all he needs to do is to assign a 12-year-old boy to each popcorn-buying customer.

At the first sign of a spillage, the boy will dive to the floor and guzzle every last one of the runaway grains. This has been tested on numerous cinema visits with family and friends, and has been observed to work on every occasion.

But while Daniel Broch of Picturehouse Cinemas attacks our fun from one side, the German government is assaulting it from the other.

Berlin lawgivers want to ban the sale of Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs; for the spurious reason that kids may swallow the cheap plastic toys that lurk within and somehow suffer as a result.

Now as has been pointed out in this column on a number of occasions, children who grow up swathed in a protective germicidal mist of Dettol Disinfectant Spray - the same sort of children who are prevented from lunching on crayons, mud, twigs, unwashed fruit and Play- Doh during their early years - grow up to be lily- livered, disease-prone weeds.

Any child whose fingers are strong enough to prise open the slippery casing inside the chocolate of a Kinder Surprise deserves a nibble at the gurning purple goblin that nestles at its core.

Apart from anything else, there's probably more nutrition in the plastic than there is in the chocolate.

Kinder Surprises are a part of growing up. They're a distraction when the kids are moaning, they're a challenge for the parents to assemble, they're everything a family needs to keep it functioning.

So please, German government people, don't take away our last bit of fun. The microwave's broken and we can't make any more popcorn.

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