ガイドの週刊誌 Solved で! カラム, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all
The snacks for sale in the cinema today are a smörgåsbord of sweet and sour. There are pick’n’mix walls of sugary treats in little plastic compartments and brightly coloured paper bags that moviegoers are entreated to fill to the brim. Large sharing bags of beloved chocolate brands. Freezers laden with ice-cream. And from behind the counter, trays of sticky nachos and milk churn-sized soda servings.
Most prominently of all there is popcorn, kept warm in smeary, plastic-walled tanks. You will be asked if you want sweet or salty. I always ask for sweet, because salty would be to risk something that tastes like corn. But for some, the question is whether popcorn should be allowed at all.
Popcorn grew to be a part of the movies because it was very quick, cheap and easy to make. The first popcorn vendors could wheel their carts up to circus tents, fairground shows and theatre doors. Eventually they were let inside. Cinema owners ultimately abandoned their scruples about popcorn being low-class because it was just so lucrative, and so they introduced in-house concessions. Huge bags of pre-popped corn could be cheaply bought in advance and easily stored, and outrageous markups became the norm.
Popcorn became a symbol of watching the type of Hollywood movies patronisingly or affectionately known as “popcorn movies”. But even indie cinemas that serve hummus and glitzy, new dine-in cinemas have popcorn. It’s a must. (If not, people will sneak it in.) Popcorn is part of the grammar of the cinema experience. Ben Elton’s Tarantino-esque 1996 novel Popcorn is about some criminals whose behaviour turns brutal when they demand to be sold popcorn after the film and are refused – thus committing a kind of conceptual outrage to the order and pattern of popcorn.
But popcorn is divisive. Some audience members bristle at the crunching and rustling, and the incitement to bad behaviour (it’s cheap and dry enough for people to throw it around with relative impunity). Ever since BBC Radio 5 Live Film Review hosts Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo took against the stuff in their “Code of Conduct”, resistance has grown more widespread, with some cinemas even banning it. But here I disagree with Mark and Simon. They are right about talking and phone use and kicking people’s seats. But the sound of crunching is as much part of the cinema-going experience as fold-down chairs and velvet curtains.
それは言った, probably the most horrible experience of my own cinema-going life was in the Empire, Leicester Square, central London (now a Cineworld Imax) where I saw the popcorn being delivered in huge, clear-blue, plastic bags and dumped in the foyer. Like the manufacture of sausages, the preparation of popcorn is something that we should never see. Those blue bags were like the intestines of a giant animal that had been slaughtered and was being readied for dissection into snack portions. But as cinemas reopen after Covid, I am sentimental about popcorn. Put a bucket of the finished yellowy product in my hand, play the Pearl & Dean advert music, and I’ll eat.