OPINION: ‘Security theatre’? Don’t frighten the horses…

When cinemas reopen, being demonstrably “clean” will be seen as a priority, but as CT’s Alastair Balmain argues, perhaps exhibitors should consider not labouring this particular point too much.


GRANNY’S GOT CORONA…” I confess that the call we received some weeks back about my 99-year-old grandmother-in-law seemed daunting. Unsurprisingly at her age, she’s in a care home, so catching Covid-19 didn’t come as a huge shock. We braced ourselves. You can imagine our relief when, a week later, the follow-up call had a more positive tone: “She’s recovered… her main concern now is where her digestive biscuits have got to.”

It’s been a funny few months. Worldwide, familes have been struck by tragedy — and I’m sure all know of individuals taken by this terrible scourge — yet stories like the one above demonstrate, fundamentally, that life also goes on. You’d be hard pushed to say that it’s life as normal right now though.


Go ahead, punk… Wash your hands.
But the semblance of normal life is returning. In the UK, cinemas reopen from 4th July. If ever there was a better case for a re-run of “Independence Day”, I don’t know what it is. Of course it’s not 100% normal life. Not yet. As you can read throughout this issue, concern, consideration, and provision will be made for the inevitable “PPE”, all of which is done with the best of intentions — to demonstrate actions taken to protect customers and staff alike. To use the parlance of the airline industry, it’s good “security theatre”. People can see safety. It wears blue gloves and smells of hand sanitiser.


I have a concern. If we overplay the adoption of such measures, do we not simply intensify fear further, jeopardising the audience’s enthusiastic return? To me, if we broadcast messages about gloves, hand sanitiser, sneeze screens and masks “for customer protection”, what we’re actually saying is: “Come to the cinema… if you like living life on the edge”.


I can see how my view may run counter to the accepted groupthink and that we should, of course, insist that front of house teams dress like Dustin Hoffman in his yellow hazmat suit, but perhaps we should not overplay “security theatre” too much? Maybe washing our hands more often, catching our coughs and keeping a respectful distance is sufficient to satisfy the concerns of those who are confident enough to attempt to resume their normal lives.


Safe to go back in the water?
I had my car serviced the other day. The garage I went to was outstanding. The seats were slathered in fresh sheets of throwaway plastic, it was sanitised to within an inch of its life, my key returned in a ziplock bag, and I got to keep the pen I used to sign on the dotted line. “What a palaver,” I yelled to the chap some distance from me behind the service desk. “With all due respect, you’re not the customer we’re doing it for,” was the immediate — and accurate — response.


When cinemas reopen, I’ll stand in the elongated queue, I’ll book online and I’ll follow the authorised route to my isolated seat. But in all honesty, I’ll do so with a faintly devil-may-care attitude. And I bet that’s true of the majority of those who visit the cinema in the next few months. They’ll be there not because it’s 100% safe to go back in the water, but because they know and accept the associated risks. Let’s give them reasons to come, not reasons to stay away.