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In search of the sound of silence

Remember AMC Theaters' Silence is Golden campaign during the summer of 1991? That was an etiquette program for moviegoers, notably a plea for rude people to shut up.

Two years later, the problem is worse than ever. Hardly a screening passes that I don't lightly shush _ or firmly implore _ people who feel compelled to guess what happens next, catch up on a confusing scene or something even more inconsiderate.

It happened Thursday night at _ of all places _ AMC's Old Hyde Park 7, where Tina Turner's rerecorded sound track for her biography What's Love Got to Do With It was drowned out by four screaming babies. Parents who bring infants to an R-rated film don't help matters, but the show passed without a single AMC employee reminding the parents or other talkers that silence is golden.

Another occasion occurred at a United Artists Movies at Mission Bell screening for Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Two guys couldn't resist an idiotic running commentary on the fights and sexist remarks about actor Lauren Holly. I turned to quiet them, then wimped out when I spotted pumped-up biceps poking through their best tank tops.

I was worried that they would either pick a fight or ask me to help them read the occasional subtitles.

Now, AMC is giving the Silence is Golden program another try. Spokesman Tim McGriff promised that personal pleas for silence will be made before crowded performances. Monitors will patrol auditoriums looking for noisy patrons. A warning comes first, then ejection if problems continue.

Well, that's the way it's supposed to work. McGriff was shocked to hear about Thursday's incident. It must have been a problem of understaffing, he said.

"I really feel that your experience (Thursday) was an exception," McGriff said.

Part of the AMC plan is a request that parents not bring children under 3 to PG-13 and R-rated films after 6 p.m. AMC will not consider any stronger measures, such as a ban on babies for those films.

"Some chains around the country are doing that," McGriff said. "They're also in court."

Old Hyde Park 7 manager Allen Berrebbi expressed surprise Thursday night when informed that those babies had disrupted the show. Rather than investigate, he wanted to know how many patrons were in my party. "We want to make sure you come back," he said, offering a few soothing free passes.

I told him that wouldn't be necessary: I don't accept freebies, and my line of work means I'll be back. Later, I wondered why anybody would want to endure that kind of distraction, even if it's on a free pass.

Still, AMC is making a concerted effort, which is more than you can say for their competitors. Wake up, Cineplex Odeon, Cobb, Floyd and United Artists. The best way to keep paying customers away from their VCRs is to offer a comfy, quiet theater experience.

The rest of us need to stop being wimps about theater rudeness. Talk to an usher or a manager if you don't want to address the talker directly. Nobody will complain about a voice raised to quiet someone else.

FRENCH FLING _ Dates and new co-chairpersons for the fifth annual Sarasota French Film Festival were recently announced. Bill and Dede Fuller were selected by the Asolo Center Board of Directors to head the event, which will be held November 10-14 at the Sarasota Opera House.

Once again, film critic/historian Molly Haskell serves as artistic director for the festival, and will select 20 new French films for exhibition. Titles of those selections will be announced Oct. 1 in order to include the latest releases possible. Bob Johnson, who co-founded the festival in 1989, continues as festival president.

Festival officials estimate there were 23,000 admissions to films at the 1992 event and the 1,000-seat Opera House averaged 97 percent capacity. Some $500,000 was pumped into the Sarasota economy by an international crowd of visitors. More than 1,600 hotel rooms were booked for the festival last year.

A black-tie formal gala is scheduled for Nov. 12, with a Closing Night Wrap Party planned for Nov. 14. The popular French Market _ a collection of music, arts and entertainment at Selby Five Points Park _ will return by popular demand as a two-day event Nov. 13-14. For information, call 351-9010 in Sarasota.