Posts Tagged ‘century theaters’

Remembering the “clap-along” at Century Theaters

November 26th, 2018


Century Theaters clap-along video

 
If you watch movies in the Bay Area (or anywhere in the western part of the US, really) there’s a good chance you’ve been to Century Theaters. Formerly known as Syufy Theaters, Century typically operated multi-screen cineplexes in out of the way locations. Around the year 2000 or so the chain began pivoting away from this model, closing their old freestanding theaters and opening new cineplexes in malls and shopping centers. Today Century Theaters is part of Cinemark but still operates as an independent brand.

Those who lived in the Bay Area in the 80′s and 90′s probably remember a peculiar crowd phenomenon at Century just before the movie started — the clap-along song.

Truthfully it wasn’t even a song, so much as a cheesy rhythmic backing track playing during a pre-film bumper explaining all the ways you could spend your money at the theater, in case you forgot to buy popcorn or drop quarters in the video games at the “Starcade.”

The song’s rhythm contains a repeating bass and brass section that goes something like this:

Doo doo doo… DO-DO-DO, DO-DO-DO

At many showings the audience would spontaneously clap along to those last six beats: clap clap clap, clap clap clap!

Sort of like “the wave” at sporting events, it’s difficult to pinpoint who started this in general, let alone who started it at any individual film screening. For my part as an individual I never felt singled out for not participating in the clap-along, yet it was somehow embarrassing if I was the only one doing it.

The only time anyone outright laughed at other participants is if they clapped at the wrong time. Due to the timing of the song the clapping part isn’t completely consistent throughout the song, you had to know when it’s coming in order to get the timing right.

From what I recall the clapping phenomenon was more prevalent at certain Century Theaters, and tended to happen more at late night screenings and almost never during matinees.

But the oddest aspect is where the audience tended to clap along to the song. It seems almost unknown outside of the Bay Area, and yet Century Theaters can be found throughout California and many other states.

According to one former Century Theaters projectionist:

It was always a fun bit of unprompted audience participation that made moviegoing feel like something that overlapped the feeling of kindergarten with the feeling of being in a fun-loving cult.*

*Funnily enough, a friend who grew-up in Ventura County said that she encountered the Century Theaters clap-along ritual when visiting relatives in Northern California as a kid and it freaked her out.

I can’t say this “ritual” ever felt cult-like to me, just a whimsical piece of Bay Area lore that never meant anything. It was a funny way to pass the time while waiting for the movie to start — sometimes more fun than the movie itself if my memory of sitting through Waterworld is anything to go by.

Ultimately the clap-along video was replaced by a new video with a less memorable song that nobody claps along with.

If the 90′s era video at the top of this post doesn’t seem familiar, check out this older version that’s a little before my time: