A plainclothes security officer looked intimidating last night as he spoke to a protest group at the Loews Rotunda movie theater, but what he had to say seemed strangely unaggressive.
"You can't give away the ending of the movie," he said with finality. "If you do, we'll escort you out."
"What? You've got to be kidding," said protester Mark Shaw, who along with 12 others from the gay activist group Queer Nation was protesting the opening of the movie "Basic Instinct."
Protesters nationwide had made tentative plans to tell people who the killer was in the suspense yarn, a strategy that has been read about in newspapers and seen on television.
"We heard their whole campaign centered around revealing who did it," said the security officer, who refused to give his name. "We can't have them yelling that to people."
Mr. Shaw and the others were also told that they couldn't pass out the fliers they had prepared, nor could they speak to any of the moviegoers in line.
In short, they could only stand alongside the crowd and watch as they filed into the theater.
And they had to stand next to a counter-protester -- who said he himself was gay -- who bore a large sign stating, "Queers, Get a Life."
"They've gone too far. This is ridiculous," Mr. Shaw said.
"We're pretty much silenced. I guess we'll go straight to hell if we say anything about this movie," Mr. Shaw added.
The movie, which gay activists were planning to protest at theaters around the nation because its plot is thought to depict bisexual and lesbian women as ice-pick murderers, attracted a line of more than 50 moviegoers at the Rotunda for the first showing at 7:30 p.m.
"Even though I don't agree with their feelings on the movie, I think they should be allowed to hand out their literature, and I think they should be allowed to say what they want," said Granger Maher, a 20-year-old Loyola College student who stood in line.
Another Loyola student, Pete Lally, 20, of Annapolis, said he didn't agree with the plan to ruin the movie for people. But "they shouldn't be censored. That's not right," he said.
"Our main goal is to distribute information, nothing more," said one of the protesters, Marguerite Ro, 24, of Baltimore. Another protester, Joel Burton, 19, of Catonsville, said: "We're really just here to tell people this film is offensive. The giving away of the movie ending is not the reason they've shut us out. That's a cop-out."
Mr. Burton said he didn't believe that the Rotunda's explanation that "this is private property" was good enough to exclude public comment on the movie. "Malls are private places, but there is also freedom of expression in private places," he said.
"Basic Instinct" has been under fire for more than a year, ever since gay activists got wind of the screenplay.
Activists have said they are planning a demonstration at the Academy Awards ceremony March 30 to protest Hollywood's overall depiction of homosexuals in movies.
Billy Workman, the 28-year-old Baltimore resident who was holding the "Queers, Get A Life" sign, said he himself is gay but that he disapproved of Queer Nation's tactics.
The group, he said, is just looking for the media spotlight.
"They don't care about gay issues, all they want is their picture in the paper," Mr. Workman said. "I'm gay myself but I don't think you have to force it down people's throats. Why can't people be gay without raising havoc?"
Queer Nation's flier, which the group was only allowed to pass out outside the Rotunda property, said "Basic Instinct is the latest in a long line of Hollywood films which portray lesbians and gays as evil, violent and psychopathic." The flier also gives the advice, "Don't waste your time and money, because basically ['Basic Instinct'] stinks."
Mr. Shaw said that he planned to complain to the Rotunda management today about the gag order but that he and the other protesters didn't see the issue as pressing.
"No one wants to go to jail over this," he said.