I wrote a blog post recently about my moviegoing rules. I’m not a particularly disciplined person with a strict regimen that I follow everyday, but I’m quite anal when it comes to cinema and going to the theatre.
If there is one thing I truly believe in, it is the power of cinema. I know this sounds contrived and high-handed, but it is true. I’ve always loved movies since I was three and get super duper hyper when I hear of a new blockbuster or a new film from a favorite director. I always sit in front of the screen, immersed in stories that make me laugh and cry and scared and thrilled. No other artform does that for me.
When I go to the theatre these days, I find myself a soldier in a losing battle against the shatterers of illusions. These are the people who make my fantastical trips substandard and disappointing. I’m talking about the loudmouthed uncle who yaps with his client about settling on a price for something, the romantic couple making fun of the characters onscreen as they make out, the baby who can never shut up and the fat kid with a bright new phone tweeting away about how cool the movie he isn’t watching is.
David Edelstein ranted about this problem on Vulture a couple of days ago, but I wonder why he’s complaining about it now. The devolution of film audiences around the world has happened for a while now, especially after the entry of smartphones, which ensure that even if you keep your phone on silent, you can still be a bloody nuisance. How has this happened? Why don’t we value a break from reality through the movies anymore?
Flavorwire responded to Edelstein’s rant by saying that my generation has grown up with screens in their hands all the time and that they’re used to multi-tasking between different things. I agree to this and the whole lowered attention span syndrome (which I admit to having, although I can still read books unlike a lot of my peers) aspect of it, but there’s something else that I want to bring up. Today’s audiences don’t respect movies anymore.
The generation that grew up on Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Brazil, adult films (a label since attributed to porno flicks), are the parents of my generation. What that means is that most of the movies they go to are with their families, which is why most of today’s blockbusters are PG-13 and targeted more at children (and the children of today are the parents of tomorrow. Sigh).
Today’s generation on the other hand go for the blockbusters because of the gee-whiz action sequences which every bona fide summer movie has to have. Any other scene which involves character development, story and relationships bores them. So they whip out that device which instantly gratifies them with constant entertainment no matter where they are.
The other contribution to this loss of respect lies with the cross platform availability of movies. Up till the 1950s, movies were limited to theatres. Then the television arrived, and then in the late 1990s the PC was born. And then came smartphones, and now streaming and Smart TVs and VOD are available. When you can watch Ben-Hur on your 4-inch screen and are comfortable with it, why would you think that watching World War Z on a forty foot screen is extra special, especially when you can stream it in a couple of months on that 4-inch screen? The value of the big screen spectacle has certainly diminished as a result.
What about talking during a movie? I don’t really have an answer to that one, except the people who do it are a bunch of assholes who have lost the senses of wonder and consideration that make them human. I combat these miscreants with my shushes and shut UPs, but how much more can I wage such a war on my own.
And babies? Keep them at home will you.
I must confess though that I’m no text-free saint myself. I can empathize with people who take a peek at their phones – when your phone buzzes in your pocket, your attention is immediately split between the movie and the possibilities as to who might have messaged you. And you cannot ignore this split mind until you attend to the phone, which you must do so that you don’t miss out on the movie. But that is still no excuse for doing it.
Theatre chains like the Alamo Drafthouse are extremely rare, but they have the right concept about changing moviegoing culture. If you have an experience where you are unceremoniously thrown out in front of dozens of people for using your phone in a dark hall, you’re bound never to do it again. Additionally, I propose a solution that could benefit audiences around the world: the interval.
The interval is a break during movies to allow for audiences to use the restroom or get snacks or whatever they want. It exists in India and used to be present in the US. Yes, it goes against my fundamental principle of watching movies in one go, but it is a way for the audience as a whole to have their cake and eat it too. Ignore your phone until the interval, then use those fifteen minutes to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.
Or maybe this is a problem that should be dealt in different ways across different cultures. In Indian societies, being derided for one’s behavior in a crowd is quite embarrassing and can shut people up straight away. Maybe that’s why the Alamo simply throws out its irritating customers, because Americans are okay with being shouted at and not caring about it (“It’s a free country!”). Why not simply ensure audiences have their phones switched off as they enter the theatre, just like an airplane? Oh right, it’s kind of extreme isn’t it? What if it’s only temporary? Such repeated behavior can become habitual. Or not.
When I grow up, and if I can afford it, I will build my own private movie theatre with a huge screen and fifty to seventy seats. And I will sit wherever I want, and eat whatever I want, and be immersed completely, without the glow of a smartphone or the echo of a whisper of the person sitting next to me. That would be true bliss.
Slightly edited for grammar because of the Freshly Pressed highlight!