The Shatterers of Illusions

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!

Godzilla Texting

Attribution: GODZILLA BY ~AKMCCLELLAND-JR, CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0

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66 thoughts on “The Shatterers of Illusions

  1. I have even thought of shooting those people who talk inside the hall. Like in God Bless America. And you know what, I am going to build a theatre chain in future that does not allow its costumers to take their gadgets inside. We will return them back after they watch the film. Won’t let the bastards get away with anything.

    • Completely empathize with you. But what’s wrong with the Alamo way of throwing out the disturbing customers? The social embarrassment is worth it. Although the act of throwing someone out during the movie can be disruptive. So your model works. Except for the guy whose loved one got into an accident and he’s supposed to rush to the hospital…

  2. Thankfully, at the local theater I visit, there is seldom any more than 15-20 people inside. I shifted towards going to drive-ins, which perhaps you don’t have in your area. With the drive-in you can expect good quality pictures, moderately good sound, and almost no ambient noise. Taking a trip to fantasy world, wouldn’t it be nice if all theaters supplied head phones directly linked with the movie and metal detectors up front?

  3. I remember being reduced to tears when I took my dad (fellow horror lover) to see The Blair Witch Project. I had been anticipating that film for a year prior, and after attending a midnight showing, knew that I would have to bring him back for a similar experience. That was the worst movie-going experience I have ever had. I am generally a very docile and forgiving person, but people all had their phones on and were even sitting on the floor in the aisles to have conversations. I became enraged at the girl behind me, talking so loudly on her phone that we couldn’t hear anything in the movie, that I turned around and shot death-rays at her. She proceeded to kick my seat through the rest of the film.
    I know this movie was not for everyone, but if a film is not enjoyable for you, fellow ticket-holders, please talk to the manager and get a credit for the next “Miss Congeniality” installment.

    • Wow Carrie that is the worst movie experience I have heard of. It saddens me to see the utter callousness with which so many people treat others when it comes to going to the theater. And I’m sure the ushers and theater staff merely stood by and did nothing, as they always do. If theaters really want people to come to the big screens instead of stay at home, they would deal with this firmly, with no exceptions.

      • It’s true-and I spoke to the manager twice and nothing changed. I really don’t understand this level of disrespect in any facet of life, but when you have very little money, and spend it on a nice night out, it is sickening to see that. I really like your blog, by the way! Thanks for the reply!

  4. Haven’t set foot inside a movie theater since 2006, and that is why. Not to worry: if you do it right, real life is far more entertaining. Bowed heads and thumbs furiously hitting keys is a sure sign of a stunted imagination.

  5. I’ve noticed myself this problem with people on their smartphones. Once I went up to a girl who’s phone had been bugging me the whole movie and told her to turn the dang thing off. Judging by her embarrassed expression, I think she got the message.

  6. The double whammy is that the problem is far worse during the movies that you want to see on the big screen. Small, intelligent, well-crafted films I’m just as happy seeing at home, even though the audiences for those are *usually* quiet and respectful. But the big blockbuster films that really need to be experienced on a big screen? Awful audiences. My recent viewing of Man of Steel was nearly ruined by some jerks who happened to share the theatre with me.

    But I’m not sure how much it matters anyway – the whole idea of “big screen” is disappearing anyway as theaters continue to shrink the screens. But that’s a whole different topic.

    • The plus point with big budget blockbusters is that they’re loud and bombastic, so you’re not really disturbed i.m.o. I find it so disappointing when people talk in independent movies too, this happened when I saw The Master.

      And as IMAX screens proliferate, there is some creedence to the big screen, although you’re right about shrinking theater sizes to maximize the number of screens in the multiplex.

      A crucial factor to the enjoyment of movies overall is the communal aspect of it. I prefer watching comedies with an audience, even though I know that that audience can irritate me most of the time. The collective enjoyment of a film makes the theater experience that much more special. Its a huge Catch-22.

      • Yes, yes and yes. The communal aspect is one of the beautiful things about going to the movies. The audience reaction to a remarkable film is wonderful. But the meathead “participation” I hear during blockbusters makes me not want to go anymore.

        I recently saw Man of Steel on opening weekend. The audience was great, but I was disappointed in the small screen size. I thought for sure such a movie would be on one of the 16plex’s biggest screens during opening.

  7. Possible solutions:
    1. Build theatres out of cell-signal-blocking material.
    2. Issue each ticket holder headphones for a personalized experience (make the sound come solely through the headphones, so they have to take them), and collect them at the door at movie’s end.
    3. Place seats farther apart to prevent kicking or kid-climbing, and make them with attached footstools that slide out when you unfold the seat (much like the steps on a Winnebago). I am too short to reach the ground, so sitting for two hours gets very uncomfortable.
    4. Make candy wrappers out of non-crinkly material.

  8. I sympathize.

    My hubby and I have stopped going to theaters for all of the above named reasons. We watch movies at home, on our projector, via computer. Not the greatest sound, but you know what? There’s a dark room, comfy couch, snacks and drinks that don’t cost a fortune, and nobody is talking or texting or blinding me with their damn cell phone.

    It’s worth the sacrifice.
    Great post!

      • Sometimes. We live about 45 minutes to an hour away from any decent kind of theater, though. In order for me to want to pay the sitter, the gas, the movie ticket price and popcorn (small) and a drink, it’s gotta be something epic. Like Avengers–saw that in the theater and it was worth every penny!

        Otherwise, not really. I’m more of a homebody these days, loving snuggling up on my couch and enjoying the cool quiet of my couch. I think the next in theater movie we’re planning on seeing is the next Hunger Games. :-)
        How about you?

      • Last night I went for Man of Steel in the theatre, which is also an hour away from my place if I take the bus. But because I wrote this post, I noticed the distractions with greater intensity. I was the only one in the theatre who shouted at two people twice for talking on their cellphones and shushing someone muttering behind me. I’m slowly thinking twice about going to the theatre for just any movie.

        Most of the time though I watch movies on my computer. Not the best thing I know, but I have solid speakers and I try to immerse myself as much as I can. I probably won’t be watching the next Hunger Games, disliked the first very much. The next one I’ll be watching in theatres in Elysium for sure :)

        You know what we should do? All the WordPress bloggers in a particular city should go for movies together and shut everyone else up!

  9. I remember the Godzilla movie. Best movie ever. Also, the picture you poster of Godzilla is awesome!

  10. I’m blessed with the ability to tune things out for the most part. However, I always turn my phone OFF for movies because I value unplugging and don’t want to disturb others. If we just instilled a little more common courtesy in people… I know it’s not really a workable solution. But man would it alleviate a lot of annoyances.

  11. Nothing worse than someone opening their phone during a movie! Makes me want to whip their smart phone at the screen throw buttery popcorn on their white capris.

  12. I agree. I don’t like when people bring in their cell phones or even their tablets. What is the point? The whole point of coming to see a movie in a theater is to watch the film itself and just that. But like you said it is a generation where individuals can multitask and can’t be without their gagets for very long, which is sad but true. I myself turn off my phone before the movie starts and I honestly don’t turn it back on til the end of the movie, like til the credits are done and the most of the people are out of the theater. I do the same, I love going to watch a movie to just be immersed into the world of which the movie takes place. To be so immersed into that world that everything around you becomes black and the only thing in focus is the screen and world right in front of you. I am not like my peers, I like to take a break from gadgets/technology. I don’t get why individuals tend to bring their babies to a movie that more than likely the baby doesn’t even understand what is going on and won’t get anything out of the experience except to get tired and cranky. And I will admit that I do talk from time to time during a movie but it is always about the movie or the characters and I try to whisper as to not disturb other people who are, maybe, trying to enjoy the movie. It is just sad and unbelievable how rude and inconsiderate people can be towards others when you are trying to enjoy a movie you wait and wait to see and then to have individuals act in such a way. I will admit that maybe the other reason they act in such a way is that they are not taught any manners and I see that all over, that manners are not something in today’s world, which is also sad. Thank you for your post, I enjoyed your blog. Honestly I’m new to the blogging world so it’s nice to come across a blog such as yours and enjoy it. Have a great day and I hope that you come across less inconsiderate individuals like that in the future. Happy movie watchings to you! If you haven’t tried a drive in movie experience I high suggest it to you, if you have any in your area, it’s a fantastic experience and you get to be outside while watching the movie and enjoy mother nature at the same time.

    • Thanks for reading nightanddayart, glad you liked it!

      On the drive-in experience, my city has a single drive-in screen where people go mostly to make out and throw popcorn at the screen rather than watch the movie. The drive-in culture hasn’t really caught on here, and I don’t think it will improve over time…quite sad really.

  13. Nice post–I’m with you, movies are great if people allow them to be great. With blockbusters in the multiplex, I try to see it as a communal experience, and let the energy of the crowd add to the fun. Of course that doesn’t help when someone is just being a douche.

  14. I’ve witnessed the decline of performance etiquette in live theater. Want an interactive experience? Go to a children’s theater or a performance of the Rocky Horror Show, and stop yakking during the show.

  15. I’m in America and the theater I go to has an app with a “Cinema Mode” option. If you turn it on and leave it on, you get a coupon for a free treat after the movie. I think it’s pretty clever since a lot of people today seem to need an incentive to behave decently.

    • That’s an interesting idea, using carrots instead of sticks to get people to behave the way they should! I wonder what other incentives can be used, perhaps one where good behavior is rewarded with lowered ticket prices in the future? I’m sure that’s something a lot of people would be interested in…

  16. I stopped going to the movie theatre several years ago. The last movie I watched in the theatre was the first instalment of Lord of the Rings. It was not because of the film itself, rather because of some inconsiderate idiot who exclaimed quite loudly “This is boring”. In that moment, the sum of interruptions over the previous few years hit my maximum tolerance and I vowed that I would never step into a movie theatre again. Never again would I have to listen to phones chirping, people talking to each other and of the “expert” who explains the storyline just before the scene reveals itself. In it’s place I bought a large (at the time) flat screen television, a dvd player, later a Blu-Ray Player and calmly waited for the films to be released.

    Yes, I agree that the home cinema experience is not quite there yet but being able to watch a film without interruption has made making the switch well worth it.

  17. The worst are those who try to ruin the movie for others on purpose; whether it’s the little kid throwing popcorn and kicking your seat or the teenage boy (no offence to those who don’t) poking my hair or whispering something about “the girls in front” to his friend. Seriously, if you’re not gonna pay attention to the movie, why waste $20 that you could’ve spent on credit to text the next time you go to “see” a movie.

    • rolrox97 I think the best thing about where I live is that the tickets are possibly the cheapest anywhere in the world. A single ticket costs Rs. 120, which is around $2. How awesome is that?

      That being said, when you’re paying ten times that much you might want to give some more value for money.

      • I would love to be able to see a movie at that price! Maybe then I’d actually manage to see half of the movies on my list.

        Really it’s just wasting money – why do they bother?

      • Well going to the movies is seen as more and more as a group outing and hangout than an immersive experience. If you get tired of the pub, there’s always the movies to go to is what I think the mindset is with them…

  18. Couldn’t agree more! I always switch off my phone. Why can’t people just sit and enjoy the spectacle they’ve paid to see?!

    Thanks for sharing, your personal cinema dream sounds awesome!

    Rohan.

  19. I went to see Superman a couple of weeks ago and the couple next to me were talking throughout, (mainly about what they thought was going to happen, and what they should do after the film) so I leaned in and said if you guys wanted to have a chat you’ve come to the wrong place. Got a little cheer from those around me. Just a little bit of social justice :)

  20. Recently had a similar experience to the author’s when I went to see World War Z last week. A couple of buffoons thought it would be really funny if they made fun of the movie throughout. Some other goofs in the audience encouraged them with their stupid laughter at every other dumb comment. I was extremely annoyed. I didn’t pay to hear them make fools of themselves. I don’t think it’s so much a loss of respect for movies as it is a general disrespect for other people. Lots of people today feel they are empowered to be rude because, well, you know, if you don’t like it, you can f–k off.
    Also, is there any reason to even bring your cell-phone, smart-phone, I-phone into a theater in the first place? Just leave the damned things in the car. You’re only going to be away from these precious little objects for a couple of hours. You’ll survive.

    • You’re right, I do find people more inconsiderate these days because a social inhibitor has been lifted as time went on. As children, we’re discouraged to stand out from the crowd by being unconventional and divergent, but after standing out a couple of times by catcalling and making jokes and seeing that other people can’t do anything about it, caution is thrown to the wind and they drop any guise of respect for their fellow moviegoers….

      • Certainly one of my biggest pet peeves too. Some people don’t understand how the little glare a phone gives off can completely take you out of the movie for a moment. I always turn my phone off for the two hours I’m at the movies. I know some people don’t have that luxury, but for me anything can wait for a couple hours.

  21. You mentioned “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.”

    But…the funny thing is that once you ignore that buzz, you actually forget about the unseen text in about 30 seconds. You have a 5-10 second really hard battle with your inner will, in which you completely miss what happens in the movie, but the remaining 20 seconds are actually just the fading urge to look at the latest happening on your phone and tuning back into the film. 30 seconds later, you’ve forgotten that it even happened. I realized that when I started ignoring my texts in any situation and I was surprised at how fast you forgot about it if you can just get past the initial urge for instant gratification. When you look at your phone an hour or two later, you just go, “Oh! A text! I completely forgot about that!” It’s amazing how strongly the mind wants that instant gratification but how quickly it forgets it when you train it.

  22. I remember the older days. A utterly amazing movie is Marty. There is no action just the human spirit going from one point to another. The writer was Paddy Chayefsky. If you get a chance see it. It is exactly what you are noticing. The audience of today is bang and more bang with effects and little characterization. Marty was all the characters and his interaction with other characters. I would also recommend Twelve Angry Men but this is more stereotyped then Marty.
    They really knew how to make movies back then.

  23. haha, so relieved to know that i am not the only one with this obsession! some movies are so low on background scores that i literally have to hold that popcorn in my mouth with a guilty look… *sigh*

  24. I completely agree with you man, you have a strong point. For a while I thought I was the only one who enjoyed going to the cinemas by themselves and just simply watching, listening and appreciating a movie. No one can do that anymore!
    By the way, my blog reviews movies so if any of you guys are interested feel free to check it out, it would mean a lot.

  25. Don’t know how that feels like anymore, since I rarely go to mainstream cinemas (just realized). Cinematheques have been my haven, it’s always peaceful there. I guess that’s the kind of communal experience I enjoy. Interesting post, and fancy portmanteau! :)

  26. This makes me think I may have to start patrolling movie theaters more often. The last movie I went to was Paul Blart and found it very moving. It was a good chronicle of the security guards life. My life, until I got fired. But no worry, I’m starting up my own police department, so screw all those losers at the State Police.

  27. Pingback: The Shatterers of Illusions | Arun Singh Raghuvanshi

  28. I actually wrote a semi-similar blog just a few days ago with the same point on the musical scale, that general audiences don’t respect artists anymore.
    http://alexandermachine.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/mediums-if-the-genes-fit/

    As for your intervals idea, while it’s a nice idea, I work at a movie theatre and can testify that it would be torture for us. I work for Movie Tavern, one of the premiere chains of theatre/restaurant hybrids where people purchase meals and drinks and eat it all during the movie and pay for the meal by the time the movie is over. If we had intervals at our locations, then we would run the huge risk of giving everyone the opportunity to run out on their bill in the middle of the movie, far too easily. So if by fixing that, we rushed servers to pay everyone out before the movie’s interval, then that would bar our guests from being able to order any more desserts or drinks during the film’s second half.

    Just adding a different perspective. I’m also a huge fan of the eating-watching industry and I think it helps fulfill people’s desires to multi-task. Also, the servers working inside the theatre can function as guards to tell people to be quiet or put away their cell phones, which functions well.

  29. Pingback: Agreed. | I like Movies and Dinosaurs.

  30. If more and more people don’t respect movies, more and more movies (the attack of digital effects at the complete expense of stories) don’t respect the audience, so seems to go in a devolutionary spiral. Sigh. I still fondly remember a small theater during my last two years of HS, owned by a family of movie lovers, who would hand pick classics, (way before TCM) and show them inexpensively, and introduce each film with interesting historical tidbits. One more bit of nostalgia for the pre-big box/cinemaplex world…

  31. If there was a agreed or Love button i’d press it. I sat next to this obnoxious 20 year old it seemed who just couldnt get off his phone all through out the Fast 6 movie. If that wasn’t enough He tried to take a picture of the movie as the movie was playing. And of course if that wasn’t enough, he had forgotten to turn off the flash. There are times when i feel that the literal fist of justice should be justified and such times are these types of events. But I definitely agree with you. I put my phone on silent so i’m not bothered throughout the whole movie. Great post!

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