Wednesday, June 08, 2011


This is just too good to keep only for Facebook. The Alamo Drafthouse should be endlessly commended for really getting the word out in the funniest way possible about the mounting antisocial problem of texting, cell phone usage and general moronic bad behavior in movie theaters. Have we really become so bored and restless as a society that we can’t stand to sever our connection with the outside world (the same one that, as David Edelstein observed in his own post saluting this hilarious trailer, we’ve presumably come to a darkened theater to escape from) for the amount of time it takes to watch a movie? Hell, many serial phone junkies can’t even get out of the previews before lighting up their devices. If your need to stay connected is that strong, then maybe you should have just stayed at home?

I’ve already told the story of the father-daughter tag-team of ninnies who sat next to me during the none-too-cheap Arclight screening of Midnight in Paris my wife and I attended last Saturday night, but in case you missed it: The young woman (I’d guess she was 22 or so) was out with Dad (55-ish) and before the movie they could be overheard discussing her prospects for an acting career. The Arclight “cast member” came out and performed the standard welcome spiel for the theater, introducing the movie as having been written and directed by Woody Allen. At this point the woman gasped, turned to me and said, “I didn’t know this was a Woody Allen movie!” Inexplicable, but not particularly annoying—the movie had, after all, not yet begun. But as soon as it did, so did their chatter, and it wasn’t long before I had to shush them. They both seemed a little embarrassed and gave me an apologetic chuckle, and Dad actually said, “Whoops, I forgot we weren’t at home!” Whew. But then, incredibly, it wasn’t more than five minutes later that the woman whips out her trusty iPhone and starts checking her messages! I asked her to please shut it down, she did, and there was no further interruption for the rest of the movie. But why should anyone have to work that hard just to get people to behave in a manner that suggests they are aware that their behavior affects those around them?

These folks didn’t seem to be quite as dense as the resident of the “Magnited” States of America on the Drafthouse’s message machine who makes the idiotic assumption that because her phone isn’t making any noise that it can’t possibly be bothering anyone. But still, what has gone so wrong with the idea of giving yourself over to the possibility of being absorbed in a movie, one which you probably paid a lot of money to see, and assuming that others want to do the same thing? Cell phone usage is in its way more insidious even than old-fashioned gabbing out loud, because unless that gabbing is of the really hostile and/or aggressive variety it might be a simple case, as with Dad and Daughter, of the violators simply forgetting themselves and where they are. But whipping out your phone and talking on it during a movie seems to me indicative of a much more narcissistic and even sociopathic tendency in people who seem to believe that the world shouldn’t hesitate to tolerate or adapt to whatever their desires are at the moment, the inconvenience of others be damned. I think of the testimony of a friend who was besieged by the light of an open flip phone at a crucial moment while watching the decidedly nontechnological Meek’s Cutoff and having the movie’s spell, which was already for him tenuous, broken altogether. The movie theater is a sanctuary, where the outside world should be allowed admittance only through the images and sounds on screen and the way they resonate in the privacy of one’s own mind. I hope that the Alamo’s Drafthouse’s ingenious campaign spreads like wildfire and other theaters adopt its aggressive stance against this kind of immature nonsense. On behalf of all the “regliar” moviegoers in the audience who cherish the communal movie theater experience as it was in the days before we all felt the intense need to be interconnected 24/7, I salute you, Alamo Drafthouse!



Peter Nellhaus said...

Back before everyone seemingly had a cell phone, a woman took TWO calls during a screening of Chunking Express, and couldn't understand why I was furious with her.

A more recent example of bad timing was someone receiving a call during the quietest scene in Departures. Even in theaters where you think people would know better, some patrons prove to be thoughtless.

Craig said...

Come to think of it, the last two texting incidents I've experienced in a movie theater came during Westerns -- "Meek's Cutoff" and "True Grit." Something about all that wide-open space must unnerve some folks to go reaching for their cell phones. It makes me share even more Al Swearengen's disgust in the season 2 opener of "Deadwood," when he watches the telegraph poles go up outside of town.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Craig, I took my daughters to see X-Men First Class (terrific, by the way), and my youngest was seated next to a guy in his mid-50s who was stealing glimpses at his phone throughout the movie. I gave him a break from my righteous fury because at least he was attempting to cover the damn thing up. At one point, however my daughter asked me a question regarding the movie and apparently did so a little too loudly for this guy's taste. He shot me a glance as if to say "Keep it down!" Which I then returned by glancing at and then pointing at his glowing phone, which was out in the wide open at this point. He quickly turned away, shut the phone down and I never saw it or heard a peep from him again for the entire movie.