Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Memo to Audiences: Shut Up & Watch the Movie (March 16, 2012)

A primary reason I rarely see a movie in a theater these days is because a few members of an audience spoil what used to be a pleasant experience.
The only movies I’ve seen in a theater lately are “The Descendants” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” They had plots that were worlds apart, but each was entertaining and had the crucial elements that gratify my taste: first-rate productions with sharp performances and gripping plots.
In spite of that, a few fleeting distractions tainted each experience. During the latter, a few moviegoers slipped in a badly placed laugh track during brutally violent scenes.
Ten minutes or so into “The Descendants” my peripheral vision was diverted by a couple of restless audience members checking for messages. Unless it was an emergency from a babysitter or family member such behavior is uncalled-for. In a darkened theater, where the only glow should emanate from the screen and exit signs and safety lights it can be intolerably distracting.
Viewing a film on a large wide screen always tops watching it on a large flat panel TV, a palm-sized monitor or a tiny hand-held gadget. (The screen for the first television my family owned was larger than two latter ones.)
More and more, I prefer seeing a movie in the comfort of my living room without distracting, intrusive audience participation.
Apparently, so do a lot of other Americans.
Movie theater attendance was reported down more than 15 percent last year; the lowest in over a decade. I haven’t seen any study that determines specific motives behind the drop-off, but, for me, it’s largely the dearth of quality movies that have been supplanted by films teeming with computer-generated images, special effects, exceptionally loud sound and undemanding plots.
I realize I’m more than a generation past the demographic young adults and teens audience that is targeted nowadays, but I still enjoy a well-crafted movie, which seem to be few and far between.
I became jaded by the movie-going experience when I worked in entertainment public relations and was frequently invited to pre-release showings where, once the film started, a hush came over the audience and continued until the end credits began. Occasionally business connections sent me passes for an upcoming movie that was previewed in a cozy midtown Manhattan screening room where a pin-drop could be heard as the movie unfolded. Those invited were customarily also in PR or co-workers and friends of film company employees, therefore, those audiences who took advantage of a privilege not afforded the general public, knew a sense of decorum was expected.
Regardless, when you attend a movie theater and shell out ten bucks or more per ticket, you don’t expect audience members to act as if they’re watching at home. But when the solitude of the theater is disrupted by inconsiderate, ill-mannered patrons, it is as annoying and frustrating.
Laughter, screams or other reactions are common when a scene warrants it, but are chitchat or audible comments really necessary every so often? I sometimes feel like screaming, “Shut up!” But you never know if an offender will resort to a violent confrontation, so it’s usually prudent to remain passive in such situations.
Before the feature a cautionary alert to be considerate and turn off cell phones, refrain from texting and talking directed at the audience is shown. Undoubtedly, the first two categories were added after hand held gadgets became popular. The silence request, though, has been around for a while. Nevertheless, a few moviegoers customarily ignore the advice. However, unless someone has an extraordinarily legitimate excuse, such as Tourette’s syndrome, silence is especially golden at the movies.
If I produced the pre-movie recommendation, it would be more direct, less polite and go something like this: Those around you came to watch a movie! So turn off your gadgets and zip your lips. 1) Shut off your damn cell phones; put them in your pocket or purse. 2) Don’t text or check for freakin’ messages once the movie starts. It’s distracting, impolite and inconsiderate. If you can’t go 90 or so minutes without talking, chatting or texting, walk out to the lobby! But the damn movie will not pause while you take care of personal bullshit. If you don’t understand this message, ask the person in front or in back of you. Next time STAY HOME!
You can’t pick the audience when you go to a movie. Nonetheless, the experience is more satisfying without other moviegoers, who you’d think also came to enjoy what’s on the screen, acting like spoiled brats with no sense of etiquette or lacking manners.