Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on May 8, 2011
Today is the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day. As I’ve had the Sunday shift for several years now I’ve already been able to write on the ways my mom contributed to my passion for cinema during my early years. (For further Mother’s Day homages look no further than R.H. Smith’s recent post.) Mother’s Day is also an important date for gardeners in my midwest region because it marks the official start of when you can finally plant various seeds without having to worry too much about a vicious cold snap freezing the seedlings dead. With that in mind, I’ve decided to plant a few seeds of my own that chronicle the Modern Movie-Going Punishments of our day. I do this with the hope that it might help nip bad behavior in the bud, allow more pleasant movie-going experiences to flourish and, in general, make a trip to the movies less punishing. (Tip of the hat to my friend John Adams for providing the accompanying illustrations.)
When it comes to the pitfalls and downsides to the modern-day movie-going experience, the fact remains that, as Tuttle says, “we’re all in it together.” To engage in a shared cinematic experience is pure alchemy and all of us compose an essential element to the big stew in question. In this case “we” are the movie-makers, the studio and producers who play king-makers to the movie-makers, the distributors who help push the stories out there, the exhibitors that host the venue for those stories, the staff that run the venue, and then finally: the customers. Together, when we’re all doing our best, we make magic. But, along that long and winding road, should anyone falter, well… things can get ugly. Let’s start at the beginning.
Look…. it’s all subjective, so this is dangerous ground already. That being said, it’s safe to say that there was a time when movies were made by older people who’d had more experiences in the real world before they started cutting their teeth either in front-of or behind-the-camera. If you’ve actually fought in wars, had a family, been divorced, held a variety of jobs, been a hobo, or simply had an extra decade past your college years to feel loss and pain, however that may translate itself, all of these paths give you some experience that will help add depth to the story you’re trying to share. When it comes to how we express ourselves, a lot can happen in a decade: Sam Fuller hit his stride in his early ’40′s, and his movies still pack punch and provide startling insights into the human condition. Michael Bay exploded into Hollywood with Bad Boys when he was 30, but while his action-movie formulas self-replicate and continue on and on, like the Energizer Bunny, they don’t reward repeat viewings.
Spielberg, of course, was still in his twenties when he completely transformed the cinematic landscape with Jaws, but in its chase to find the next whiz-kid the Hollywood business model keeps pushing the bar ever lower as the directors keep getting younger, along with the prized demographic. As a result, adults have been pushed to the side in favor of teenagers with expendable income. So here we are: with most of the tent-poles features being overtaken by comic book heroes and video game concepts. Both are on steroids. File this under the tri-fecta of movie-makers, studios, and distributors who chase the all-mighty dollar regardless of content. This video clip by The Onion sums it up perfectly:
Full disclosure: I am an exhibitor, albeit a very small one running an independent and non-profit arthouse calendar series devoted to international and independent cinema. Still, I love going out to the movies and checking out the latest offerings in the multiplex. Or, at least, I used to. Here are the three things multiplexes are doing wrong, in my opinion, that are really pissing me off:
This will soon be a moot point. Why? Because everyone’s going digital within the next two years. But for those keeping score, here’s the deal: Most multiplexes run on automated platter systems. The quaint notion of an actual human being (aka: “the projectionist”) with eyes on your screen is a myth. Yes, there might be a projectionist somewhere in the building, but their main job is to thread the many automated machines that run the length of the booth, and then break the prints down afterward to ship out. “Reel” projectionists who take pride in their work, do regular equipment maintenance, know how to run old-school reel-to-reel systems, and who fill out detailed inspection reports, are a dying breed.
As a result of this, a lot of film prints are being fed through dirty and unkempt machines that are literally pulling off the emulsion from the films, usually in vertical scratches that cause horrible damage to the prints. Guess where these prints go to next? Yup: to those “lower-tier” exhibition homes that might actually have an attentive projectionist on hand for a reel-to-reel system that is ready to handle every print with precision and care. Platter damage may not seem like such a scourge to those who see the new print at the ‘plex, but for small exhibitors such as myself (who often get stuck showing prints that have been worn down by unattended machines) it remains a brutal travesty.
There’s really not much more to add to this. If you read the above paragraph you already know that most of the time that you’re watching a film at the multiplex there’s really no one “in charge.” If you look to the back of the room you’ll see a shining light coming out of the booth, but nobody is actually next to that projector. You might as well be alone. At this point, unless you complain loudly to the usher, who then needs to find the usher manager, who then needs to find the projectionist (who is probably on a smoke break), nothing will happen.
Okay, so granted: digital projection is easier to automate in such a way that it’ll be in focus. But, really? You’re going to charge me MORE for watching a digital print which, yeah, is “clean” and “crisp” but lacks the full range of color and depth offered by celluloid? This already happened with music when recording studios made the shift from vinyl to CD’s. When the recording studios made the transition they paid LESS for packaging, content, and pretty much everything else. Instead of charging less, they charged more. Do you think the musicians got any of that extra-profit? Nope. Same thing now. When studios phase out celluloid prints they are saving money in transportation and production of film prints. While the studios have made a few concessions to big exhibitors who traffic in first-release screenings (in the way of small start-up subsidies for purchasing digital equipment), everyone else has been left out in the cold and told that unless they buy a bunch of $100,000 dollar digital projectors they will be dead within a couple years.
Sorry, I don’t care how you feel about those “clean” digital prints: they are sub-par to celluloid and whenever you pay more for that sterile experience I want to be the lone voice in the wilderness to remind you that you are actually paying more for less.
Yeah, I know. Tough times. We all gotta make a buck somehow to stay alive. But forcing me to watch a slew of &%&$&%#% advertisements BEFORE the trailers (which are ALREADY advertisements, hellooooooooo….) is really not cool. I’m the kind of film nerd that likes to come early. It used to be nice to have a choice of preferred seats and then sit in a comfortable environment with a date or friend to, y’know: talk. But I can’t do that anymore. Why? Because to show up early means being blasted by LOUD adverts for stupid TV shows, or car ads, etc. The result? More and more people are, by Darwinian principles of evolution, showing up later to avoid the damn ads. This means they also avoid the clever little Public Service Announcements that try to encourage courteous behavior. And this DEFINITELY does not help with the following:
THE A.D.D. GENERATION
I used to sometimes check my watch during a movie. I don’t anymore. Why? Because I don’t have a watch. I have an iphone. I’m pretty sure that’s the case nowadays with many others out there who find that their smart phones make watches an unnecessary accessory. The problem is that it seems most people have no problem with turning on their glowing smart-phones in a darkened theater. Maybe it starts out as a simple quest to check the time, but while they’re at it, why not check out what emails they might have too? And if the movies kinda slow, why not respond to the emails? And so it goes. A slippery slope of bad behavior that boils down to this: if you’re operating a glowing device in a darkened room shared by others you are a selfish cretin who doesn’t think twice about the distractions you are causing everyone else who can see you playing with your lil’ gadget. You are a child. A child who deserves to be spanked, and spanked repeatedly.
MORE BAD CELL PHONE ETIQUETTE
Just about every single person on the planet now has a cell phone. You’d think its ubiquitous nature would somehow inculcate a growing sense of proper decorum with how and when to use them. But quite the opposite is the case. Hardly anyone turns them off completely when they enter a movie theater. Most just turn the ringer off, which might be okay if people also turned off their vibrate function – otherwise anyone nearby can still hear (and/or feel) them vibrating away. And why is it that the people who are most likely to not turn off their ringers at all are the same ones who have selected ring tones that sound like old car horns or worse? And these same people seem to never be able to even find their phones until its finally dumped the call to voice mail. In this subset, there is a particular fiend that towers above them all: the jackass who not only has his phone and ringer on, but also takes the call and starts talking away! There is an especially warm place in hell for such trolls.
Aright… at this point we’re getting to core punishments for film lovers throughout the ages, never mind the cell phones or other stuff. Talkers. There are quite a few versions of ‘em, but they all belong to that group of folks that are 100% oblivious to the fact that they are no longer in their living room watching TV and, furthermore, seem to relish what should be a punishable act of exhibitionism. Personally, I think that if it’s illegal to shout “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater, it should also be illegal to talk out-loud in a crowded movie-theater where the rest of us are trying to submerge ourselves in the story that is unspooling before our eyes.
The main fiend in this group is The Loudmouth. They just blurt out whatever is on their mind regardless of the people around them. Most of them probably have a narcissistic bent and need to hear themselves in order to function. I’m guessing this might go back to their early developmental periods as babies. Back then, they would poop in their diapers, feel uncomfortable, and they would then scream or cry until a parent attended to their needs. Not much has changed for them as adults who talk away during the film; they experience stimuli and open their mouths to let the world know what they are experiencing.
The Play-By-Play Commentator is one of the worst within the Talker sub-species. Unlike The Loudmouth, they are not just blurting out half-thoughts and feelings, they are actually parroting out the action on the screen as if though they were interpreting the whole damn thing to a blind companion. “He just arrived at the trailer park. He is walking through the door. That’s a gun in his hand. He’s going to fire it.” etc. The Play-By-Play Commentator is also usually the same person who blurts out the obvious. As one friend told me: “People talking and stating the obvious drives me up the wall, like in The Fountain when an old couple right behind me remarked: ‘It’s a tree.’”
Just for the record, I’ve personally experienced the Play-By-Play Commentator at no less an auspicious place than the Telluride Film Festival itself. So, be warned, they are not just in shopping mall embedded multiplexes, they can also be right behind you at a prestigious film festival.
The Whispering Couple. Okay. I get it. You’re “whispering,” and “whispering” isn’t the same as “talking.” But, guess what? I can still hear you, and when you do it all the way throughout the friggin’ film it still constitutes a huge distraction from what is actually happening ONSCREEN because you are making me feel like I’m in a deep, dark, pit that is filled with hissing snakes. Has it ever occurred to you that you might actually have MORE to talk about AFTER the film if you leave SOME of the discussion for later?
We’ve all been around The Riddler. The Riddler falls somewhere below The Loudmouth but between The Play-by-Play Commentator and The Whispering Couple. The Riddler simply doesn’t know what is going on, and rather than waiting for the story to play itself out, they can’t help but ask a companion: “Why is he walking into a trailer park? Why is he walking through that door? Why does he have a gun in his hand?” The crazy thing is that, most of the time, if The Riddler would simply WATCH the film unfold, they would get MOST of the answers to their question. You’d think The Riddler would fall into the same subset of A.D.D. smart-phone addicts, but (alarmingly) they are their own subset, which is to say the A.D.D. Generation skews younger, while The Riddler, in my personal experience, often skews older.
I hereby replace the see-hear-speak no evil monkeys with their cinematic counterparts: The Crinkler, The Open-Mouthed Muncher, and The Slurper.
The Crinkler will torture various forms of candy wrap long past the expiration date of your delicate sensibilities. You can, in part, blame the exhibitor here for choosing various forms of concessions that have been wrapped in both cardboard and plastic so as to ensure that The Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow.
Ah… The Open-Mouthed-Muncher. Here we get to a little detail that will surely draw me some fire. It involves popcorn. And, yes, I enjoy eating popcorn at a movie as much as the next person. Still: isn’t it a bit strange that we have, as a society, fixated on popcorn (even the name itself is noisy) as the premiere snack-food for what should be the quiet reception of visual entertainment? Let’s let that slide for now, as I simply point a finger at those who were never told by an attendant parent figure that they had the option to eat with a closed mouth.
Not much be said about The Slurper except; really? You are going to suck on that straw for the next two hours as the ice melts in your bucket of preferred sugar-enhanced water to make your wanton needs known to all? The answer usually being: yup! (& Slurrrrrrrrrrrrp. Slrp. Sllllllrrrrrp. slrp. SSSLLrp.)
FAMILIES THAT SHOULD (REALLY) BE PAYING THE EXTRA BUCKS FOR A BABYSITTER
Really? You’re going to bring your baby and 4th-Grade child in to watch SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER? Okay, I understand, babysitters can be expensive. It’s been a while since you and the missus had a nice night out. But, really? Here? Now? For SAW 3-D: THE FINAL CHAPTER you’ve decided to make this a family event? Tell you what: I won’t call social services as long as your baby never whimpers once, and that impressionable 4th-grade kid of yours doesn’t eventually fit me into a diabolical death-trap that will smash my skull to smithereens.
Sh*t happens. But with drunkards you’re more likely to encounter vomit. If you’re lucky, it’ll be something more benign that doesn’t require massive cleanup. Like, maybe, kicked over and (now) empty beer bottles that roll alllllllll the way down the auditorium before coming to a smashing stop.
I sometimes have “restless-leg” syndrome. But I’m mindful to never let it bounce up against the chair in front of me if someone else is in it. I also try to keep a seat between myself and friends in case it acts up. Thing is: I’m guessing lots of other people have this condition based on how high this registered amongst the complaints of my friends in an informal FaceBook poll of things that drive them crazy when they watch films in theaters. Tightly-packed theater seats don’t help. But there’s also no excuse for being oblivious to rocking someone else’s chair throughout a film.
(This one’s also a frequent subset of the DRUNKARDS above.) Okay, this one’s a relatively small offense. But depending on where you sit, and how many chairs are between you and the aisle, you might want to reconsider the size of that Big Gulp container you just ordered. I knew of one friend who slurped down a couple gallons while sitting in the middle of a huge Imax Theater and watching James Cameron’s The Abyss. Y’know, the movie that takes place under water, and that has weird creatures, made out of water, the ones that come out from the water and into these little submerged quarters that are all hundreds of feet under water to… long story short this friend of mine had to excuse himself past about 20-odd people to hit the men’s room. As The Abyss is like ten hours long (or so it seems when you’re having bladder issues) my friend had to cut back-and-forth repeatedly. It was as if though everyone in our aisle was (appropriately enough) doing “The Wave.”
HEAVY (NOSE) BREATHERS
I finish with one particular denizen of the movie-going environment that I can, thankfully, say is pretty rare (but there, nonetheless). Let me also say this: mouth-breathers get a bad rap. They are usually characterized as Neanderthals and primitives of the lowest order but, in my opinion, go ahead: breathe through your mouth. You have two ways of breathing. Though the mouth, and through the nose. Use ‘em both as needed. People who only breathe through their nose, and then sit right behind me and crouch forward so that their nose is just a few inches from my ear can drive me seriously crazy. Deep inhalations. Deep exhalations. It’s like somebody is doing yogic breath control Pranayama exercises on my shoulder, and it sends my blood pressure through the roof.
Father’s Day Bonus Addition (which is to say, two more miscreants we feel deserved illustrations, per your suggestion):
The Red Plague
By popular demand: many of you mentioned an all-too-common malady amidst us in the movie chairs – the germ-infested sicko who coughs, hacks, sneezes away with no regard to your health (or film enjoyment).
The Serial Yawner
All of us, at some point or another, have sat through a film while being either very tired or bored. But that’s certainly no excuse to yawn loudly and systematically throughout a film. Besides, yawns are contagious – it’s well documented. If you see someone yawning, good luck resisting the urge to join in. People who yawn loudly are the Debby Downers of the film world. Here’s a thought: if you’re tired, or bored, or both, go ahead and yawn – but try putting your hand over your mouth instead of stretching out both arms into the air like giant wings while you yodel out the full content of your deflating lungs.
This about does it for me. Did I miss any? Feel free to chime in with your “favorite” Modern Movie-Going Punishments if you feel like sharing. I’d like to again thank John Adams for his illustrations. He’s going to be gone for a few weeks, but when he returns perhaps we’ll work on a companion piece to this post that will remind you of why you should still go to the movies. It’ll be a list of Modern Movie-Going Rewards – and hopefully they will far outnumber the punishments listed above.
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