#FilmFriday: The diminishing theater experience
MANILA, Philippines - Years ago, I read an essay by Harlan Ellison where he bemoaned how people acted in movie theaters.
He talked about how, in his youth, going to the movies was like going to an opera or to a play; where people dressed up and it was a big thing. He blamed television for the trend of people acting like they were in their living rooms when they were in movie theaters.
It’s obviously still a problem now. I am not going to say that things are better or worse.
It’s just that there are more ways for people to be obtrusive now.
Just a shade over a decade ago, people were already obnoxious, talking in the theaters, kicking the back of your seat, all that annoying stuff. But now, people have phones which they let ring.
I will have to admit to my being judgmental of these people and of their choice of ringtones — I know I sound like an asshole, but sometimes I think, "Oh, it figures. This person would not have the good sense to put their phones on silent [mode], look at their choice of music."
As if the ringing was not enough, people actually answer their phones in the theater. Not only will they talk on their phones, but they will do so loudly, sometimes screaming, “OO, NASA LOOB AKO NG SINEHAN! OO, NANONOOD AKO NG SINE! [YES, I'M INSIDE A MOVIEHOUSE! YES, I'M WATCHING A MOVIE!”
There will always be people like this. But I think that more people might be acting this way because they do not see going to the film in a theater as a fundamentally different experience from popping a DVD into their player, or watching TV, or watching video on YouTube.
This is not a function of propriety and rudeness, but rather indicative of the new ways in which we experience media.
Previously when people watched films, there was primary showing in theaters, and then maybe a VHS or Beta release, or airing on TV. So even decades before, people were experiencing films apart from their theatrical releases.
But today we’re streaming, torrenting, getting it on DVDs, watching on our phones and mobile devices and all that.
As a result, people treat the theater as just a bigger screen.
How should it be treated? I argue always that watching a movie in the theater, no matter how good or bad it is, is an experience. Moviegoers and theater runners should treat it as such. We find our seats and we disappear into the darkness; we surrender ourselves to the world that the film is creating.
On one end, people should help to create the experience. We shouldn’t talk during the flicks.
Sure, we all lean over and whisper to the person we’re with, we make quips and all that. I accept that as a normal part of watching a flick. What I don’t accept is people doing play-by-play. I feel sorry for but still cannot abide people who fail to understand the film, so they have to have it explained as it runs.
This is moviegoing etiquette, to be quiet and not do anything obtrusive during the film.
The other end of this of course is the theater owners. And that’s where I see some problems. There are some obvious moves made to earn more money which are detrimental to the experience. No, I am not asking that people make less money or whatever. But again, it’s a matter of creating an experience and finding ways to enhance that experience.
For example, in some theaters, staffers come in to sell popcorn to people already seated. I get it, these people might have been rushing, or more likely they skipped hitting the lines for popcorn. So you’re hawking to them in their seats. Sound in terms of sales, but it changes the feel of the theater. For me this kind of behavior is more akin to sports events than movies.
If you want people to buy popcorn and are trying to address the problems of lines, then there should be something done with the staff and number of cashiers at the popcorn stand.
Also, to people who are buying that popcorn already in the theater, guys, that’s the stuff that’s been lying around awhile. It’s not as fresh and crispy like you would have gotten had you stood in line for it.
Another pet peeve of mine is ads and commercials in the theater. Again, I know this is inevitable. Fine, run the friggin’ adds. But could you do it before the trailers? What happens is that I miss the trailers, I get in, there are ads for phones and real estate and whatever else they want to hawk in the theater, and then the movie starts. These don’t get me in the mood to watch a movie.
Now if the ads were run, then trailers, then we’d be talking.
Here’s another thing to consider about our moviegoing culture, though: Up until fairly recently (and there are still theaters in the metro that still do it, not sure about the provinces) you could buy a ticket and come and go as you pleased. It was (is it still?) a part of our culture that you could come in at the end of the film and then just wait around and watch the beginning, then leave when you got back to the part you came in at during your first viewing.
Have to admit I watched quite a number of movies that way myself.
The best thing about that was if the movie was good, you could watch it over and over. Go out, eat something, then come back and watch it again. It was brilliant for a nerd like me. Of course, other people used the opportunity to come and go as they pleased to treat the theater as a comfy, cool napping spot. But that showed how we were able to craft our theatergoing experience.
In recent years we’ve conformed to screening schedules, reservations, reserved seating (though more often than not I still see the ticket sellers having to explain reserved seating to people old and young), and other conventions.
But for the most part we have to further develop our filmgoing culture, so that movie etiquette and other such things that are integral to the moviegoing experience improve. - Rappler.com
You can also read:
- #FilmFriday: Must acting awards stay gender-specific?
- #FilmFriday: Action -- More fun in the PH?
- #FilmFriday: The dream theater
Carljoe Javier doesn't know why people think he's a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he's not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games... Then again, those people could be right.