In 1990, I went to see the Penny Marshall directed drama AWAKENINGS starring Robert De Niro as a hospital patient brought out of a seemingly permanent comatose by doctor Robin Williams when a man who was talking loudly with his wife erupted in anger, literally screaming at a group of people who politely asked him to be quiet during the movie (this was in Canada after all, almost everyone is polite there – except obviously the talker). In 1994, parents sat by seemingly obliviously as their children ran up and down the aisles of the AMC theater in Los Angeles’ Century City shopping during PULP FICTION (what young children were doing at PULP FICTION in the first place is the subject of another post entirely). In 2005, the audience of a LAND OF THE DEAD screening in Toronto erupted in applause when parents with an infant who cried solidly for a good 30 minutes of the movie were asked to leave by the ushers.
The above are just a few examples of disruptive behavior by audience members during movies while seen in a crowded theater. People talking, making noise and other disruptions is nothing new and is likely to be a problem until the end of time. In fact recently, when I saw Woody Allen's new film BLUE JASMINE at the Arclight theater in Hollywood, usually a haven for hardcore movie lovers, a pair of men behind me decided to call out loudly the names of actors as they appeared on screen. The exclamations of “ANDREW DICE CLAY” and “THAT’S LOUIE C.K.” were effective in taking me out of the world of the movie completely and reminded me that it is a world of artifice created for my entertainment. These were not young people by the way, but men in their late 40s/early 50s who should know better than to disrupt a quiet theater-going experience.
Lately the debate of what is appropriate behavior in a movie theater has come up as millennials (the name given to this particular wired in generation if you hadn’t heard it yet) have been demanding that they should be allowed to text and tweet while watching movies, so they can keep in contact with their friends outside the theater and fill them in about the experience. This past week an article appeared on the VALLEYWAG website about a highly educated venture capitalist who demands that movie theaters be equipped with Wi-Fi so he can take his iPad into the screening for second screen app access as well as tweeting about the movie while he watches it. “I’d love to watch PACIFIC RIM in a theater with a bit more light, Wi-Fi, electricity outlets and a second screen experience.” he’s quoted as saying in the article, “Don’t tell me I’d miss major plot points while scrolling on my iPad – it’s a movie about robots vs monsters. I can follow along just fine.” That article can be found HERE.
Recently the Texas Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain even turned the expletive filled rantings of a customer they threw out of their theater for taking a cell phone call into an on-screen PSA to tell their customers to turn off their phones and respect the movie-going experience or suffer the same fate.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cell-phone PSA
Caution: Explicit Language
As the world becomes more-and-more reliant on their electronic devices and the social media experience, it is hard to imagine keeping the “sanctity” of a movie theater - or even say a church or other public place where quiet and respect are desired – intact.
Movie audiences are already starting to stay away from their local Cineplex, electing to stay home to watch their content on Disc or via streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu thanks to the brewing war of those that want it quiet so they can concentrate and those that feel it’s their right to check their e-mail, text, tweet and even take calls in the theater while the movie plays and disrupt everyone around them.
Many movie theater chains have already come up with the idea of “Movies for Mommies” which allow mothers (or fathers) with infants to get out of the house with their child and see the new releases at a lower volume, complete with facilities to change diapers and deal with their possibly disruptive child without annoying anyone. With this in mind, should there be specific screenings designated for online junkies to be able to have access to all their gadgets like the article linked above suggests? Are we becoming a society where if you have certain wants that a movie theater must make it so you will remain a paying customer by catering to whatever request you desire no matter if it disrupts others?
Second screen – which is a term that designates alternative or additional content viewed on a device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet – is already a staple of the home market. Who hasn’t kept their device nearby and checked their e-mail constantly while watching TV or a movie not wanting to miss an e-mail, or in the modern work environment where everyone is connected almost all the time to their office, miss a possible work issue. People now often will look up references or actors in what they are watching using IMDb or some other movie information service. Studios and TV programmers have started to take advantage of these extra “eyes” by supplying additional content to supplement whatever they’re watching by “synching” the device and the application to whatever is playing on their TV. Walt Disney Home Entertainment has the most second screen titles out there such as TRON: LEGACY, BAMBI and PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES with Warner (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, HAPPY FEET 2), Fox (PROMETHEUS), Sony (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, TOTAL RECALL) and even the Weinstein Company via Anchor Bay (THE KING’S SPEECH) following closely behind. I am a big supporter of these apps as it gives the viewer/user easy access to enhanced content (also known as special features) without having to disrupt the movie or messing around with your remote to activate them. On TV, SONS OF ANARCHY ha a phone or tablet app that allows the viewer to purchase clothes worn by the characters while they watch the program. The marketing potential is beyond advantageous to advertisers and studios, especially with viewers watching more and more content on devices such as Digital Video Recorders (or DVRs) that allow them to skip those all-important commercials that keep their favorite shows on the air. The possibilities for more product placement in entertainment are now endless. Could this also be translated to the movie theater-going experience?
Social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook have also changed how consumers engage with their content as people “Tweet” and post their thoughts while watching movies for everyone to experience. Nightly, a group of people “gather” on Twitter to watch movies on Turner Classic Movies and Tweet about them using the hashtag #TCMparty. I’ve even seen hardcore film lovers Tweet compulsively while watching content on Netflix and even Ain’t It Cool entertainment (and Fanboy) website originator Harry Knowles once Tweeted all his thoughts while watching the STAR WARS Blu-ray discs for the first time. In Harry’s defense, he has probably viewed those movies over a hundred times and was tweeting information out to others who may be wondering if the discs were worth buying. Harry also once publicly blasted HOW DID THIS GET MADE podcast host Paul Scheer for inviting listeners to attend movies with he and his co-horts at various theaters around the country (or world), sit at the back and Tweet about the movie while it plays. While Paul had specified that Tweeters were to sit in the back row so as to not bother anyone, Harry called him out for trying to “ruin the movie going experience”. This article is not to state who is wrong or right in this particular argument, just to observe that it happened.
Could this be a generational thing with people who are used to living without these devices not understanding why younger people can’t just disconnect for a couple of hours to enjoy a movie, or is this just a matter of people flagrantly disregarding the feelings of other paying customers as they refuse to give up their rights to use their devices in any way they see fit and where ever they desire? Also, could Google Glass – a device that acts like a smart phone but is operated by movements and speech commands that is worn like a headband and has a screen that covers one eye like an eye patch (for the uninitiated who have never heard of the device) change things further as someday we could all be surrounded by people “wearing” their devices and are tapped in at all times. This device also could open up some serious piracy issues as people could use it to record movies comfortably in theaters while they watch without anyone being any wiser. Either way, this is a debate that isn’t about to be resolved anytime soon and is likely to be altered dramatically as technology, social media and the way people interact with it increases and improves.