I’m 36 years old. I’ve been going to the movies since I can remember, seeing “E.T.” at age 7 and “White Nights” at age 10 as two of my earlier memories. My movie going experience has changed a lot over the years, from fluctuating prices to inclusion of seemingly multiplying number of ads, but nothing is more distracting than the addition of a smart phone in the hands of every single person in the theatre. And, for some reason, the incessant need to text or email throughout the spine-tingling, gut-wrenching or hysterical 100 minutes.
Most of the movie theatres that I grew up adoring have long since been torn down or converted into awkward event spaces. It’s beyond cliché to say that ‘it ain’t like it used to be’. But as much as companies like Netflix and Cinemail have put Blockbuster Video out of business, one cannot replace the hype and comraderie that comes from seeing a film on the big screen, with a big crowd, especially on that first weekend of release. I happily fork over my hard earned cash and have even stood in line for an embarrassing number of hours to share the experience of much awaited films with like-minded individuals. There are films that I make sure I catch in the theatres, having assessed trailers instantly with a Opening Weekend, During Release, Rent, Airplane or Avoid label to determine it’s fate in my life.
Of late, I have found that there is always one person within my eyeline who is texting/emailing throughout the film, the luminous glow of their handheld device a beacon of distraction. I will try to ignore it, but my focus is pulled away from the storyline and, as such, my indignation grows. What, I wonder, could possibly not wait 100 minutes? Whatever you are writing is a waste of my time, money and patience. I have put my hand to my head to block the encumbering light. Often times I will lean or walk over and, always politely, ask them to turn it off. Once I tattled to a theatre manager, justified that the teenagers giggling while reaching their phones overhead and taking endless blurry pictures of “Spiderman” was simply ridiculous.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you have the type of lifestyle where you cannot be without contact to the outside world for the duration of a film, then you should not be watching a film with other people. Otherwise, there’s always the exceptions. The stereotype of the emergency call from the babysitter, the pregnant wife, etc. A friend of mine, an actor, will take calls from his agent anywhere, anytime. Nothing, I’m sure, that couldn’t wait a few minutes, but, at the very least, he will insist on an aisle seat and immediately leave the theatre, should such a phone call arise. Leaving the theatre seems the most bearable action if some sort of emergency comes up (let’s ignore for a moment that the phone should be turned off altogether). Theatres themselves aren’t much help. Pre-film warnings have only evolved from nothing to a simple “please turn off your pagers and cell phones” and the occasional comical sketch. But, in my estimation, the influx of communication, social media sites and affordability of smartphones have resulted in a complete lack of film viewing etiquette.
More recently, I was sitting at the Varsity Theatre for Young Adult, while the patrons to the left, the right and in front of me were ALL texting! Not once, not randomly, but throughout. If not with a friend from overseas eager to see a film in English, I would have given up and gotten my money back. But is, or rather, should, a casual, free wi-fi viewing, be the future of the film going experience? Why do people behave as if in their own living rooms and what am I making such a fuss about? I randomly polled a cross section of people who call themselves my Facebook friends (no bias possible, I barely know most of them) and have learned the following:
It bugs the crap out of other people my age, less so with the younger kids.
It happens a lot.
They are getting used to it.
This certainly does seem to be the standard now, which I find appalling. The Varsity Theatre, one of my faves, offers plush seating and food service in their smaller VIP theatres for an additional fee. I would happily pay extra for a non-texting viewing experience. But for now I’ll stick to my growing indignation that it should come included in the cost of my ticket.