I remember back in 1997, seeing Lost Highway at the Angelika at the midnight showing on opening night. The film is, in a lot of parts, quiet – long stretches of silence or near silence throughout. It was an amazing experience to be in a full movie theatre – in New York City especially – where no one made a sound. The audience as a whole was totally into the film and respected the silence. It was beautiful.
I had a similar experience five years earlier at a preview screening of Dracula at a nice midtown theatre. Not a particularly quiet movie, but still the audience did not detract from it by whispering, crinkling candy wrappers, or letting their cell phones ring (were cell phones even a big thing in ’92? There definitely wasn’t texting yet). We were allowed by the silent audience to make it a private experience while also sharing it with a couple hundred fellow filmgoers. This was in direct contrast to my 2nd viewing a week later at a multiplex in the East Village where there was a more typical NYC movie crowd. They laughed outloud at the cheesy parts, talked back to the characters on screen. . . And I cannot say it wasn’t enjoyable also, just in a completely different way. Still, I’m glad I saw it first with the quiet crowd.
Yesterday I completed my second week of films at the 35th annual SIFF festival. In between films, I overheard a conversation about the change in the audience “consideration”. (I think this may have been a general statement about film audiences, stemming from a direct observation of the SIFF audiences.) Every year, audiences are asked to turn off phones and beepers, a couple years they added “anything that lights up, including watches”, and this year they’ve added “no texting”. Despite these requests, people still pull out their phones mid-movie. I sometimes ask myself: Do people really need to be told not to text during a movie? And the answer is Yes, yes they do.
Last week I watched Small Crime at Uptown Cinema. It was a cute little comedy set in Cyprus. Apparently the female half of a newlywed couple sitting in front of me was from that part of the world and had extensive knowledge to share with her other half. Throughout the entire film, she was offering little tidbits to him which I’m sure were interesting. I couldn’t actually hear what she was saying, but considering the subtitles floated just above their heads, I sure did notice. It was quite distracting, but not wanting to distract anyone else, I refrained from saying anything to them. I did kick her chair a couple times “on accident”. To them I say, if you want to discuss it as you watch it – rent it and stay home!
There have been a couple films in which I find myself in serious need of a potty break. I sit there, trying not to squirm, trying to figure out if I can hold out ’til the end, or if I should just make a break for it. I really don’t like getting up in the middle of a film, but when Nature calls . . . So I can empathize with other people who are wondering “how much time has already passed?” and “how much longer until the credits roll?” Sometimes it’s a very helpful piece of information, sometimes it just eases an anxious mind. To these people I say – Wear a watch. Timex makes a really affordable white-face analog time piece that can be read in the light of most films, without even having to turn on the Indiglo. There is absolutely no reason you need to pull out a cell phone and light up the entire row just to find out what time it is. (You know what time the film started, take a guess!)
There is also no reason to have your phone on at all. If you really anticipate that someone might call or text you and cannot wait up to 2 hours for a reply, you really should consider renting a movie and staying at home. That way, if that emergency does take place, you can stop the film and resume it later, after the crisis has been averted. In this way, you are not annoying your fellow movie watchers, and you don’t have to miss the film. It’s a win-win situation.
The overheard conversation mentioned the more frequent home viewing as a cause for this type of inconsiderate behavior. I think there is more to it. As we become more addicted to our devices which connect us to other parts of the globe, we become less aware of our very immediate surroundings. If it weren’t a problem, we wouldn’t see signs at the coffee bar asking customers to refrain from cell phone usage while they are in line. Do people really need to be told to be more present in their immediate interactions with their fellow humans? Yes, yes they do. Will they listen? Hold on, I’ve got to take this call . . . .