Saturday, July 2, 2011

Movie Talkers

Recently, the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Theatre made headlines after they published an obscenity-laced voicemail by an irate patron. The theatre is known for having a strict policy concerning cell-phone use during a movie and they routinely remove customers for infractions such as talking on texting if it disturbs other attendees. The woman in question was removed for what theater owners referred to as excessive texting during a feature and as per policy was not issued a refund.

She later called the theater’s office and argued that she had “texted in all the other theaters in Austin” and was unaware of the no cell-phone use rule in their “crappy-a** theater.” Her message closes with some remarks on the establishment’s management team being “a**holes” and one final appeal that all people are “free” to text in the “United States of America.” The Alamo Drafthouse concludes the video by thanking the texter for never returning.

I myself have often dreamt of opening my own theater and would embrace such a policy. There is nothing worse than paying $10 for an adult ticket and then missing a crucial plot point because the guy two rows back can’t possibly miss a phone call from “Big Freddie.” I was once in a movie with someone whose phone rang three different times during the film and he answered every time. I can let one ring slide as it is plausible that you simply forgot to put it on silent, but all subsequent incidents would seem to point to a simple lack of functional intelligence.

I could not help but wonder if this young man found himself perplexed every time the tiny electronic device in his pocket emitted noises, because he still acted surprised even the third time it rang. It was as if he believed himself to be in possession of mystical religious artifact that just happened to produce the first 45 seconds of “Big Pimpin’ at random intervals and he was powerless to stop it.

It also seems that these same people are unable to control the volume of their spoken conversations. They will cup their hand over the phone it an effort to muffle the sound but continue to speak as if they are fabricating sheet metal. In some cases the conversation will simply consists of them describing what they are seeing in the movie as if they are witnessing an event never to occur again like a unicorn fight or a leprechaun dance-off .  

There are those who defend the young woman’s point of view and argue that the theater has no right to tell me when I can and can’t use my cell phone. I have even heard the “what if it was an emergency or I had a close relative on their deathbed” argument. That sounds plausible in theory but if grandma is expected to “go rest high on that mountain” any minute now why would you leave her side to catch the 7:30 showing of Transformers 2 in the first place.

Now if this woman was a neurosurgeon on call I personally would not mind if some brief ambient light from her cell phone disrupted my movie; but after dropping $20 for my wife and I to gain entrance I don’t feel that it is too inconvenient to ask everyone else to hit up their “besties” outside.

Let’s face it, while there are some genuine emergencies that arise during the screening of a movie, about 95% of interruptions are people forgoing their current social activities to plan their future social activities which they will inevitably interrupt to plan more future activities. I sometimes suspect that people conspicuously talk on their phones in theaters just to remind the other patrons that their popularity is so demanding a movie simply serves as a “social appetizer” to the festivities they will be involved in later.

At the end of the day it just boils down to common courtesy. It is difficult for me to envision a call too important to wait until the end of a movie but not important enough to warrant standing up and walking 20ft to the exit. I often wonder how a theater run by Robert DeNiro’s character from Casino would handle rude cell phone interruptions. I imagine after the first patron got the “Joe Pesci” treatment, subsequent showings would take on the reverent silence of a monastery.

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