Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dreaming in the Dark - The End of an Era?

I used to love going to the movies. It was an event. There was that excited anticipation of what was to come as you purchased your ticket; the smell of freshly popped popcorn loaded down with butter (or butter-like topping - ha!); picking out your favorite strategic seat location in the theater. Then the lights would go down and the theater would go silent, all attention focused on the screen before us, and the magic would begin. Then we would dream in the dark together. We would laugh together, cry together, cheer together - carried along on the shared experience of this art form. Then the lights would go up and the dream would be over. Sometimes we would clap. For my friends and I, we would always stay and read the credits, appreciative of all the little people who helped make the magic happen.

Oh... those were the days...

Has technology ruined this experience? Is that what is to blame? The screen and picture in some theaters can be sub-par, especially if the theater is operating with dimmed or bad projection bulbs. The picture is even worse compared to our flat-screen digital TV at home. Are filmmakers producing films that look good on home viewing equipment, or is it that the equipment in the theater hasn't caught up with the technology everywhere else? I have watched several movies at home (that I had first seen in the theater) and had no idea they looked that amazing. Combine the better picture with home surround sound systems, and your favorite recliner chair, and I wonder why anyone goes to the theater anymore, when you can have a better theater experience at home? (The popcorn costs less too!)

Regardless of the quality of the picture, there is something more upsetting, frustrating and depressing that is keeping me away from the theaters... the lack of common courtesy and decorum, simply being polite and respectful... it's the audiences.

I have seen people practically get into fist fights in theaters over "saved" seats. One time there was an older couple that came in right before a show was to start and the theater was mostly full. They were looking for two seats together and asked someone, with empty seats on either side of them, if they could move down, thus making two seats together. The guy replied, "Should have gotten here earlier if you wanted seats together." Nice. My husband and I scooted down and made room for them in our row, and you would have thought we had done some incredible thing. It's just common courtesy people.

I've been in a theater where a group of people were obviously there with the specific intent to ruin the movie for everyone else by heckling the movie and talking loudly, etc. When asked to stop or leave, they just got worse, started taunting other audience members, laughing louder at the accomplished goal of making everyone in the theater miserable. When the management was called, instead of kicking them out of the theater (i.e. holding them accountable for their actions) they were allowed to stay and the annoyed patrons were given vouchers to come back at another time. What kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in? I thought they would stop the film, kick them out, then offer to re-start the show for anyone who wanted to continue to watch and/or give them a voucher for next time. Silly me. I'm sure the punks relished in their victory of clearing a theater...

I've sat next to people who took business calls on their cell phone all throughout the movie. Dude, if you are that important, or if the business is having a crisis or whatever, then maybe you shouldn't be taking time for a movie. I've been constantly distracted by flashing blue lights out of the corner of my eye - people texting their friends during the movie. Seriously, you can't go for two hours without having a meaningless chat with your friends?

But above all this, there are two things that bother me the most. The first, is the unthinking parents that bring their very small child into the R-rated adult subject matter movie. I end up worrying about the poor kid's psyche through the whole movie, as I listen to the parent behind me constantly whispering "Just cover your eyes it will be over in a minute." as the kid wails in terror. No wonder our next generation of kids are so de-sensitized to violence and sex, etc. and have lost their innocence at such an early age. Is it really worth it, for two hours of entertainment? I sympathize with the parents; I really do. Babysitters are expensive (especially when you add on what you will already be spending at the theater). And it's hard to even find a babysitter you can trust anymore. However, the solution is not to take your kid to the theater, the solution is to sacrifice your theater-going. It's part of what you give up to be a parent.

But finally, the thing that bothers me the most, is the audiences' inappropriate reactions to what is going on in the movie, that depresses me and chill me to the bone. I have sat in a theater, where there was an obviously touching moment on screen, and my eyes were filling up with tears, and the audience would be laughing or mocking the event. I've seen films where there was a horrific murder, done to illustrate the absolute evil of the main villain, and heard theater goers laugh and say "cool!" Is it because they cannot handle the strong reactions this art form is creating in them, so the laugh to break the tension? (Like nervous laughter when you're in an intense situation.) Or is it something more sinister, in that people have forgotten how to connect, how to feel, how to generate empathy for the characters on the screen and the story being told? Or does it go back to the whole de-sensitized thing?

All I know is... it makes me sad. And it makes me wonder if we're watching the end of an era. There have been numerous articles online, talking about these very things, and how more people are staying home and watching movies at home because of them. Again... it just makes me sad.

I apologize for ranting. I try to stay away from posting personal rants on this blog, since that's not what I want it to be about, but since this is about one of my favorite art forms, I felt like it was applicable. So what about you? Have you experienced any of the things I mentioned? Want to share your theater-experience horror story? Have an idea for a solution to these problems? Drop me a comment and let me know.


raven said...

I could not agree with you more. I have had the same things happen to me.
When I saw the last Harry Potter movie the people behind me brought their new born baby, who cried the entire movie, which is dark in nature, not to mention really loud, much too loud for a new born's ears and then they refused to leave the theater while their baby cried. Yeah, in the past, when people's children cried they left the theater until the child calmed down and they could return. Now they just stay because they don't want to miss the movie, and don't care that everyone else paid to see the movie too. Completely inconsiderate. I can't understand this behavior.
Being a new mom myself, I have given up going to the theater. I have never taken my baby, now 2 year old to the theater because 1. It would be damaging to his ears at such a young age and 2. He wouldn't be able to sit still for a 2 hour movie. My dad took me to my first movie at 4 and it was a Disney move and he still had to take me out once.
One movie was ruined when the lady in my row got up and took a trip to the bathroom 5 times, which is 10 trips back and forth in front of me. The isles were small and she was very big, so each time I had to get up out of my seat and stand so she could go by me. I missed 1/2 the movie because of her actions. If you have to go to the bathroom 5 times in a movie, sit on the end or don't get up. I have never gotten up and had to walk over people in a theater before. I am there to see the movie, not walk around and disterb everyone. I go to the bathroom before the movie starts so I wouldn't have to get up. I would never want to be so inconsiderate.
I have had really sick people sit next to me and caugh on me for 2 hours. Then I went home and got their cold. If you are sick, stay home!!!
I feel what you are saying! I almost hate going to the theater now. I would rather sit at home. I agree that the screen's don't seem very clear and the sound system seem too loud. I actually wear ear plugs during a movie in a theater. They could use some upgrading, but that probably won't make me want to go to the theater because of other's bad behavior.

raven said...

About a solution: I think that each theater should have some watchers who carry aroud their flash light and inforce good behavior. If someone is talking in a movie they come over and shine their flash light in that person's face and ask them to be quiet during the movie. If that doesn't work, then they must leave. This could work for people with crying children. They would be asked to leave until their child calms down. If people are using their phones again the watchers would ask them to leave. I guess the watchers are more like theater attendents, but that is what we need! We need inforcement until people re-learn how to behave and have manners.

Anonymous said...

Well, I actually think you and I have complained about this to each other. Desensitized society is a major part of it I think. That story of not being kind to an older couple just made me cringe. There's a fine line between kids being assertive and kids being disrespectful, evil little tykes who will turn into even worse teenagers. (Showing off my nearly 34 years, I call most teenage boys "hoodlums." Prove to me you're not a hoodlum, I think). Anyway, worst movie experience was watching Anaconda with my friend Mona. There was an hispanic couple behind us, and the older gentleman didn't speak English, I gather. His female friend was trying to translate the movie the entire time. Mona and I had to actually reprimand them because dirty looks just weren't cutting it. They did an amazing job of ignoring us. Wow, all of this makes me fear cell phones eventually being allowed on planes. I'll lose my cool. Thanks for the post!

D.L. White said...

Thanks for the long post Raven. I knew you'd have some stuff to contribute. I don't know if you remember, but the theaters in Flagstaff had a policy that no small children were allowed into R-rated movies after 6 PM (even with an adult). That was one way they addressed that problem. I think movie theaters won't do that though, for fear of alienating some of their audience. The bottom dollar speaks louder I guess... but they're driving away people like us and losing $ anyway. I guess there's no easy answer, except that we need to really work on teaching our kids manners, and demanding those manners from others in our society too.

Thanks for your comment too Chad. Yeah, we've discussed this before. (I was actually trying to find the article you had emailed me when I was writing this post... couldn't find it.) You brought up another point I'd forgotten to mention - talking during the movie. Granted your situation was a "translation" problem. However, I've been in theaters where the two people behind me carried on a full conversation as if they were in a restaurant or cafe and there wasn't a movie playing. Why pay for the movie if you're not going to watch it??? I just don't understand.

chandy said...

I remember seeing very small children at the last two HP movies, and I felt so badly for them. They were so scared, and their selfish refused to let them leave! And I don't understand how parents can afford to take their entire brood of small children to the latest R-rated movie, buying them each their own snacks and drinks... people are crazy!

My daughter is very excited to go see the new High School Musical movie. I'll probably take her, but I'm not even certain she'll be able to make it through the whole movie. Kids just don't have the attention span to sit for two hours! To be honest, I'll be pretty bummed if I have to miss the last hour of Troy singing, but I won't let her ruin the show for anyone else ;)

The solution? Netflix!

mikeo75 said...

I dunno...I still don't have all these problems other people seem to have at theaters. Yeah, we just went to a movie (Burn After Reading) where a girl laughed hysterically at parts that weren't as funny as others which she was strangely quiet for.

However...if you want to stay away from people, you gotta go to movies when less people are there. The first show of the day is when we go.

There is always someone making noise I guess, but I honestly don't think anything is different nowadays than 20 years ago. People have been complaining about this forever.

Either go when no one else goes, or go to a big-time midnight premiere when EVERYONE is there for one reason: To SEE the movie.

D.L. White said...

Mike - I totally hear you. But I don't have a problem with people or crowds. I WANT to be in a theater full of people. But I want those people to be there to enjoy the movie too. I want to have that shared experience of seeing a horror movie in a theater, when the whole audience jumps at the scary part. Or to be in a room filled with laughter at the same joke. That adds to the magic of the movies. I shouldn't have to go to the midnight show to ensure that... And I know I could go during an off-time like early morning or afternoon, but if I'm gonna sit in an empty room to watch a movie, I might as well just stay home and watch it on DVD later. I'm not a super-sensitive high-maintenance person either... I don't mind people having to get up during the show, or the occasional kick to the back of the chair, or the occasional whisper behind me. I'm willing to deal with the standard movie-going, being-in-a-large-crowd kind of stuff. I'm talking about excessive above-and-beyond ridiculousness that seems to be so commonplace now.

Sorry... that all sounded really defensive. I was just trying to clarify my point.

mikeo75 said...

No, I get all makes perfect sense.

I guess I just like to GO to a theater to see a movie when it comes out, instead of waiting until the DVD. And I also don't care about seeing it with a bunch of people. I'm just fine if we end up in an auditorium just the two of us :)

But I DO like to see big time movies at midnight when you know the entire place is there because they've been DYING to see it. That is quite an experience. Shawn I'm sure told you how awesome TDK was at midnight.

The problem is...some of us are movie snobs and there are a ton of people out there that have no real taste when it comes to movies. If it makes them laugh, it's a good movie.

Not sure if you can see this link, but look at the comments from this person defending the Chihuahua movie:


That's the type of people there. Burn After Reading...we have this girl giggling at parts when no one else was, then she didn't utter a peep at the end when I about fell out of my chair from laughing so hard, along with the rest of the place.

She just didn't get it.

And sadly, I think there are many moviegoers that just don't get it out there.

D.L. White said...

Yikes! Those comments about the chihuahua movie were... unsettling.

Is it that people have lost the ability to appreciate good films, or has Hollywood dumbed down their product and now caters to the lowest common denominator? I mean who green-lit THAT movie?!?!

I guess that's a separate topic...

Thanks for the input Mike. I don't want to give up going to the theater, but I guess I might reserve my trips for only the "event" movies and only on opening weekend... or you could tell me what magical theater you're going to, where you don't experience any of these problems... :P

mikeo75 said...

Well, you guys live too far away to go to Crossroads by our house, it's sort of empty-ish a lot of the time :)

The other thing is going during the daytime when other people are working...if you can ever get a day off or something, people that go to movies during a work day tend to be more serious about it.

D.L. White said...

Yeah... with all those gobs of free PTO time I have... sigh... my company is pretty stingy with the PTO time...

S Vogel Jessop said...

Wow, lots of good comments here! I am glad I am missing most of those experiences. I guess I really only get to the theater during the kids summer movie fest.
I'm happy to report that I've seen moms take that opportunity to teach children to sit right, whisper to each other, say excuse me and apologize if they have to walk by during the film, and laugh out loud when it's funny (that's my favorite part). And those moms with little babies seem considerate, sitting on the end if they need to get up, or standing out of the way if they need to rock a baby.
So perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but maybe a better day is coming, as these ones grow up and remember theater etiquette.
I'm horrified to hear that people are taking children to adult movies. I don't even know what to say about that!

D.L. White said...

Hi Sandi - thanks for posting! Your comments have given me hope for the future! :)

Jessica S. said...

I know you were ranting, but there is so much truth to your rant that I prefer to call it an article, and a very good one at that!
Great points, and great job expressing them!!!

D.L. White said...

Thanks Jessica! :)