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» Film-Tech Forum   » Community   » Film-Yak   » The historical case for why it’s okay to text at the movies (Page 1)

 
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Author Topic: The historical case for why it’s okay to text at the movies
Frank Cox
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From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
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 - posted 01-09-2017 02:12 PM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
‘Was moviegoing ever really sacrosanct?’: The historical case for why it’s okay to text at the movies

quote:
A reporter on the tech-industry beat, who one presumes privy to such scoops, heralded in a tweet this week that Apple is poised to introduce a sort of “Cinema Mode” in its forthcoming iPhone firmware update, which will make it more convenient to text or email or indeed send speculative tech industry tweets in a theatre’s pitch dark atmosphere. Nobody yet knows what such a function would entail precisely; in fact, Apple has not even confirmed the rumour, which may prove unfounded after all.

Nevertheless, a firestorm of indignation has erupted forth from the commentariat, as it always does when the sanctity of the cinema seems vaguely threatened, and presently the opinion pages abound with entreaties to extinguish this promised sacrilege and glorify the theatre as inviolable forevermore –unsubstantiated conjecture be damned.

To reiterate the obvious: the blazing gleam of a smartphone in the movie theatre’s scene-setting ambient dark is intrusive and irritating. The point of the dark is to better fix your attention on the screen, to minimize your peripheral vision, and catching one of those radiant little rectangles in the corner of your eye rather disrupts the effect. In short, using your phone at the movies is a vexing breach of etiquette — and should Apple endorse that breach by simplifying, facilitating or otherwise encouraging it, moviegoers who care about etiquette should expect to spend a lot more time duly vexed.

On the other hand, it seems equally obvious, if you’ve done much mainstream moviegoing, that the number of people who care about etiquette is relatively few. Habitual cinema texters do not need help from Apple to go about their luminescent business in the dark, and will doubtless continue on their merry way whether the latest iOS streamlines the process or not. These same texters will continue in ignorance, too: pleas to put away the phone are invariably met with bewilderment, as if it had simply never occurred to the guilty party that their behaviour were out of the ordinary at all.

If you think of a movie as nothing more than a diversion, why should you mind if your attention is diverted for a moment somewhere else?

It pays to remember that moviegoing is a social activity for vastly more people than it is a kind of religious experience, and that the respect you and I may feel ought to be accorded to the art on screen is by no means the same for most. If you think of a movie as nothing more than a diversion, why should you mind if your attention is diverted for a moment somewhere else?

Nor are breaches of moviegoing etiquette confined to the use of one’s phone. In Toronto, the multiplexes tend to draw audiences in groups by age. The Cineplex at Yonge and Dundas is routinely flogged with teens, and whenever I happen upon a blockbuster or horror film there I’m reminded all over again of how little people under the age of 20 care about things like indoor voices, public decorum or shame. So rampant are the in-cinema parties, arguments and make-out sessions that I’ve long ago abandoned hope of seeing anything there in peace.

But far, far worse, as moviegoing in Toronto is concerned, is the Cineplex Varsity in Yorkville, whose elderly constituency seems in my experience fundamentally incapable of watching movies in silence. Questions of the “who is that” and “what is going on” variety shoot up at hearing-aid-conquering volumes every minute and a half like clockwork, and the overall aural effect is like bingo night at the retirement home. Point being, one does not need an iPhone at the movies to vex.

Anti-texting sentiment has of course a nostalgic character, one that yearns for a return to the halcyon days of pious moviegoing and laments the present day’s deteriorating standards of protocol and form. But was moviegoing ever really sacrosanct? Cinema history suggests otherwise.

Well do I recall seeing David Lean’s Brief Encounter for the first time and being shocked when the Trevor Howard character, dropping into a movie midway through, simply asks Celia Johnson what it’s about and what’s happened so far, as though seeing a movie from beginning to end in the proper order was a novel idea. The movie, you see, begins again once it’s over, and the couple leave when they find their way back to where they started — this prevailing practice being the origin of the phrase “this is where we came in.” In fact, so common was the custom of waltzing in and out of movies at whatever point one pleased that advertisements for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho explicitly recommended seeing it from the beginning in order not to spoil the mystery.

And long did such habits endure. The critic Glenn Kenny, in a reminiscence for Premiere magazine, fondly describes the atmosphere at the Plaza Theater in Paterson, New Jersey, circa 1977, thusly: “The Plaza was not regarded by most of its patrons as a place of discovery, a sacred vessel of cinema, or any such thing,” he writes. “More than once I saw guys walk in with blaring boomboxes perched on their shoulders – and they would leave them blaring in the aisle. The talking-back-to-the-screen was largely ubiquitous, and pretty consistently entertaining.”

No doubt one could find a cinema in 1977 in which 3 Women or Annie Hall could be enjoyed among largely taciturn peers – and indeed the theatre where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton catch a second showing of The Sorrow and the Pity in the latter one imagines would have been boombox-free. In any event, then, as in 1945, and as in 2017, the sanctity of the cinema was not a universal ideal. Some patrons of the medium prefer to sit in hushed reverence and others do not.

So what we are seeing now is merely what cinephiles have always seen: an irreconcilable difference between the private communion one aspires to enjoy alone in the dark with a film and the very public nature of the venue where such communion happens. Is it noble to expect moviegoers to defer with humility and awe to the art being beamed down at them on the silver screen? Or, more saliently, is it reasonable? Maybe, maybe not.

But it is foolish to presume that such a war is being lost on a technological front rather than a social or cultural one – which is to say it’s foolish to blame (speculative) changes to iPhone firmware for some phantom decline in cinematic principles.

Some people will text at the movies not because Apple will make it easier or more convenient to do so but because some people do not care all that much about movies or about your pure and unblemished experience with them. IMHO.

So because people haven't behaved properly in the past, it's unreasonable to expect them to behave in the future?

[Frown]

Text in my theatre while the show is on, I tell you to stop. Do it again, I tell you to leave.

Very few people text in my theatre and it's now been a year or two since I had to throw anyone out for it.

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Scott Norwood
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 - posted 01-09-2017 02:25 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Frank Cox
Text in my theatre while the show is on, I tell you to stop. Do it again, I tell you to leave.
You are awesome. If I lived near your theatre, I would patronize it regularly for that reason alone.

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Martin McCaffery
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 - posted 01-09-2017 02:55 PM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm too lazy to dig it up and post it, but I have a couple of articles from the pre-or-early 19-teens in which the theatre managers brag about being able to keep their new fangled electric lights on during the movie so people can read.
So, yeah it's historic. But you know what, it's rude NOW, so turn off your damn cell phone and watch the movie instead of distracting everyone else with your distraction.

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Rick Raskin
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 - posted 01-09-2017 03:49 PM      Profile for Rick Raskin   Email Rick Raskin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Boorish behavior of other patrons is the main reason I rarely go to the movies. If it weren't so damned far away though I'd probably be a regular patron at the AFI Silver.

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Leo Enticknap
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 - posted 01-09-2017 04:10 PM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
During WWII the SS in Germany and a British social research project called Mass Observation both sent people into movie theaters to stand at the back and make notes as to how the audience reacted to a movie, what they were talking about, etc. etc.

In Germany, Goebbels used the information this gave him to order the studios to go big on certain types of propaganda movie and avoid others (one of the reasons he wrote a blank check for Agfacolor was that audiences went wild at color films, apparently). In Britain the Ministry of Information took note of what Mass Observation were doing, but they were really a bunch of academics doing it for their own amusement. Files survive from both countries, and reveal that theater audiences were typically noisy, badly behaved (throwing cigarette butts at the screen and setting it on fire was a frequent occurrence), and would generally make a texting moviegoer seem well behaved.

As a student I remember once reading a Mass Observation report, typed up, in which the observer noted that an audience member had opined loudly that one of the characters in the film "has to be a lesbian." Someone had underlined this in pencil, and scribbled in the margin, "I have no idea what this is, but it must be objectionable."

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Monte L Fullmer
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 - posted 01-10-2017 05:50 PM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Build a Faraday Cage around the auditorium by adding chicken wire to completely encase the auditorium.

That'll solve the issue.

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Bobby Henderson
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 - posted 01-10-2017 10:51 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
That reporter must be crazy.

When you spend a bunch of money going to a movie theater or eating at a good restaurant (or often both during the same evening on date night) you kind of expert a certain quality to the atmosphere. That gets shot to hell when some asshole is compulsively playing with his/her phone. I can tolerate someone taking a phone call at a restaurant, particularly one with quite a bit of ambient noise. But there is no excuse for phone use in a dark theater.

If I'm expected to put up with all sorts of distractions from rude idiots during a movie I just won't go see movies at a theater at all.

The reporter is right to observe that people who insist on using their phones in a theater while the movie is playing do not view the movie going experience as anything more than a simple diversion. Putting it more blunt: these people don't give a shit. These same people also would not give a shit if there were no movie theaters. If movies were released "day and date" on movie screens and home video at the same time these people would always choose the cheapest option.

It sounds like this reporter is expecting movie theater operators to cater to these rude, inconsiderate jerks at the expense of customers who value the movie-going experience and basic good manners. Like I said, he must be crazy.

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Buck Wilson
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It's my opinion that the theater owners are to blame. Frank gets it right with his independent by setting standards and sticking to them, but with 90% of the rest of theaters being owned by 3 companies that stick to the "customer is always right" principle to keep the shareholders' pockets lined, quality of the experience takes a nosedive.

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Michael Gonzalez
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 - posted 01-16-2017 01:34 PM      Profile for Michael Gonzalez   Email Michael Gonzalez   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Has anyone ever looked at their cell phone screen while wearing a pair of 3D glasses? Wouldn't it be possible to create an app where your screen would be mostly dark to everyone else but you would be able to see text as long as you were wearing a pair of polarized glasses?

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Frank Cox
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I don't think so. Polarized light is still light.

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Dennis Benjamin
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There are several theatres that were built with some sort of interior paint that deters cell signals from getting in. Apparently this was done prior to the F.C.C. passing a law about it.

I believe one is the Fox Stadium 16 in Ashburn, VA which is now owed by Regal, but was built by Consolidated Theatres.

I never made it there to see if it really worked or not.

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Bobby Henderson
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 - posted 01-16-2017 04:38 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The FCC actually has a law on the books preventing theaters from installing any sort of methods to disrupt mobile phone signals inside movie theaters? If so, then that's too bad. A "passive" system that would force everyone to keep their phones out of sight would work far better than the current methods that just don't work.

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Mitchell Dvoskin
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As far as I know, there are no FCC regulations regarding passive signal blocking. It would be dubious as to whether they have the authority do regulate building construction or paint formulations.

Active signal blocking (jamming/intercepting) is certainly in their jurisdiction, and active blocking is specifically illegal in the USA.

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Mike Blakesley
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 - posted 01-17-2017 01:18 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
It's my opinion that the theater owners are to blame. Frank gets it right with his independent by setting standards and sticking to them,
Well, yes and no. You can't expect theaters to have a person monitoring every row of every auditorium all the time, it's just too expensive and too intrusive as well. You have to have SOME expectation for people to behave themselves.

I guarantee Frank has more people texting in his theatre than he thinks he does. The only way to see 100% of the activity would be to stare over every patron's shoulder all the time. People are very crafty with hiding their phone activities, especially teens.

The phone has also become the new watch, with people constantly looking at it for a second just to check the time. I don't know why people are constantly wanting to know what time it is during a movie. I assume it's because they're not that engaged in the movie and are trying to estimate how much of it is left.

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Jack Ondracek
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quote: Bobby Henderson
The FCC actually has a law on the books preventing theaters from installing any sort of methods to disrupt mobile phone signals inside movie theaters? If so, then that's too bad. A "passive" system that would force everyone to keep their phones out of sight would work far better than the current methods that just don't work.
Mitchel does touch on this, and has it right.

The FCC has no jurisdiction over passive construction, and makes no effort to infer so.

You can put chicken wire, sheeted copper, maybe even lead behind your walls and block out whatever you want... so long as there is no active circuitry involved.

Active devices, which are rather easy to come by, are a big no-no, and the FCC has come down hard on the few people it's caught using them. This is not limited to theatres. Unless you're law enforcement, you can't (legally) use active jammers anywhere.

While they'd never say so, the issue appears to be that the FCC don't believe you can keep a jammer signal within the confines of your building, thereby possibly preventing someone from making an emergency call of one sort or another. Rather than police what may not be possible to fully contain, they just banned active jammers altogether.

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