Memo to Audiences: Shut Up And Watch The Movie

Many nowadays would rather watch films from the comfort of their own home due to the prevalence of disruptive audience members in the theater. Source: lipár / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: One of the key reasons I rarely go to a theater to see a movie is because a few members of an audience can spoil what used to be a pleasant experience.

The only movies I’ve seen in a theater lately are “The Descendants” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” They had plots that were worlds apart, but each was entertaining in its own right and had the crucial elements that gratify my taste: first-rate productions with sharp performances and gripping plots.

In spite of that, a few fleeting distractions tainted each occasion. During the latter, some rude moviegoers laughed and snickered during brutally violent scenes.

At the other, my field of vision was diverted several times when a couple of restless audience members couldn’t resist checking cell or smart phones for messages. Unless it was an emergency from a babysitter or family member, such behavior is uncalled-for in a darkened theater.

Viewing a film on a large widescreen always tops watching at home on a large, flat panel TV, a palm-sized monitor or a tiny handheld gadget. (The screen for the first television my family owned was larger than two latter ones.)

More and more, I prefer seeing a movie in the comfort of my living room without distracting, intrusive audience participation.

Apparently, so do a lot of other Americans.

Movie theater attendance was reported to be down more than 15 percent last year; the lowest in over a decade. I haven’t seen any study that determines specific motives behind the drop-off, but, for me, aside from rude moviegoers, it’s largely due to the dearth of quality movies that have been supplanted by ones teeming with computer-generated images, special effects, exceptionally loud sound and undemanding plots.

I realize I’m more than a generation past the demographic audience — young adults and teens — that is targeted nowadays, but I still enjoy a well-crafted movie, which seem to be few and far between.

I became jaded by the movie-going experience when I worked in entertainment public relations and was regularly invited to pre-release showings where, once the film started, a hush came over the audience and continued until the end credits began. Occasionally, business connections also sent me passes for an upcoming movie that was previewed in a cozy midtown Manhattan screening room where a pin-drop could be heard as the movie unfolded. Those invited were guests of film company employees or industry insiders, who took advantage of a privilege, not afforded the general public, and knew a sense of decorum was expected.

Regardless, when you attend a movie theater and shell out 10 bucks or more per ticket, you don’t expect audience members to act as if they’re watching at home. When the solitude of the theater is disrupted by ill-mannered patrons, it is annoying and frustrating.

Laughter, sobs or screams are common reactions when a scene warrants it, but chitchat or audible comments aren’t really necessary every so often. I sometimes feel like yelling, “Shut up!” at the transgressor(s). But it’s usually practical not to react in such situations because you never know when an offender will resort to a physical or violent confrontation.

Before the feature, a cautionary alert is shown to remind the audience to be considerate and turn off cell phones and refrain from texting and talking. Undoubtedly, the first two categories had to be added after hand held gadgets became trendy. The silence appeal, though, has been around for a while. Nevertheless, there are always a few moviegoers who ignore the advice. But, unless someone has an especially legitimate excuse, such as Tourette’s syndrome, silence is especially golden at the movies.

Ten minutes or so into “The Descendants,” my peripheral vision was disturbed by someone who was texting, or checking for a message. In a darkened theater, where the only glow should emanate from the screen — and exit signs and safety lights — it’s distracting.

If I produced the pre-movie recommendation, it would be more direct, less polite and go something like this:

Those around you came to watch a movie, so turn off your gadgets and zip your lips. 1) Shut off your damn cell phones; put them in your pocket or purse. 2) Don’t text or check for freakin’ messages once the movie starts. It’s distracting, impolite and inconsiderate. If you can’t go 90 or so minutes without talking, chatting or texting, walk out to the lobby! But the damn movie will not pause while you take care of personal bullshit. If you don’t approve of this message, next time STAY HOME!

You can’t pick the audience when you go to a movie. Nonetheless, the experience is more satisfying without other moviegoers, who you’d think also came to enjoy what’s on the screen, but instead act like spoiled brats with no sense of etiquette and are short on manners.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.