If you’ve seen the disclaimer that begins my review of the film “Belle”, you’ll recall my complaints about a pair of circus seals masquerading as housewives making loud quips, providing running commentary, and even screaming at the top of their lungs during the film’s runtime. It is because of that experience that I wasn’t able to give the film my full attention and thus it’s fair review.
After taking time to cool down and salvage what I could from my notes, I discussed the experience on KTALK’s late-night talk show, The S.P. Romney Show. On the show, we brought up how in the past, people used to treat going to the cinema with that same reverence and regard as one would if they were attending a symphony concert at Abravanel Hall.
This led me to ponder the question: Is the etiquette of the movie theater dead? Is the concept of being mindful of others who are watching the same movie a relic of the past?
The effect of distractions
“A great movie will be a great movie no matter if anyone is on their cell phone,” says Dylan Moses Griffin, writer for Movie Mezzanine and former film critic for the Daily Utah Chronicle. “But I do have some experiences where I saw a great movie but whenever I think of [that] movie, I think of the person talking during it.”
For anybody who enjoys going to the movies, being able to remember what you saw is a vital part of that experience. For a film critic, it’s an important aspect of the job. As previously mentioned, I was unable to give “Belle” a fair review. While a more seasoned critic usually develops ways to tune out distractions, it can get tricky if you’re close enough to the source of the problem.
“[Crazy Heart] was a great movie filled with great performances,” Griffin says. “At the same time I can’t think of that film without thinking of the couple that sat next to us and talked and laughed the whole time without any regard for anybody around them.”
Few options for help
What of the theaters that are showing these? What services do they offer customers who are paying to see these films? In the past, there were ushers that sat next to the door of the theater that people could go to if there was a problem. Nowadays, you may have to go all the way to the ticket office, which may be a great deal away from the venue depending on the theater’s architecture.
The problem is that not only do you miss a good chunk of the movie, but there’s a high probability of the offending patron quieting down by the time you have someone who works for the theater coming back with you. This makes for an awkward scenario as now you are unable to point out the person causing the problem, wasting the time of the employee, and even running the risk of being more disruptive as you try to get rid of the disruption.
As you can see, that’s not something that anybody wants to deal with when going to the movies. So how can patrons remedy this? Firstly, don’t be afraid to speak up. That doesn’t mean you should get into a shouting match with the disruptor. Address the perpetrator with a discreet, but forceful, whisper and politely ask them to quiet down.
The next question, you may ask, is: What can theaters do to discourage such behavior? We see countless Public Service Announcements and warnings about not using your cell phone in the theater. No longer are these disclaimers discouraging other disruptive behaviors, but every so often, we have people that ignore those warnings and proceed to text during the film.
Griffin presents one unorthodox method of behavior control.
“One time I was at the Tower Theater with a friend,” Griffin says. “[The friend] said he was going out to the lobby to make a quick phone call as there was no service in the actual theater. Then it hit me. That’s what theaters should do. Block the signal to help discourage phone activity.”
That is all for the critic’s perspective on the state of movie etiquette. Come back next week as I sit down with the executive director of the Salt Lake Film Society in order to bring you the perspective of those who run the theaters and what measures they take to ensure the optimal experience for their customers.