Sunday, October 28, 2007

The horrors of moviegoing

As someone who sees movies in theaters an average of two or three times a week, I am always encouraging people to experience films on a big screen, and trying to make arguments against those who can only think of the negative, inconvenient aspects of going to movie theaters. But last week I was sort of inclined to agree with them after the experiences I had. I went to three screenings, all of which were frustrating in some way.

They sort of build from minor to major: At the first screening of the week, I was stuck sitting in front of a group of very talkative people, the sort who feel the need to narrate the entire film and ask each other questions about what's going on. This was annoying, and made it hard to concentrate on the film, but was easily solved. The theater was not especially crowded, and my friends and I simply moved to the other end of the row. Problems like this don't bother me much, although if you rarely go to the movies and end up with an experience like this every time, I can understand how it might not be worth the hassle.

The second screening of the week presented a problem that had nothing to do with the people in the theater. About halfway through the movie, probably when a reel changed, the projector hit a glitch and the picture ended up being sized wrong. One of the advantages of going to early screenings is that there is almost always a representative from the studio there who will get problems taken care of quickly. And that was the case here - the picture was fixed within about two minutes, and the rest of the movie proceeded without any problems. But what happened during that time was one thing that for some reason bothers me more than any other technical problem (sound issues, picture being out of focus or dark, etc.) that you can encounter at a movie theater. Because the screen size was wrong, you could see too much of the picture, and one scene unfolded with the boom mic clearly in view.

I'm not sure why exactly this bothers me so much - it's not as if you couldn't see what was happening, or were missing any of the actual content. But something about that mic being visible takes me so completely and violently out of the viewing experience that I find it nearly impossible to pay attention to what's going on. Naturally, the audience laughed as soon as they saw it, and I think a lot of times people assume that it's a mistake on the part of the filmmakers, which of course it isn't. Seeing that evidence of the filmmaking process is an immediate reminder that what you're watching isn't real, that these aren't actual people interacting but rather actors reading lines. Obviously I know that intellectually, but seeing it right in front of my face completely jars my suspension of disbelief, and makes me really upset. It's a sort of visceral reaction that I can't entirely explain, and other people seem less concerned about. I once went to a press-only screening of Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda where this went on the entire time, and there was no studio rep there to get it fixed. After the screening, I seemed to be the only one really bothered by it. I don't think I'd be able to sit through a whole movie like that again.

The last thing that happened during the week was by far the worst, because it wasn't easily solved and was incredibly distracting. My sister was the studio rep working this particular screening, and I was sitting next to her along with a friend of mine and my mom. A family with a baby came in just before the movie started and sat right behind us. Now, I think it's unbelievably rude and stupid to bring your baby to an R-rated adult drama, but at least if people know to take their kid outside if it makes noise I suppose I can tolerate it. Not long after the movie began, the baby started getting a little noisy, although not crying or being too loud. My sister turned around and told the parents that if their baby started crying or making too much noise, they'd have to take it outside for it to calm down. This is a fairly standard thing, and she wasn't even asking them to do it right away, just if the baby made more noise.

Immediately the father got enraged, saying very loudly that he was not going to take his baby outside no matter what, and that babies make noise and thus everyone would just have to deal with it. Since the studios pay to rent out the theaters for these screenings, the reps have the discretion to ask people to leave, which my sister immediately did. Again, the man loudly berated her, saying she was being rude and that he would not leave and his baby would make as much noise as it wanted. At this point, my sister got up and went to get hotel security (one of the advantages of movie theaters in casinos).

When she returned with two big, imposing security guards, the man still refused to leave, again protesting very loudly, saying it was his right to be in the theater and for his baby to make noise. Finally the guards persuaded him to go outside so they could "explain" why he had to leave. Obviously once he left they were never going to allow him back in, and after a few minutes the rest of his family must have realized this. They got up noisily to leave, and as they did their older daughter poured her entire cup of water on my sister. She immediately got up and followed them out, and apparently as she did so the daughter also struck her with the baby's diaper bag. These are stupid, petty things, of course, and when asked by security if she wanted to press charges, my sister wisely declined. But they point to such a weird sense of entitlement, that people feel they can come into a public space, disrupt everyone else's experience and then lash out when they are asked to leave. It truly amazes me.

I managed to concentrate back on the film after that, but it took a while, and I did feel like I (and the other people around me) had been cheated out of the experience we were there to have. If I had paid, I might have asked for my money back. At the same time, I don't let situations like this put me off going to the movies; the following week, I went to three more screenings without any problems. But when I got a screener in the mail the next day of that last movie, I did at least for a minute wish that I had just stayed home.

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