With movie-theater attendance at a 20-year low, exhibitors are becoming increasingly
desperate inventive in their attempts to woo audiences. But by catering to patrons for whom the simple act of watching a movie is not sufficient incentive to fork over the price of a ticket, they risk alienating what ought to be their core constituency. Here’s a new twist, courtesy of a Little White Lies post diplomatically titled “Texting in Cinemas: Would You Do It?” (Emphasis, and silent screaming, mine.)
It was with a twinkle in our eye and a spring in our step that LWLies headed to one of the most celebrated “old-fashioned” cinemas over the festive period. It was a cinema that we had yet to frequent, and one spoken of in glowing terms by serious movie types. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” was playing, which seemed the perfect a film to watch in such hallowed environs. The exterior of the building had an art deco allure. As did the interior. Things were going well. Too well.
Kubrick is one of the most infamously perfectionistic directors to have ever lived. The man wrote detailed letters to projectionists in order that viewers might watch his work in the manner intended right down to intensity of screen lighting and intermission music. It was even rumored that he attended random screenings and sat quietly in the back to make sure things looked okay. In short, he cared — more than any of us — about screening conditions in cinemas. Hence when some gentleman in the row in front started tooling around on his mobile during the opening chimp sequence, we felt more than usually justified in politely asking him to terminate the distracting tomfoolery.
He turned around in clear possession of thoughts to share. I readied myself for abuse.
“Part of the cinema’s service is that you can text the bar for a drink.”
There was nothing more to say. The grander power of cinema law had undermined me comprehensively. At intermittent points during Kubrick’s masterpiece, mobile screens would light up like supernovas and shortly thereafter staff members clutching trays would cast their approaching shadows across the small screen. During the phantasmagoric photography of Douglas Trumbull’s breathtaking “trip” sequence, someone kicked over what sounded like a full tea set, the clattering echoing throughout space and time.
This is, as the British would say, not on. It’s one (terrible, inexcusable) thing for theaters to countenance mid-film texting, abdicating any responsibility for the quality of your experience once you’ve passed the lobby snack bar, another (infuriating, demonic) thing for them to actually reward it.
It’s been nearly a year after a 43-year-old father was shot to death in a Florida theater in a confrontation that began over texting during the previews, and even art houses aren’t immune from the plague. It’s possible to give viewers a “deluxe experience” without spoiling it for the rest; the Drafthouse chain lets viewers eat and drink while watching a movie, and also has a zero-tolerance policy on texting. If you’re of a mind to grab a beer during “Goodbye to Language,” the least you can do is get it yourself.