In the opening scene of The Artist, we see a visage from days long gone. A silent film plays, one featuring a dashing hero, whilst an audience watches on in riveted anticipation. The crowd is all gussied up in fancy dress, suits and ties for the men, dresses and pearls for the women. These men and women (perhaps even children somewhere, if you look closely enough) have all gone out to see this moving picture in a crowded theater, all seats taken and all eyes glued to the screen. And, as is befitting to the film in question, they all remain absolutely, in every way silent until the credits role. It's just too amazing to think of doing anything else.
This is a glimpse of yesteryear, of course. Back in what we can now refer to as "olden times" (specifically due to the relevance in today's culture), going to the movies was a special occasion. It wasn't just something you did because you were bored and/or needed something to do with friends, but rather something that held actual meaning within a culture. It was an occasion to get dressed up for along the same lines as going to see a play or related theatrical performance; something that probably required advance planning and special circumstances. Heck, if it weren't for the reverence of movies, Bruce Wayne may never have become Batman in the fashion that he did! Joe Chill would've had to just break into their mansion or something. That's how important movies and going to see them were.
So why is it that in the year 2012, our lack of flying cars is replaced with an abundance of shitty, rude and self-absorbed theater audiences?
That's a harsh start, sure, but truth be told, I kind of hate going to the movies now. When I was younger, going to the movies was as simple as calling up that one MovieFone hotline to talk to Kramer for movie information; when I got older I'd look on the internet at moviefone.com. If a commercial for a film was intriguing enough, I'd make a plan to go see it -- all it would take is picking a theater, picking a film and picking a time. That's it! From there, transport and money would be required, all to eventually result in me sitting in a dark, quiet cinema as I beheld a spectacle of sorts. There was no anxiety, no related dread. There was nothing but anticipation, excitement and the understanding that I was going to (perhaps in literal terms) see something I had never seen before on a screen bigger than the average wall of my home.
Today is a completely different experience, one that makes my younger self seem rather naive. When I want to go to the movies today, I would go so far as to describe the entire process as "an ordeal." Now I have to pick the theater very carefully, weighing it against what I know to be it's average patrons; there are several very close cinemas that I simply will not frequent unless I have no other choice (I'm honestly more likely to drive over a half an hour to an out-of-the-way theater than I am to go to one that is a fifteen minute train ride from my apartment). Following this, I will very carefully select the time I see the film, choosing to see it around hours where most people are least likely to go to the movies, probably because they're going to eat, just getting out of work or because it's a week night and they have something better to do. Once I get to the movie theater, I will then cautiously choose a seat, usually towards the very front of the theater, with the explicit hope that the closer I choose to sit towards the screen the less likely anyone will sit near me, because it's cool to sit in the back, and an eye sore to sit in the front. And maybe -- just maybe -- I may just get the peace I desire.
I do this, and I mean this in no shorter terms, because everyone is awful. Personally, I don't think it's too much to ask for that people who are going to see a movie should just sit and watch it, but apparently that is in fact far too much to ask. What's common courtesy, anyway? If I look back at at least the past year alone, every movie I have gone to has some associated memory of someone in the audience making it difficult for me to enjoy the film, to the extent that stories then occur about the people in the theater as opposed to how good the movie is ("man, remember that one guy who...?") It's literally gotten to the point that these people are so blatantly recognizable to me that I now know if I need to get up and change seats before the trailers even start. It's a bit depressing to realize this, but it's the unfortunate reality of the situation ten times out of ten.
It's actually quite easy to break down and analyze the types of people that attend movies now:
1. The Child - fairly self-explanatory, the child attends the film with their parents because it is in someway related to their interests. Whether it's the Avengers, the Amazing Spider-Man, The Adventures of Tintin, The Muppets and/or Brave, the child is there because to them, this is still a treat. The inherent problem with the child, though, is that he or she is usually relatively dull minded, and can not fully process what it is they are seeing, nor do they comprehend the public arena they are in. The child then in turn has to ask somewhere around a million questions (rough guesstimate) throughout the feature, usually ones that will have answers attached if they wait just a minute; that and the general shouting at the screen to point out the obvious ("He's not the villain, though! He's a good guy!"). The worst part about the child is that when you shush them or make a comment about how they're being rude, it is always you who is the jerk. Because you're yelling at a kid.
2. The Elderly - the elderly is similar to the child, except at a different age group. I haven't figured out if it is worse or not to yell at a child or an elderly person, however.
3. The Fake Film Student - one of my personal pet peeves, the fake film student is usually a college student or recent college grad who really wants his or her companions and those around him or her to know just how smart he or she is. This will usually result in off-hand comments about the cinematography, the use of visual metaphor and the underlying themes of the film, most of which are probably readily apparent to anyone who has seen more than one film in their entire life. Just think of that scene from Annie Hall where Woody Allen is waiting in line at the theater, but less funny because it's actually happening around you.
While the fake film student may not necessarily talk during the film (too busy taking notes for later), they commit two other (reasonable, but still annoying) acts of social disgrace: loud discussions of what they think the movie will be about before the show based on the trailer -- including but not limited to discussion of spoilers they've read online, which is horrible -- and then loud discussions of what they thought the movie was about after the show, usually right in front of the incoming line -- which is equally horrible, since there are more spoilers now. And believe you me, it gets about ten times worse when the feature is an adaptation ("Well, you see, the book did it better because…")
4. The Confused Friend - the confused friend is a staple of every movie I've seen in the past year. It doesn't matter what I'm watching, there is always someone in the audience who just doesn't quite get what we're watching. Maybe they never saw the first film in a series (in which case their attendance to a sequel is a bit baffling) or maybe they just don't understand basic concepts of storytelling, but whatever the reason is, they just don't get it. They see the same movie that everyone else sees, from The Dark Knight Rises to Looper, but rather than wait the additional five minutes to hear an explanation they have to ask their friend what is going on. It's like the child, except worse because it's usually an adult who should comprehend the idea that maybe we're not supposed to have all the pieces of information at once, and perhaps waiting that extra minute will result in some form of explanation.
5. The Explainer - to go alongside the confused friend, the explainer is the person who then has to reply to the confused friend. The important caveat, though, is that the explainer would be doing him or herself a favor by simply saying, "Shh. Just watch the movie." They rarely ever do, though.
Additionally, the explainer fills another relatively annoying role in that this person may simply just state what has happened. If you're watching a movie such as The Grey and Liam Neeson has just battled off the threat of wolves in the dark, the explainer's self-proclaimed job is to then say outloud, "Woah, Liam Neeson just fought off some wolves!", followed perhaps by the always offensive, "Did you just see that?" Keep in mind that you yourself are watching the movie too, so you probably know what just happened and did in fact just see "that."
6. The Exclaimer - the exclaimer is the person at the movies who is one step below the explainer. The exclaimer doesn't feel the need to describe what they're seeing, but they do feel the need to let everyone know how they're feeling, through variations of "Oh!", "Oh Jesus!", "Oh shit!", "Oh shit, yo!", "Oh shit, yo, this shit be CRAY!", and so on and so forth. Loud gasps are frequent as well, and one should not confuse the exclaimer with the awkward laugher (who we'll discuss in a minute, although both are equally dull). The exclaimer is particularly egregious in silent portions of a film, usually silent for a specific effect -- or, worse yet, an entirely silent movie.
I should note, some of this is involuntary. I've been at home and watched something that left me muttering to myself. The difference is between location, however; loud gasps at home during movies? I'm ok with this. What you do in your own home is no business of mine. But in public, while other people are trying to watch a film? Best left kept to yourself.
7. The Theorist - the theorist is usually a composite of the confused friend and the explainer, which is admittedly somehow not worse than either. The theorist's position in the audience is to not just state outloud whatever has happened, but to then guess as to what it means. If this is the type of film where there is a mystery character whose identity isn't revealed, perhaps a murderer in an Agatha Christie adaptation, the theorist will relay whatever is occurring in the film and then explain to a possibly interested friend (and an entirely disinterested audience) as to why Person A is Person B, or something along that vein. Because, you know, the fun of a movie is not watching the events unfold, but rather to be the smartest person in the room who can tell you how it ends at the beginning.
8. The "I'm Just Here Because Fuck It, Whatever" Person - arguably the most egregious patron of cinemas everywhere, the "I'm just here because fuck it, whatever" person is there because fuck it, whatever. This isn't a person who in any way cares about the movie, but is there for some weird reason: boredom, part of a group/hive mentality, heard that it was an "important" movie, additional boredom, fan of actor/actress, drunk, on a date and need a dark place to make out, more additional boredom, etc. This person does notably travel in packs, and is there simply to make you wish you weren't, especially if you like going to the movies.
This kind of person is honestly the worst for those occasions when you call your mom or dad to take them out for the evening so she/he can see that movie she/he's heard so much about. You offer to pay, she/he thinks you're a great son or daughter, and then you have to sit there are the movies while other people are wildly disrespectful and your mom or dad doesn't have a very good time. That, more than anything, feels the worst.
9. The Awkward Laugher - a confusing beast of sorts, the awkward laugher is a fairly descriptive title already: this is someone who laughs at things that aren't funny. Perhaps they're nervous, perhaps they see the humor in the little things, but no matter what it is that is producing such a jovial response I can at least guarantee you this -- most of the time, the thing they're laughing at is not actually funny. For example, movies like The Master aren't comedies, so I honestly have no idea why the audience I saw it with laughed at more than half of it. Yet here we are.
And then I suppose there is 10, the person who is there to see the movie. That one's me. Maybe you, too.
Perhaps I'm overly cynical. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that my descriptions of the 9 people you will find in any cinematic experience today just reads as the jaded ramblings of an elitist asshole. I get that, and if any of my descriptions are offensive to you because they describe something you do or have done, consider this me apologizing right now for hitting a nerve. Truth be told, I know that I'm the one that comes off as an asshole because when I turn around to ask someone not to talk during a movie, I'm met 99.9% of the time with an indignant reaction. I've gotten the sarcastic "Oohh, sorry!", I've gotten the tilted-mouth narrow-eyed stare, I've been simply ignored to the point where I'll get up in the middle of a movie and sit somewhere else. And remember when I said you can't "shush!" a child or an elderly person? Let's just trust me on that one, and acknowledge that I know what I'm talking about, because it's actually me that's the worst. It seems that in me expecting others to have a little shred of what I referred to earlier as "common courtesy," I am the actual jerk that is attending the showing.
And yet, the twisted nature of this entire situation leaves me at only one conclusion: I just need to stop going to the movies.
So far in this year, I've been to the movies quite a handful of times. What can I say? I like movies! In every occurrence, however, I can always point out at least one of these people also in attendance, and it is honestly beginning to ruin the experience of going to the movies for me, so much so that the last two times I went to the theater I came out of the showing with little to nothing to say about the actual film. When I saw The Dark Knight Rises with my parents, I had to turn around at least three times to ask the people behind me to stop talking and was ignored every time (hence what I alluded to earlier). When I saw Sleepwalk With Me, I had to sit and listen while the people in front of me tried to analyze what they were seeing while it was happening. When I saw Looper and the Avengers, coincidentally in the same theater at the same cinema, I had to turn around and ask different variations of the people listed above to just stop talking, only to be ignored unanimously. When I saw Prometheus, I had to get up and move to sit away from a group so clearly inebriated that it ultimately made no difference; they shouted their way through the movie as it was a football game. And this past weekend, when I saw Wreck-It Ralph with TellMeSomething.org's own Dylan Wise? You better believe The Child was there (although, admittedly, when the little girl behind us cried out at one of the film's events, it was kind of adorable). And so on, and so forth.
Now -- as much as this is beginning to take the form of a rant, I don't think it's that weird to state that film is important to me (especially when you take into consideration my writing of this piece). Going to the movies when I was so young I still brought toys to keep me company because they're conscious and like seeing movies too (obviously) was the best present I got. In the latter years of high school, I'd see a movie every Friday night with the group of friends I had, and it was our way to unwind from the trials and tribulations of being 16. As I hit college, I used to just go see movies alone at random hours on random days because I could and it allowed me to escape the nonsense that is growing up. And you better believe that in that awkward stage of transition from teenager to adulthood, I used to frequent two particular cinemas almost religiously, often times seeing movies I'd just heard about earlier in the day. Heck, if we want to get super-honest, the first date I had with my current and long-term girlfriend was to a movie, and every year for our anniversary we see a movie as per tradition.
(And, as an additional note, my first anniversary present to her was every movie we'd seen together in the past year on DVD and Blu-ray, which is why I own Gran Torino.)
So, with all of that in mind, I don't think it's too weird to then additionally state that I don't understand why movies aren't important to everyone. I mean, I "get it" to an extent; not everyone is me, and I can't expect others to inherently see the world as I do (and vice versa). But what bugs me here is that going to the movies is an experience, not just a throwaway afternoon. It's something that can be potentially life-altering or -affirming, perhaps even educational. It's an event, one that should be celebrated and respected -- and when movies can cost upwards of $12 to see a non-matinee showing I don't think it's ridiculous at all to want to just see the movie without additional alterations from the audience. After all, you've paid to be there, to sit with strangers so you can all see a talking motion picture; might as well watch the show, right?
Well, apparently not. From everything I've come to see from being a wallflower on occasion, going to the movies is the equivalent of riding on a train, or shopping at a grocery store. Most people aren't doing it because they necessarily want to, but rather because they feel they have to -- you have to get somewhere, you have to eat, and you have to go see the latest Bond film because everyone else has. The caveat here is that just because you're in that particular situation of shopping, traveling or movie watching, doesn't mean you can't also text, talk to whoever's around you or engage in the world surrounding you, because all of these things are just sub-elements of your life. It's not like there's any kind of note before shopping or train riding to turn of your cell-phones or anything, right? That'd be silly! You might as well find a way to pass the time in a more enjoyable fashion, because this is just a means to an end.
That's the sad truth of what going to the movies is for most people: a means to an end. What is the end? I have no clue, but if the amount of people who talk and text their way through features is any indication, neither do they. It breaks my heart; the movies we see and the act of going to see them are no longer anything to get excited about, but rather just a way for your average oxygen thief to kill a few hours and detach themselves from their life. The percentage of people trying to get lost in a cinematic endeavor, to live out more exciting lives vicariously through the actors and actresses performing on screen is second to none now. They're just… going. Going because why not, going because there's nothing better to do, going because they for whatever reason feel like they have to. These statements are a bit presumptuous, but let's be honest: if you're doing anything beyond sitting quietly and watching the movie, you're just not that into it.
It's not entirely the film-goers fault, though. Hollywood certainly does their best to placate towards this mentality, churning out movies that are the equivalent of cows chewing cud and then spitting or farting. That's why we have movies like New Year's Eve and 96% of Katherine Hegel's filmography; because who the fuck cares? If people are going to talk through a movie anyway, why not just make something that requires less than half their attention span? At least that way when they keep paying to see the same thing over and over again, they'll be getting their money's worth. It's the exact same thing that has resulted in nation-wide chains of cinemas, because nothing says "we care" than the film-house equivalent of a Burger King. So when people go to these particular theaters, talk, text or whatever their way though the film and then go home complaining, I'm non-plussed over the entire situation. Why? Because I, in my infinite wisdom, have sworn off going to these theaters. Let them have their cake! I'll get mine somewhere else.
This would be fine, if only the horrible nature of the apathetic and self-absorbed movie goer didn't start spreading outward. If every single person who feels an explicit desire to talk through a movie just went to your average Regal or Lowes, I wouldn't ever feel the need to write something like this. The problem is in the fact that these issues happen in frequent at the theaters I go out of my way to go to now, who call themselves independent or art-house theaters. I don't mind driving that extra thirty minutes to a theater with two screens and crappy seats just to have a reasonable theater experience, but it turns out that all the people I loathe at the chain theater have decided to follow and join me. I will purposefully "downgrade" the experience of seeing blockbuster films in theaters that advertise Joe's Barbershop before the movie and pump in digital "movie radio" through the speakers before the show, but it was only worthwhile during that brief era of my film attendance when I didn't have to turn around multiple times to shush people once the movie started because, hey, I kind of want to hear what was being said in the movie. Fuck me, right? Who do I think I am?
Clearly I'm the problem. Due to my own past experiences, memories and assorted feelings, I expect my cinematic experience to measure up to certain standards. I want people to be quiet, I want to watch the movie, I want to sit in a dark room with total strangers for two hours while actors and actresses fake experiences. This whole thing is me, me, me, me, me, me, me -- the twist ending is I am the self-absorbed one, because I'm pretending that we live in a world where my beliefs are universal. That's just not true. Before you tell me I'm a jerk, just take into consideration that I do know this, and I can't believe I took the time to write all this nonsense either. "Going to the movies" is not about seeing movies anymore, and I need to realize that. I need to accept that I'm wrong, and get used to a lonely life of anti-social cynicism in which I frequent Red Boxes and start paying for the non-streaming Netflix options.
Or, more simply: I guess I just need to stop going to the movies.
I probably won't, for the record. In fact, I may just go see a movie tomorrow. I might be in a movie theater at the time that you read this. Why? I'm not quite sure. Probably because I clearly hate myself. Why do people smoke cigarettes or eat at McDonalds when they know it's bad for them? Because. Because there's no better option. Because one stupid article on the internet isn't going to make a difference. Because I should grow up. Because, eh, why not? I'll go to the movies, and I'll grimace, and I'll shush, and I'll get up and move, and at the end I'll get dirty looks from strangers and feel awkward. And as I leave, I'll mutter under my breath and think about how much going to the movies sucks because everyone I don't know hates me.
But that's life.