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March 24, 2012


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Jim Gabriel

I was always bummed that Kubrick never made NAPOLEON; now I mourn BLUE WATER, WHITE KELVINATOR.


I don't follow the logic. I love audience interaction--I was happy to be at the remake of some Korean horror movie where some guy decided to pee in his soda cup rather than leave the theater, and then dropped it on the floor: "Piss coming!" he shouted by way of warning people in the rows ahead--but texting is distracting without giving you anything back. It's inappropriate and also dull.


"texting is distracting without giving you anything back."

This is true.

I was raised with a partial diet of call and response movie houses, and that never bothered me the way current, non-golden age inappropriate behavior bothers me.

It ain't your living room. It's still a church. And the loss of respect for the sense of the congregation is the drag.

Mark Asch

In response to the implied question at the end of this post, I guess I agree with commenter #2: Mostly I'm worked up about the fact that I get texting and you got a knife fight.

(Though the teenager sitting next to me in the top row at the UA Court on BORAT's opening weekend, narrating the movie to her absent friends via cellphone, was at least creative.)

A great 70s-80s smuggling-in-40s-and-talking-to-the-screen scene in Lethem's FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, if I recall. They see CAR WASH, maybe?

David Ehrenstein

My favorite is from the New Amsterdam theater on 42nd street back in the sixties.

A voice rings out: "Sorry???? You pee on my date and you say 'I'm sorry'????!!"

Robert Cashill

I got into a screaming argument with the manager of the UA Court Street last summer over the atrocious service, which made me a half-hour late for SUPER 8...and this for a noon show on a Thursday. In six years of regular attendance I'd never experienced any of the problems I'd heard about the place (including a popcorn machine fire that led the staff to flee the building, notifying the fire department but not the patrons in the auditoriums) but that was the last straw (and the first).

A movie (particularly a 3D movie with the fucking "surcharges" that usually buy you nothing more than a lousy presentation of a subpar flick) and a popcorn/drink in NY costs as much as a DVD and even a Blu-ray anymore. It's less stressful just to blind-buy something. If not as much fun as being chased out of a Chicago grindhouse showing THE EVIL THAT MEN DO when rival gangs started hurling broken bottles at each other, as happened to me back in 1984. (Ah, to return to the days of real bullying and not this weak-ass "cyberbullying"...)

Mark Slutsky

The late Palace cinema here in Montreal (one of many that disappeared about a decade ago with the introduction of the nouveau-megaplexes... sigh), once a true "Palace," by the end of its life was showing second-run flicks for $2.50 a pop. I remember seeing "Thinner" there, in the middle of which some guy stood up and loudly announced, "Well I'm going for a smoke!"
The was a general rumbling of approval, and a couple of guys actually got up and said something to the effect of "I'll join you..." I remember the exasperated solidarity fondly...

Edward Copeland

Nice piece and within it I learn of yet another error in the Inaccurate Movie Database that has started to make me think of Wikipedia as a mother lode of trustworthy information by comparison. All movie fans out in the blogosphere should compile the errors and stupidities we've found there and post them somewhere, especially now that if you want to register to be able to add things they want a cell phone number AND a credit card number, that they swear they will never use. Thankfully, those who registered eons ago have been grandfathered in.

Byrne Power

Too many grindhouse memories back in the early 80's, 42nd Street. Among my favorites. Two rows of people clear out of a packed house in front of me. I ask what's up. Someone says this guy had a gun. We go back to eating popcorn. Another time someone in a skeezy balcony is calling out LOUDLY every ten minutes a countdown to doom. Best double feature, it's opening night of the original Nightmare on Elm Street. They decide to book it with Evil Dead. At one point four hundred people are standing up as this guy's girl friend is being dispatched with a machete shouting GO! GO! GO! and making chopping motions with their own hands. Amazing stuff... Ah by gone times. It made me hate cynical college crowds.

Harry K.

I had a pretty good crowd interaction moment at a midnight screening of "21 Jump Street" recently, myself. Unfortunately, nothing particularly graphic happened,but there was a very sweet moment where two people got into a conversation across the aisle from each other, and realized that they knew a lot of the same people.

They began to reminisce right in the theater, and I thought it was a sweet alternate story line to the antics on screen.

Peter Nellhaus

I don't recall the film, but I recall a, ahem, spirited 42nd Street theater patron helpfully announcing when a character was going to enjoy another drink.

When I finally got around to seeing "The Exorcist" at a second run theater around 68th Street, a fight broke out temporarily, with one teen wacking the other with what appeared to be a big stick. Nothing that took away from the running of the film.

Phil Freeman

When I was 14 or 15, my dad took my brother and me to the Palace in Paterson - I wanted to see SURF NAZIS MUST DIE!, and unsurprisingly that was the only theater in the tri-state area showing it. The weirdest thing happened, though - we got there and the movie was already in progress, showtime be damned. So we watched the end of it, and then another movie started up - NEAR DARK. So we watched that, and then ANOTHER movie started - PRINCE OF DARKNESS! So we hung out for a little bit of that, and then went to get pizza. One of the great moviegoing experiences of my teenaged life.


I'd say it comes down to expectations. If I'm only paying a couple of bucks at a second-run house, I realize that subpar presentation and a rowdy crowd come with the territory. But damn it, if I take my girlfriend to a first-run theater, the tickets and concessions are likely to set me back around 50 bucks. I don't pay 50 bucks to see glowing iPad screens and eavesdrop on cell conversations. That simple.

In college, a buddy and I performed some songs at at the student center, after which they screened a 16mm print of the Lon Chaney version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. It was a true silent screening, as no soundtrack was provided. My buddy's dad had brought along a blind friend, and he narrated the whole thing for him. He was so entertaining though, that no one seemed to mind.

Edward: Yes, thank God the imdb "grandfathered" me in. A few years ago, I was able to get them to make some changes without too much fuss. If not, my imdb page would still credit me with stunt work on the Burt Reynolds opus COP AND A HALF, and identify me with a photo of the lovely actress Joy Bryant. Actually, maybe I should have let it slide.


There was, in fact, a thriving grindhouse scene in Dublin when I arrived here first, at seventeen, with a copy of the first Violent Femmes and the second Suicide albums, vinyl o'course, under my sweaty armpit. I was too art-college-snotty to go see the heavily censored titty movies that usually showed there but a double bill of the first two Steve Martin movies (I'd read about him in the NME) tempted me in. A guy who looked like John Qualen sat directly in front of me, and turned to face me and leer every time Steve adjusted Rachel's breasts, but didn't laugh at anything until somebody (is it Broderick Crawford?) ordered Steve to carry out some dogshit. Then he laughed like a loon, eyeing me up all the time. I moved seats, and sat just in front of two elderly people who dropped their winnings from the slot machines in the middle of The Jerk and spent the rest of the movie on their hands and knees going up and down every aisle. No knife fights but I never went back.

Not David Bordwell

My wife and I experienced the non-stop teen texting-and-talking-on-cell-phones phenomenon when we saw a matinee of THE WOMAN IN BLACK. The only other theatergoers besides the aforementioned teens were a party of decade-older (than us) viewers who had decidedly no fun through the showing. After my wife was compelled to shush the younguns at the start of film, we were surprised to find the authority of our age extended as far as respectful sotto voce heckling of characters and other patrons, and mercifully truncated and whispered "I'm in a movie theater right now -- text me" conversations punctuated by two or three jaunts to the lobby for longer parlays.

Mitigating this behavior was the delightful susceptibility of the girls sitting right behind us to react as desired to every. single. shock effect. the movie had to offer, from "how stupid can he be," to "DON'T GO IN THERE," to whistle-pipe screams and squeals, which at one point prompted a manful reprimand from one boy across the theater with the full-voiced rejoinder, "SOME of us are MORE SENSITIVE than others!" This, in addition to occasional "this is what's happening now" narration to the girl who clearly had her hands over her eyes.

Not the kind of grindhouse experience involving inebriates, knife-fights, and effluvia, but we walked out of the theater thoroughly entertained by both show and audience, surely the best possible way to see Hammer reincarnate itself.

Glenn Kenny

@ Mark Asch: They go for CAR WASH, and have to sit through BINGO LONG first. Great scene.


I was going to make roughly the same point jbryant did. I remember some of those more interactive moviegoing experiences during my misspent youth at some pretty seedy theaters on San Francisco's Market Street, but the texting happens EVERYWHERE you go, no matter how high-end the theater (I recently saw THE GREY and next to me a teenage boy AND his mother both spent much of the film consulting their phones) and no matter how frequently Arclight employees and AMC promo films tell the audience to keep their phones off.


Paul: I believe it's Edward Arnold in the dogshit scene.

The Siren

What a cloistered moviegoing existence I have led.

John M

An entertaining post, even if the logic in the final sentiment is a little...wanting.

Glenn Kenny

Well, I don't see a whole lot of logic in all the chest-beating, tut-tutting, and if-you-damn-kids-don't-stop-texting-at-movies-I'm-gonna-hold-my-breath-till-I-turn-blue-and-die-and-then-you'll-be-sorry pronouncements, myself, so I guess that makes us even. I love how in certain circles I have to take a bit of guff for being a fake internet tough guy but now it's all why-won't-you-join-us-in-our-crusade. Yeesh.

John M

I'm not sure about chest-beating--and I'm not sure there aren't plenty of non-olds who feel the exact same way--but I am sure texting in theaters is just incredibly annoying. I don't think it goes beyond that--it's just straight-up, Grade A Annoying. Absolutely on par with talking, but with a new shiny visual component that both impedes your view of the screen AND indicates a general indifference in the audience--that's probably what makes it so irksome...there's little worse than sitting in an audience and knowing that people around you just don't really care what's on screen. Because at that point, what the hell is the point of sitting in a theater, beyond the big screen? I don't think I'm overstating things when I say that texting dilutes the moviegoing experience profoundly. And this is at a time when theaters seem to be bending over backwards thinking up new ways to dilute the experience. You say the word "crusade," I'm sure at least part in jest, but we do seem to be at a real crossroads here. Texters storming the castle, etc.

And I guess I don't understand the alternative. Why would non-texters want to make an exception here? Some of the proposals by new-tech exhibitions people--stuff like designating certain seat sections for more "interactive" patrons--seems like a pretty unprecedented nose-thumbing at people who, gasp, just want to watch the movie they paid for, free of unnecessary distraction. Opening up theaters to "interactive" viewing would be like turning all screenings into those 10AM mommies-with-their-babies screenings. Fine for the mommies, fine for the babies, utterly depressing for anyone interested in seeing the goddamn movie.

Granted, grindhouse knife fights do make for good stories. But I somehow doubt you'll be telling people in 15 years about that one crazy multiplex in Times Square where, like, FIFTY PEOPLE were texting. Because everyone will be able to tell the same story, alas, and it's texting, so who cares, but yeah, how was the movie?

"I can't remember."

Glenn Kenny

I don't know how many times I'm going to feel obliged to say this: I'm NOT "for" texting in movie theaters. I'm just against bullshit. You know, at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 Eric Kohn "live-blogged" the premiere screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and while he received a sufficient amount of disapprobation for doing so that he felt compelled to issue some fake apology, he suffered nothing and in fact even got a little bit of a leg up, some might argue, in terms of an iconoclastic feistiness reputation. Or something. Everybody wants to wail and moan about how horribly texting fucks up their viewing experiences, but that's not the same thing as either putting your money where your mouth is, which is potentially physically risky, as so many novelty news stories have shown us. Nor is it the same thing as trying to get a handle on how the movie-watching practices of the texting masses actually effects THEIR viewing experience, that is, why they go to movies and what they expect of them and why they think it's not just acceptable but desirable to text during a film. So, as Jim Brown said to Richard Pryor, "Whatchoo gonna do?" If I see someone texting during a screening of "Khrustalyov, My Car!" I might ask the person to knock it off. Politely, at first. Then not. Except I DON'T find texters at such screenings. And if/when I find them at the Court Street Regal or the Times Square E-Walk or some other such venue, I'm likely to just move, or ignore it.


"that's not the same thing as either putting your money where your mouth is, which is potentially physically risky, as so many novelty news stories have shown us."

Not if you're packing heat in the right state. I believe the "stand your ground" statutes allow you to simply shoot someone operating a second screen in a cinema, all without the messiness of verbal or physical confrontation.


Also, is the aspect ratio the reason we still don't have a Car Wash Blu-Ray?


"Absolutely on par with talking, but with a new shiny visual component that both impedes your view of the screen AND indicates a general indifference in the audience--that's probably what makes it so irksome...there's little worse than sitting in an audience and knowing that people around you just don't really care what's on screen. Because at that point, what the hell is the point of sitting in a theater, beyond the big screen?"

The reasons you list are precisely why second screens are NOT on par with talking. They're far worse.


This may be semantics, but I'm not sure it's possible to ignore a distraction. If you notice it, it distracts you. I don't mind confronting texters, or moving away from them, but doing so invariably makes me miss something on screen--for all I know the best shot or line or acting moment of the film. All because some moron can't sit and watch something they paid good money to, y'know, sit and watch.

To me, it would kinda be like buying a ticket to a concert, then sitting there listening to your iPod instead.

That said, I admit I haven't had too many problems in this area. I tend to go to sparsely attended weekday matinees. :)


If I can, I try to simply block my view of the text screen with my hand or my leg, though my innate obsession with rudeness generally inspires me to keep checking to see if their screen is still on (it's the idea of the rudeness itself more than the visual distraction that tends to nag at me, but that's my own obsessive-compulsive fault).

The only time I've ever actually confronted someone was a matinee screening of Inception the day after it opened. A middle aged couple was sitting a few seats to my right, and the man had his screen on and up far above seat-level for several minutes as the big spinning-hotel setpiece was about to start. Finally I leaned over and hissed "Will you please turn that off!" and it worked; I probably wouldn't have tried that with anyone younger, but as of someone of my generation he should have known better (also, he seemed unlikely to try to beat me up).

If something like that happened again, I probably would have just moved to a seat a few rows in front of him.

I also prefer sparsely attended matinees (two days ago I was the only patron at an Arclight morning show of Jeff, Who Lives at Home), partly for that reason.


Over the weekend, I came across an amusing scene in André Breton's novel Nadja, in which Breton and pals cut up bread and paté, uncork bottles of wine, and generally have a grand time of it in some of Paris's working-class theatres of the 1920s; that was apparently pretty normal behaviour for the time, and half the time the actual film was something of an afterthought.

Jake Hardy

I'm still feeling a little like a heel about my objections to your Ebert remarks, but I'd like to say that I love this post and appreciate its very "New York" sensitivities re: movie watching and grindhouse cinema. Cinema has always been an interactive experience (the most communal experience I've had to date in a movie theater was during Baron Cohen's "Bruno") and I agree with you that the current indignation re: cell phone use is sort of a fogeyism that doesn't acknowledge the evolution of the communal experience.


Jake: Look, I'll grant you that one can take the indignation too far, but is the argument really that it's not hip to get upset by inconsiderate behavior in a public venue that you've paid to attend? Does acknowledging "the evolution of the communal experience" mean I have to be okay with the death of common courtesy? And if I DO accept this evolution, can't I at least consider the perpetrators to be rude assholes without being labeled a fogey?

If you're only referring to the grindhouse experience, I don't really have any objection. As Glenn pointed out, a rowdy crowd can add to the fun--heck, it can even PROVIDE the fun when the filmmakers have neglected to include any. And I certainly have no problem with raucous laughter at a comedy, or the occasional "Don't go in there!" at a horror film. But in most cases, I just want to focus on the thing I've paid to see. Personally, I would be MORTIFIED if I thought my behavior was interfering with someone's enjoyment of the movie, and I can't help but want everyone else in the theater to feel the same way.

James Keepnews

Those audiences at the Globe Theater were evidently unruly, too, though poor connectivity certainly put the kibosh on texting...I'm bothered more by wireless devices generating a wall of microwaves and distracted energy in live music performances, but that's another discussion...

These reminiscences are genuinely, vicariously thrilling for me, having been too uninterested in cinematic grinding to have much truck with the Deuce as a youth -- live and learn. Still, some sort of culturally vestigial germ of that era must have infected me since I really love catching the artier films wot get released on their opening night to the ultraplexes on 42nd Street -- "only in New York, kids...". All a Tarkovsky freak like me needed was Mr. Hoberman's considerably positive review and a headful of boo consecrated at the nearby "Musician's Building" on 8th Ave. to take in Soderbergh's SOLARIS on opening night to a quarter-filled house, projected upon a screen that begged spectacular comparison to IMAX. Incomparable. So, too, 2046, though who knows what the thug and his girlie sitting near me were thinking when they dropped $13 a piece to watch the alternate-universe sequel to IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, though I laughed with glee when they stormed out halfway, the thug balefully crying out to the house: "This shit is CORNY!" Not a knifefight, admittedly, but you takes what you can gets in the 21st C.E....

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