Monday, August 8, 2011

Cinema and How It's Changed: A Rant

A quick note to begin: I have visitors this week, so will be delayed in responding to comments and visiting your blogs. I will do so, though, as soon as possible.

I grew up in a movie-centric world due to the fact that both my parents loved movies, but also because both of my parents worked for theaters when I was a child. My dad was a projectionist while working another job and going to college, and my mom worked at several different theaters and did the billing for a dental practice. Obviously, they were busy, which meant I got to go hang out at the theater (and dental practice, which was my grandfather's) all day until I was school age. Back then it was so easy to get lost in a film, to block out everyone around me and just enjoy the story playing out in front of me. I loved going up in the projection room and sorting marquee letters. And when mom was working at the Elsinore in Oregon (now a live theater again), I got to sit up in the balcony all by my lonesome after it was closed to customers. (*Side note: for any Oregonians out there, she also worked at Southgate and Lancaster inside Lancaster Mall.)

When it came time to get my first official job, I made a beeline for the closest local theater (Tiffany Square, for anyone who came to the Springs before 2000 or so, when it shut down). I had the job lined up before I turned 16, and I worked my first shift on my birthday. Eventually, I learned every position, including projection, and became a manager, ultimately managing at two different theaters (Tiffany Square and the good ol' Mac Tri-Cinema in McMinnville, OR).

I lived on popcorn, soda, nachos and Snickers bars purchased with coins I found while cleaning the auditoriums. Every break was spent sitting in the back of the auditorium with a courtesy cup full of popcorn (buttered, of course) and a courtesy cup of soda. I'd watch the same movies over and over again, buying my favorites on VHS tape once they came out. I got all the free movies I wanted, and I certainly took advantage of that (on the rare occasion when I was not working).

I also met my husband at that first theater I worked at. He was an usher when I was a concessionist. Happily, he'll watch movies over and over with me, so I don't drive him nuts (my mom can also watch a movie over and over if she enjoys it, while my dad is a one-time viewing kinda' person).

Tiffany Square was only a six-plex, meaning there were only six screens. While this was a good sized theater in my early youth, by the time I was managing at nineteen years old, multi-plexes were the big new thing. If your town didn't have a multi-plex it might as well not be on the map. A bidding war went down for a piece of land to build a multi-plex and our company (AMC) lost, closing its doors for the last time shortly after I moved on to a different job. Actually, that's not an apt statement. AMC ditched bidding, stating that Colorado Springs wasn't a big enough town to bother putting a multi-plex. Funny, considering we now have three major multi-plexes, one more being built, and a mall multi-plex that existed before the big new ones with stadium seating became so popular.

When Tiffany Square was fighting to survive, we were still doing show checks, which meant our ushers went in several times during the course of the film to monitor for people talking, kids running around, crying babies, people kicking seats, crazy killer clowns and the like. Okay, so we never had a clown problem. I could tell you some other good stories, though.

Back then, viewing a movie in a theater was still an overall pleasant experience. Cell phones weren't an issue yet, so the worst you might experience was a beeper going off, though I never had that happen in a film. Most people seemed to understand the unwritten cinema rules and not talk throughout the movie. Occasionally, there was some random rude person, but they'd be taken care of by an usher doing a show check or another patron would tell them to shut it.

So what changed? At what point did it become alright to take a cell phone call in a theater, let your kids climb on other customers and text throughout the feature presentation? When was it that people stopped caring about other people's movie viewing pleasure and started thinking the entire world revolved around them? Ticket prices are so high these days that I'd think a person would try not to blink, let alone carry on a conversation with Jack back at the plant about how Betty Jean sneezed purple pixie dust out at the work party.

On Thursday I went to a movie with the kids. A woman pushed a stroller in and sat down with her two other children. A separate woman came in with her two boys and sat behind her. In the course of the film, there was not a five minute span where those two groups did not cause some sort of disruption. The baby cried, the mother took a cell phone call at full volume and chatted with her friend, one of the boys kept climbing up on the stroller and yelling, two of the boys fought constantly, another kid jiggled his lip while humming for a good part of it. I couldn't describe one scene of the movie to you, though my children were completely oblivious and enjoyed it. While sitting in their seats. Quietly. Ahem.

This is not a one-time experience. I have only recently begun seeing some movies in theaters again because my experiences have been overwhelmingly negative. Some guy worked on his iPad through an entire movie when my husband went the other night. How is this behavior okay?

I often wonder what flipped the switch. Does my generation (or the one after) lack manners and the ability/desire to respect others? Is it some weird chip on people's shoulders due to the costs? You know, "I spent so much to get in here, I have the right to do whatever I please." Perhaps it has to do with people being able to watch movies at home via VHS/DVD/online streaming. Maybe it taught us that you can do whatever you want while you watch a movie. I'm currently watching Armageddon and chatting with my husband while writing this blog post. However, I shut my mouth when I'm at the movie theater, and I turn off my cell phone. Could it be that we are so used to being constantly tied to other people via our phones, cell phones, internet, etc. that we can't sever that connection for two hours? It often seems to me that the only people enjoying the film are those too inconsiderate to behave. After all, they're apparently having the exact experience they wish for.

I don't see a way back from this. It appears it's time for me to give up once and for all. Heck, we have a home theater set up in the basement (what else could you expect from two people who met working at a movie theater). It's just that some movies are better viewed in super size with earth shaking digital surround sound. I've always enjoyed seeing a special effects film in a theater setting. I guess I need a bigger house.

What about you? Do you still enjoy films at the theater or do you prefer watching them at home? What do you think is the reason for people thinking it's alright to be inconsiderate of others in public? Or do you think I'm full of beans?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I must show this post to my other half as he was a projectionist for two local cinemas.

    You are quite right about there being a change in the last few years, and we have both been shocked by the behaviour of some cinema-goers. In one instance a group were making so much noise I went and said something to them. They soon shut up!

    Ellie Garratt

  2. My Mother and myself weekly went to the cinema and enjoyed it very much.
    The I met the love of my life and I continued to go with him before and after we wed. Whe I was expecting my second child we went to the cinema and saw one of these flashing light films, it put me off of the cinema and I haven't been back since.......that was 43 years ago. I expect cinemas have changed in that time but I am quite content to see the films on TV or dvd.

    Have a lovely day.

  3. Studies are showing that the new iGeneration is much more self-centered than previous generations. I think this caries right on into theaters. We had and experience with an iGeneration female at Deathly Hallows 2. I've never seen someone so rude in a theater before. She was clearly only concerned with herself.

    In conjunction with that is the newer belief that we should allow children to figure out their own way of doing things and how to behave. Which just becomes an excuse to not do the difficult job of applying discipline to child rearing.

    I don't think things will get better soon.

  4. Ellie, I'm glad they quieted after you talked to them. I did, in fact, say something to this woman, as did one other person. She completely ignored us. Short of throwing something at her, she wasn't going to pay attention. Grrr. People will often stop once someone says something to them, though. Just not her. Blech.

    Yvonne, I'm glad you enjoy them at home. I do, also, for the most part. Thank goodness for that, at least!

    Andrew, I'm inclined to agree. The lackluster parenting I've seen has been truly horrifying. What happens when they all grow up? Oh yeah...this. And probably worse. I could go off on a whole different rant about that and related issues, that is for sure.

  5. Well, there's a whole dynamic I could go into about the degradation of parenting since the 80s, but it's kind of complicated. There's this book (that I'm not remembering the name of right now) that talks about this stuff. Actually, it started with the generation that came out of the 60so, I blame it on the drugs and free love. :P