This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Have we, as a country, forgotten how to watch a movie?
As someone who watches movies for a living, I often have seen people behaving badly in the theater. They whip out their cellphones to text, sending up a distracting light from the cheap seats. They chatter about their daily doings while the movie is playing. They let their kids roam freely in the auditorium, without attempting to control them.
Such things happen so frequently that when the opposite happens, it becomes newsworthy.
Consider the Avon Theater in Stamford, Conn., a not-for-profit moviehouse now playing Terrence Malick's dreamlike drama "The Tree of Life." Apparently a few people have been put off by Malick's strange movie and demanded their money back. So the theater posted this note (a photo of which, first posted by Connecticut Post reporter Joe Meyers, circled the Internet last weekend):
"In response to some customer feedback and a polarized audience response from last weekend, we would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that 'The Tree of Life' is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it, and for those electing to attend, please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy once you have purchased a ticket to see one of our films. The Avon stands behind this ambitious work of art and other challenging films, which define us as a true art house cinema, and we hope you will expand your horizons with us."
Then there's the hubbub over the strict no-texting policy at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. When the Alamo kicked out a patron for texting during a movie, the woman left an angry, profanity-filled and vocabulary-twisting voicemail protesting being treated that way in "the Magnited States of America."
The Alamo turned it into a trailer to play in the theater, and the video went viral. On CNN, Anderson Cooper suggested Alamo CEO Tim League be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. "Magnited We Stand" T-shirts are being sold online.
And it's not just moviegoers' behavior that has raised complaints. Two filmmakers who are usually so different that you'd never mention them in the same conversation let alone the same sentence have recently written letters to the nation's projectionists, urging them to take more-than-usual care with their films.
One was Malick, whose letter was mostly technical. According to the San Diego Reader, Malick asked projectionists to kick the sound up a bit (setting the Dolby or DTS faders to 7.5 or 7.7, rather than the standard 7.0), to set the lamp's foot Lambert level to "Standard 14" (brighter than usual), and that the house lights should be dark from the first frame (because the movie has no opening credits).
The other is Michael Bay, the action director whose "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" opened in theaters nationwide on Wednesday. Bay wrote about reports of "dark, dingy" 3D that was spoiling the experience for moviegoers, and urging projectionists to turn the lamps up to higher brightness levels.
It's a common complaint from diehard movie fans that theaters turn the bulbs down a bit, believing the reduced power will extend the bulb's life. (There are those who argue that the bulb will burn out just as quickly under lower power.) These complaints have grown louder as Hollywood has produced more 3D films, since the 3D process cuts the amount of light getting to your eyes in half that's what the lenses in your glasses do.
It's also a common complaint that complaining about such things whether it's the dimness of the image, the loud talkers in the back rows or the annoying texters down front is useless because most chain theaters are staffed by underpaid teenagers who can barely keep the popcorn maker clean.
The alternatives to complaining about shortcomings in the movie experience are to endure them, or to vacate the theater altogether and watch movies at home.
A devoted moviegoer knows the theater experience exceeds home viewing, even in a well-appointed home theater. A devoted moviegoer also knows there are some rules to making the theater experience better:
• Know in advance what kind of movie you're seeing.
• Turn off all electronic devices, and resist the urge to turn them on during the film.
• Cut the conversation when the house lights go down.
• Open candy with crinkly wrappers before the film.
• Admonish your children to behave appropriately, and remove them from the theater if they cannot.
• Don't bring children to movies not appropriate for their ages.
• And last, and most important, inform the management of any problems. If you don't, you have no one to blame but yourself.