The Alamo Drafthouse blog decided to re-ignite the discussion over texting in theatres by writing a post calling for theatres to unequivocally ban texting. I agree. Texting is a scourge and shouldn’t be allowed. People who text during a movie are awful. The Drafthouse gives three reasons for why texting shouldn’t be allowed, and though I agree with the overall sentiment, I actually only agree with one of their reasons.
The third reason they give, which is the one I agree with, is that texting is disrespectful to the rest of the audience who have paid to see a film, not to be distracted by the blindingly bright light coming from your iPhone screen. In fact, that’s pretty much the only reason there is the not allow texting, and it’s more than good enough for me. The second reason they give is that it’s condescending to think that 20-somethings today can’t sit down for a 2-hour movie without distracting themselves. That may or may not be true, but it really has nothing to do with whether or not texting should be allowed. But it’s the first reason the Alamo Drafthouse gives that caught my ire. Not only do I think it’s a poor reason to ban texting, it’s a terrible ethos.
Texting is rude to the film creators. It is a slap in the face to every single creative professional who poured their lives into creating the film. When I am carrying on a mere casual conversation and someone whips out a phone to text while I am talking to them, I am offended. Imagine amplifying that to texting during a film which can take teams of thousands of people years to make. Consider the independent feature parallel. Imagine leveraging every penny you own or worse, going into incredible debt in order to share your creative vision with the public, only to have an audience half-watching while conceiving pithy tweets. Texting is not a passive activity. You have to focus on your phone to text and therefore lose focus on the screen. It is not a question of “might.” You WILL at the very least miss nuance and texture of a film by breaking attention to text. More than likely you will miss more than just nuance, but important plot points. Ask Christopher Nolan if he would mind if you text during the opening weekend of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I can almost guarantee you he would opt to eject every last texter if given the chance. Pay respect to the on-screen and behind-the-scenes artists who create movies. Turn off your phone and lose yourself in the movie.
I just cannot get behind that. It is crazy to me that the audience owes the director or the movie anything at all except maybe paying to watch what cost money to make, distribute and exhibit. As a film lover, I tend to prefer seeing films “the right way”, which to me is seeing it in a theatre, all in one sitting, and in the correct aspect ratio. But this has nothing to do with my respecting the filmmaker, even though I often respect them anyway. For me it’s all about taking in a film in its intended format so I can respond to it in a more consistent manner. I mean, it’s bad enough that we all bring our own baggage to a movie, but when we start messing around with its presentation, then we’re effectively becoming editors instead of taking the film on its own terms. Again, it’s nothing at all to do with respect, but purely a wish to remain relatively consistent in my approach to films.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Cosmopolis, which I walked out of. Already you can see where people might have gotten upset with me. Reviewing a film I haven’t seen in completion is a little bit un-kosher. But one of the commenters actually attacked me for not showing the filmmaker respect. He asked if I’d have walked out on the film with Cronenberg there in the audience. Well, yeah, of course I would. In fact, the only reason I might not have walked out was if I would somehow disrupt the rest of the audience. See, I respect those people because they have come to watch a film, probably paid good money for it, and don’t deserve somebody else in the audience dickishly intruding on their experience. But Cronenberg? Fuck him. Seriously. I don’t owe him anything beyond the price of a ticket. Not respect. Not my time. Not my patience.
By the way, I don’t think movies owe me anything either. I’ve seen too many bad movies, even well-intentioned bad movies, to believe that I’m owed anything when I walk into a movie. I look at it very simply. When I buy my ticket I’m entering an agreement. I’ve paid my share for the chance to be entertained, but my entertainment is a very subjective thing and so I’m also taking on a certain degree of risk that the money spent won’t pay off. It happens sometimes. I may be annoyed that I’ve wasted my time, but ultimately it was me. I wasted my time. The movie was just there. I could have done anything else. The movie didn’t owe me, and as such I don’t owe the movie or the people who made it.
If I’m alone at home or even alone in a theatre and a movie is boring me I might very well pull out my phone to text. I know I’m not bothering anyone else because there is nobody else, and I don’t give a flying crap about whether the director might be offended if they heard about what I did. Might they be annoyed? Possibly. Do I care? Not in the slightest. It’s their problem. The film bored me enough that I started texting. That’s just the truth of it. So no, Alamo Drafthouse, I will not adhere to your ideas of respect towards films and filmmakers. I’m not going to text because I don’t want to be a dick to the people around me, but it won’t ever be because I think a film is deserving of some special level of respect. The film is the film is the film, if I don’t like it I’ll react however the hell I want to the degree that it doesn’t bother anybody else who might be trying to have a good time.
Am I wrong? Do films deserve respect? What about the filmmakers? Let me know.