One the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema occured was when I went to see Les Miserables; someone had deemed it acceptable to bring a tablet with the sheet music on it. Ignoring the ridiculousness of an act all but identical to reading The Hobbit during An Unexpected Journey (a feat that, due to the film’s run time, is completely possible), I was flummoxed how someone thought it was OK to have such a bright screen in front of them and the five rows behind.
Do you remember when cinemas used to tell you to turn off your mobile phone? Feels like a bygone age now, doesn’t it? For a while the Orange adverts preceding a film used to run with the tagline ‘Don’t let a mobile ruin your movie’. Gradually, these got sidestepped by the increasingly outrageous concepts and now, under the new brand name EE, the message has been entirely dropped. Do they think the problem of mobile phones being on in films has disappeared, or do they just no longer care?
I help run a small student cinema and despite an advert directly before the film’s start asking people to turn it off, no one ever does. There may be the odd person who silences it, but no one would be bothered to turn of their precious baby for two hours. If you were to ask people why they don’t, the answer would be something along the lines of ‘If it’s silenced it can’t be a problem.’ Now here’s the major misunderstanding with turning off your mobile phone in a movie.
It really has nothing to do with the sound; as in Sunshine, the light’s the real devil.. Sure, occasionally a phone will go off (and on more than one occasion in showings I’ve been to, someone has actually answered), but the real problem existing with phones is light.
Despite a century of technical advancement, cinemas today work on the same basic premise as they always have – projection. As everyone knows, this is the projecting of light onto a surface, which to be seen requires the lights to be down. If there is any alternative light source, either from the projection booth or a poorly ran auditorium (as can happen in many major cinema chains), then the image will have less contrast and be of poorer quality. And the size of the light doesn’t matter – a little phone screen can be enough.
But going beyond the petty physics of it all, it’s just plain distracting to have someone a couple of rows ahead on their phone. A bright white light is much more eye-catching (read: distracting) than the mixed image on screen and you’d be forgiven for being as peeved as a lisping pepper picker having a film broken up every five minutes by the person two rows in front sending a text.
It’s yet another step in the ongoing merging of ourselves with technology. Ten years ago, talking in cinema was the real irritation. Now it’s moved onto our phones and the general consensus is that this is OK, ignoring that if you can’t go two hours without checking your phone you’re either too busy to see a film or have a serious problem.
The one thing I never understood about the whole texting in movies thing is that you’re robbing yourself of the film. A standard cinema ticket costs an extortionate amount of money for the product and yet people are happy to spend that costly time doing something they can do outside for free. And there is no film that won’t be better understood by giving it your full attention.
To look at the Mona Lisa with your phone in front of it would be deemed crazy, yet it’s completely OK to watch film, another equally worthy art form, with one. Inception is a move that is perfectly easy to follow as long as you pay attention and yet it was praised and criticised in equal measure for being complicated to the point of incoherence. Why did the movie going public struggle so much? They were probably too busy texting on their bloody phone.