23 January 2011

Where has Movie Theater Etiquette Have Gone?

Recently I went to see Black Swan over at AMC Westshore 14 Theaters in Tampa. Having already won a Golden Globe for best actress (Natalie Portman), I think Black Swan is headed for the Academy Awards to pick up a few Oscars. Once in a blue moon going to the movies is a justification to get away from the monotony of maintaining both EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com on the weekends, among other things.

However, despite pre-show notifications asking patrons to observe silence and no cell phone and text messaging use during the feature presentation, I had the misfortune of having two young teenage girls in front of me who insisted on chatting as well as using their cell phone and texting throughout the movie. A seatmate next to me as well as I quietly asked these two girls to please keep the chatter down during the movie yet the two girls ignored us. At one point I considered leaving the movie and letting AMC management know of what happened, but I was afraid to do so for fear of retribution. I also considered switching seats but the auditorium was two-thirds full. Besides, the teens' conduct almost reminded me of a movie theater incident that took place at the Royal Palm 20 theaters in Bradenton not too long ago over the recent Christmas weekend, where a couple - the husband, a United States Marine who just returned from military duty in Iraq - told a group of noisy teenagers to be quiet only to be greeted with a major verbal confrontation which spilled into a physical confrontation outside the theater.

(UPDATE: The teenagers that were involved in the physical altercation at the Royal Palm 20 theaters were found guilty of battery charges, according to this Bay News 9 story. A victory for movie theater etiquette!)

Once the movie was over, I thanked my seatmate for quieting these teenage girls during the movie. A second later, these same teenage girls – who turned out to be teenage Hispanic girls as the lights came back on – turned around and foul mouthed us, specifically for telling them to keep quiet during the movie.

In today’s world, there are a lot of people out there who do not have any manners. It’s sad but it is true in contrast to how I was raised many years ago in a better mannered and civilized world.

After all, I support initiatives by the movie theater chains including AMC Theaters’ Silence Is Golden program asking patrons to observe proper etiquette when inside the auditorium of a theatre and the movie is playing. Besides, the top reason why movie theater attendance has been declining for many years is because fellow patrons do not observe proper movie theater etiquette.

Now for another comment regarding AMC Theaters’ Silence Is Golden program, which has been around for many years. It has been in existence for many years before the advent of cell phones as the most common complaint was people chatting in the theater throughout the movie. Now that cell phones are a part of our society, the pre-show trailers now include turning off cell phones and no texting as part of proper movie theater etiquette. Today most other movie theater chains have followed the lead of AMC Theaters when it comes to proper etiquette when a movie is showing.

Now I’ll tell you what also irks me as to movie theater etiquette other than cell phones and chatting with your fellow patrons while the movie is playing:

1. There’s a movie you want to see so much that you got to go see it the day it opens. You arrive early enough to get your concessions and go into the theatre auditorium and you find a seat that you like (absolutely, before the theatre gets too crowded). You settle in and – as you start to enjoy every minute of the movie you wanted so much to see – a huge group comes in and chases you out of your seat. Sometimes (and believe me, it has happened to me a few times), I have had to end up leaving the theater and asking at the ticket counter if I could come to a later showing as I got chased out by a group who likes to show up at the last minute.

I have advice for these groups who want to see a movie together: Give the theater a call ahead of time and see if the theater can reserve a small block of seats for you and the rest of your party. But please do your fellow movie-goers a favor and don’t show up with your group and chase me (or anyone else who is watching the movie by themselves) out of my seat. Unless informed by someone in authority at the movie theater such as an usher, I will not yield my seat to your group that insists on coming in as the movie gets started.

2. Very tall people who insist on sitting in front of someone who cannot see the movie. Back before stadium style seating became a common feature of most theaters, I personally dreaded sitting in the middle section and – a minute or two later – a very tall person sits in front of you. Today, stadium style seating in a movie theater alleviates much of this problem.

Here’s a link to a report over at The Smoking Gun about a couple who insisted on talking on their cell phone right after the movie has started. It happened right here in downtown St. Petersburg at the Muvico BayWalk 20 Theaters several years ago. Now with BayWalk in serious financial trouble including the recent foreclosure, there is talk of closing the movie theaters there. But we don’t know what the future will bring.

According to the narrative of the report, this was written by none other than the St. Petersburg Police Department:

This is an arrest of two subjects at BayWalk Plaza. The suspects were being loud and disruptive causing a disturbance inside the movie theaters. The suspects got hostile and were pepper sprayed. The suspects were placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct. The arrest served the purpose for the night.

That’s movie theater etiquette served right by none other than St. Petersburg’s finest. Period.

Until recently, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office provided off-duty security to the AMC Westshore 14 as well as the AMC Veterans 24 Theaters which provided an excellent deterrent. Unfortunately, AMC changed from hiring the off duty deputies to plain clothed private security wearing businesslike attire. The only issue here is that private security does not have the power of arrest in the State of Florida, while a sworn law enforcement officer – on or off duty – does. Perhaps if AMC still had the off duty Hillsborough deputies when I recently went to see Black Swan at AMC Westshore 14 or Bride Wars at AMC Veterans 24 many months ago (both incidents involved two young teenagers who insisted on chatting on their cell phone and texting at the same time while the movie was playing), these teenagers would have been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, akin to the BayWalk incident in St. Petersburg that happened many years ago.

As I told my seatmate as soon as Black Swan was over, I told him that there needs to be a law against people who come in to a movie theater for the purpose of disrupting other patron’s enjoyment. After all, you pay so much money for movie admission and I feel you, the movie theater patron, deserve to see a movie without any distractions or disruptions such as people chatting, using their cell phones or texting during the movie. In Florida, it should be a civil infraction on the first offense with a $100 penalty and on a subsequent violation within one year it should be a criminal misdemeanor carrying a penalty of $500 and/or jail time of up to 6 months, plus a ban on attending any movie theater in the state for one year which is imposed by the judge.

If you want to bring back civility and respect to movie theaters, especially conduct by movie theater patrons during the show, write your legislators in Tallahassee and at the same time let the manager at the theater you go to often know too of your concerns.

1 comment:

Edmund said...

That's too bad to see most of teenagers don't have any manners. I think they're not only chatting or texting, I saw a couple of teenagers make out in Movie Theater while the movie played.