Friday, July 17, 2015

Why I now refuse to see another movie in a theater (until that much-delayed Alamo Drafthouse finally opens in San Francisco, that is)

Alamo Drafthouse. Tossing out assholes who deserve to be fucking tossed out of movie theaters since 1997.

Spy wasn't just the last entry in the AFOS blog's ongoing and year-long Throwback Thursday series before I took a three-week-long break from blogging for most of July. The Paul Feig flick is also the final movie I'll be watching inside a theater. I'm disappointed that I'll have to wait to see Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation, Spectre, Ryan Coogler's Creed and possibly The Force Awakens until they hit Blu-ray. After being subjected to yet another theater audience member switching on his or her glowing smartphone screen light in the theater--this happened in the middle of a screening of Spy--I've simply had it. I said to myself, "That's it. I'm not watching another movie in a theater until Alamo Drafthouse actually opens that San Francisco Drafthouse theater they've been talking about opening since the Bush (Sr.) Administration."

It's not like I'm an absolute fascist about it. Unlike that psycho in Florida who shot and killed someone in a theater for texting during a bunch of movie trailers, I'm not distracted by moviegoers who check their texts during the trailers. They're commercials. I don't care. Neither am I distracted by those who use their phones as flashlights to help them see their way out while the closing credits are rolling and I'm waiting for some lame and pointless post-credits scene to arrive.

But when some moron in one of the front rows (and I can see them from afar because ever since college, I always sit in the farthest back row, due to my hatred of having my seat get kicked from behind me by strangers when I was younger) is flicking on his or her phone light during the feature presentation, in the middle of an action sequence, that's when I really get distracted and angry. I never want to be that guy who either tells people to turn off their phones or shushes a noisy talker, which is why I've never done either of those things. But I've always felt like doing so. Rude people in theaters can't be reasoned with, so why bother?

I also never want to be that guy who complains to the theater staff to get them to reprimand some unruly moron, simply because multiplex employees don't do shit. But when that smartphone zombie in one of the front rows flicked on his screen in the middle of one of Melissa McCarthy's Spy action sequences, that was the last straw for me. My tolerance for this nonsense has ended. He switched it on only once during Spy, which actually isn't as awful as the imbecile who brought his tablet to Kingsman: The Secret Service and kept switching it on during the feature presentation (that tablet zombie at the Kingsman screening is reason number 4,081 for why I despise the Silicon Valley tech world, a world I regret having worked for during the '00s). But despite the Spy screening being less aggravating than the Kingsman screening, my tolerance for smartphone or tablet zombies inside theaters is kaput. Why the fuck does this always happen during spy movies?

I'll say it and I'll say it again: movie theaters don't need timid or indifferent ushers to handle texters. That squeaky-voiced teen from The Simpsons wouldn't have the ability or the guts to handle them anyway. Movie theaters need bouncers, and not just a regular bouncer: a Samoan bouncer. Samoan bouncers rule.

The Palace: Photographed in Single-Panelvision 70, Chapter 2 by Jimmy J. Aquino

I'm not as violent as a bouncer. But smartphone zombies who check their texts in the movie theater (so that fucking phone light emerges out of nowhere and distracts everyone who's paying attention to the movie) drive me so bonkers--much more so than even people who talk out loud in the theater--that I wish Alamo Drafthouse, the theater chain that has broken the mold and won praise for actually doing something about texters and kicking them out of its theaters, would go the extra mile and not just kick them out. I would like Drafthouse to also take them to a back room and show them the respect and kindness they deserve. Here's an example of that kindness.

It's simple etiquette, man. I know there are moviegoers of color out there who, unlike this moviegoer of color, think it's okay to switch their goddamn flashlight on in the middle of the feature presentation. To them, I would like to say the following: don't you fucking frame this as "Man, enforcing etiquette like that is #peak" (as in Caucasity, for people who don't speak Desus Nice-ese). No, it's not.

I like making fun of moments of Caucasity as much as the next brown man, but someone telling you to shut off your phone in the theater isn't white privilege exerting itself. It's not white man etiquette. It's human etiquette.

You're not just rudely distracting everyone who paid to watch a movie, whether the movie is good or Michael Bay; they didn't pay to watch you play with your phone. You're also making everything about yourself and diverting everyone's attentions in the theater to you, attention whore. Now that--the petulant "I have the right to keep my phone on whenever I want to!" defense--is acting exactly like the privileged white morons you so despise.

One of those privileged white morons is Madonna. You want to behave just like Madonna? I'm glad to see Lin-Manuel Miranda setting an example for how to handle lousy phone etiquette by banning Madonna from attending his Broadway musical Hamilton after she texted during one of Hamilton's Off-Broadway performances. "That bitch was on her phone. You couldn't miss it from the stage. It was a black void of the audience in front of us and her face there perfectly lit by the light of her iPhone through three-quarters of the show," grumbled Jonathan Groff, Miranda's Hamilton co-star. I'm even more glad to see Patti LuPone verbally and physically getting tough on these tech addicts who come to Broadway performances and show no respect for the actors. LuPone once paused in the middle of one of her Gypsy musical numbers to chew out an audience member who was snapping photos. Then a couple of weeks ago, she stepped out of character again during a performance of Shows for Days to confiscate a phone from a texter who's another one of what LuPone perfectly describes as "self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones."

Now if only those indifferent movie theater owners whom Matt Zoller Seitz complains about in his frequent tweets about lousy theater behavior would be as tough on morons in their theaters as LuPone has been on morons in hers. I like the writing of Anil Dash, but his idiotic defense of texting in theaters is both a lowlight of his writing and reason number 4,082 for why I hate the tech world. I'll always admire Seitz for his impassioned response to Dash's piece.

After I threw in the towel after seeing Spy and said, "I give up dealing with this shit," I happened to stumble into a comment about lousy theater behavior that was written a long time ago by one of my AFOS radio station listeners, graphic artist and Drafthouse theater fan Vincent Bernard, over in the comments section of the Drafthouse-owned Birth.Movies.Death., back when it was known as Badass Digest. Vincent's opinion is exactly the same as mine. He said, "When I want to watch a movie, I want to watch a movie. I don't give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks or feels about it. I'm trying to immerse myself in art, not sing Kumbaya around a campfire. I treat film the way I treat all serious art. I certainly don't want to read great literature or view great paintings surrounded by ill-mannered buffoons, so why should film be any different?"

That's precisely how I feel about moviegoing: it gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in visual art, and you should be able to do that without any distractions or interruptions. I'll still enjoy the ability to be free from any distractions and immerse myself in a movie, which is what the Drafthouse folks--and now over on the stage acting side of showbiz, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Patti "The Cut-Wife" LuPone--are fighting so hard to preserve. I just won't be doing so in a theater anymore, until the day Drafthouse finally opens its Mission District theater. If you can't even manage to immerse yourself for two hours, you have no business being inside a theater. Just leave and take your shitty little screen with you. I hope a car hits you on your way out because you were too stupid to look where you're going, and I hope that car was driven by someone who wasn't paying attention to the wheel because that person was too busy texting.

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