When former top Google and YouTube executive Hunter Walk suggested it might be a good idea to allow cinema audiences to multi-task on their tablets or smart phones, it did not go down well with film purists.
The Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s reasoned suggestion that tech-obsessed consumers might enjoy their own separate screenings with a little bit more light, wi-fi and plug sockets so they could tweet and look up cast lists mid-movie whipped up a blockbuster row in the United States.
He was variously described as “an asshole investor taking a dump on the altar of film” and a “douchnozzle who deserved to be burned alive in a locked theatre”.
Even actor Elijah Wood weighed in on the side of the so-called “shushers” who felt the sepulchral sanctity of the darkened auditorium was in danger of being irrevocably violated by his suggestion. “A movie theatre is meant to create an immersive experience for the audience, not one in which they can work on their blog,” the Lord of the Rings star said.
In Britain, where the average age of cinema-goers is rising, the prospect of rebooting cinematic tradition is proving equally controversial.
A recent survey by the Empire cinemas found that fiddling with a mobile phone ranked alongside shouting out the ending or putting your smelly feet up on the chairs in cinema-goers list of pet hates. Britain’s biggest chain, Odeon, said yesterday it had no intention of changing its switch-off policy and that it “strongly discouraged” use during screenings. However the social context of watching films collectively is continually changing.
It is not so far in the distant past that most cinemas were thick with cigarette smoke – something that would seem abhorrent to even the most hardened teenage texter at the local multiplex.
And with the advent of the talkies, cinemas campaigned to get their audiences to pipe down and listen to the action – the forerunner of the ubiquitous “switch off your mobile” adverts of today.
More recent conflicts have tended to revolve around noisy pop-corn munching and those engaged in the perennial back row problem of “loud acts of public displays of affection”.
Mr Walk made it clear that there were certain types of film – monsters versus robots-explosion-fests such as Pacific Rim rather than the art house classic Chinatown – in which second screens (like smartphones and tablet devices) would be more appropriate.
A recent report by broadcasting regulator Ofcom suggested that the popularity of hand-held devices had led to the resurgence in 1950s-style front room family viewing habits.
But Rosie Fletcher, associate editor of Total Film, said that whilst she was not against having dedicated text-sessions in cinemas, she could not see the point.
“It’s so expensive to go to the cinema these days that rocking up and playing on your tablet or your smartphone – why would you bother to go? You might not miss the plot but you will not be involved in it either,” she said.
“You would not be having a true cinematic experience. The cinema is a place you can go and get completely immersed in something. You can escape and be part of that film for that amount of time. It is only two hours,” she added.
Andrew Myers, chief executive of Everyman cinemas said he could not foresee a time when customers brought their own media with them.
“In many ways we are similar to a restaurant or pub environment where it would highly unusual for someone to walk in with their own food and drink and sit down and then request a knife and fork and plate from the waiter,” he said.
Blogger Anil Dash, who posted on the side of the texters, felt the violent reaction to his comments went far beyond a reasonable debate on modern manners in the digital age.
He said the response from some creative people, who considered themselves as progressive and liberal on other issues, had morphed into a “regressive resistance” to change akin to the position those that defended slavery or argued that women should not be allowed to wear trousers held.
“I have never even had a phone powered on whilst at a movie. I have never texted or talked during a movie,” he said.
“They [the “shushers”] are not saying our way is the best way – they are saying there should be no other way.
“You can have people saying you are wrong …but what’s unusual is when you say to someone that to disagree with me is not a legitimate position to argue.”
No drama: Cinema etiquette
1. Keep talking to a minimum
Save the chat for after the film.
2. Enjoy your treats quietly
Keep rustling to a minimum.
3. No PDA’s
Keep public displays of affection until after the film.
4. No mobile phones
Keep all mobile phone use until after the film, including texting, social networking and internet surfing. All phones should be switched off or turned to silent so they don’t interrupt others mid-film.
5. Keep feet off chairs
Remember your fellow cinema-goers have to sit in them.
6. Don’t disturb your fellow cinema-goers
Arrive on time, and no getting up to go to the toilet unless its absolutely necessary.
7. No removing of shoes
Keep your foot odour confined to your shoes.
8. No littering
Take your leftovers with you and no popcorn fights.
9. No plot spoilers
Don’t ruin the movie’s ending for others by posting on social media.
10. Allocated seating
No sitting in other people’s pre-booked seats.
Etiquette guide by Empire Cinema
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