4COL! ASAMOF, BON…! Or to say that in English: For crying out loud! As a matter of fact, believe it or not, some cinemas are now considering allowing patrons to text during a movie. OMDB, IYD and SHID! Which is of course, Over My Dead Body, In Your Dreams and Slaps Head in Disgust!
Texting has become one of the reasons some people no longer go to movies. There was always bad behaviour to contend with – talking, chewing, farting and kicking the back of someone’s chair – but now there is the glow of someone’s smart phone three rows down, to destroy the one truly magical aspect of going to the movies – that sense of dreamlike concentration, when we literally become mesmerised.
You can see it if you look around during a movie: some people appear to be in a trance. The moment another light appears in the darkness, the trance is broken. I think it ought to be legal to tip your drink on a person’s head if they text in a movie, but I’m old-fashioned. A lot of people regard it as normal. Rude, insensitive, uncaring and irritating people – or just young people, whose manners are still being tuned.
The Hollywood Reporter had a story recently quoting the China Youth Daily about some cinemas in China experimenting with ‘bullet screens’ that allow patrons to comment on the film. Their texts are projected on the screen. This was tried in Luxin, northern China, with a screening of a domestic 3D movie, The Legend of Qin. The theatre manager, name of Zhang, recorded 90% occupancy during the screenings and the patrons didn’t mind paying $.10 per text. ‘People like it right now, as it’s a new thing. In the long term, it might affect people’s concentration’.
You think? I started wondering what kind of things people might have said if we had had this capability earlier in the history of movies. It reminded me of that (apocryphal) story about a theatre production of The Diary of Anne Frank. A young starlet was apparently so bad in the role that when the German soldiers burst into the house, everyone in the audience shouted: ‘She’s in the attic’. Texting could be useful in really bad movies, but it would soon become like a school playground without teachers. Imagine teenage boys reacting to the romantic scenes in Twilight, or the serious moments in The Hunger Games. The temptation to misbehave would be irresistible.
There is a serious question behind this idea. Movies have always been a one-way street, but the new technologies are changing that. Computer games allow the player to affect the direction of the story within the game in a way that movies don’t. Entertainment is now much more interactive, and that’s part of why movies are losing ground. Allowing texting inside the theatre in order to attract 18-year-olds is a sign of that decline. Theatre owners are panicking, which is why some might think this would work. In fact, it would destroy the business quicker.
The Hunger Games movies are partly about this anxiety. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Katniss Everdeen, battles to stay alive in a television show that serves as both a tool of repression and entertainment. The audience watches as the young players from once-rebellious outlying provinces come to an annual contest in which they have to kill each other. The viewers can affect the way the games go, because the Gamemaster, played by Stanley Tucci, has to be sensitive to their reactions. It’s like the Big Brother house turned into a Colosseum event – both a satire on television and a savage critique of the idea of audience participation.
It’s also an uncomfortably prescient reminder that we already have ‘shows’ like this. The Jihadist killing of western hostages on video has become a frequent media ‘event’, with a form of audience participation. The participation is the decision about whether to watch it or not – and plenty of people apparently choose to do so.
I don’t know if all these developments mean that movies will have to become more interactive to survive. Texting is just the tip of that iceberg, although it is interesting to see how texting has already had an impact on the mechanics of story-telling. It appears in lots of modern plots, and in some the depiction is very sophisticated.
Directors have gone way past the shot where someone just held the phone steady, so we could read the text message. They now appear on screen in floating boxes, sometimes with different colours for the different characters. In the TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (who is in everything that is being made anywhere), the texts float across the dark corners of the screen, unsigned and ambiguous, in a way that Conan Doyle could never have dreamed of. They add to the sense of modernity, but they are also crucial to the plots. Information now moves at lightning speed in story-telling; plots are like Formula 1 cars. Movie time was never the same as real time; that was part of its beauty, that it was able to be manipulated. In shows like Sherlock, it now runs at warp speed and text is the favoured means of transmitting information. Just imagine how confusing it would be to watch an episode of Sherlock in that Chinese theatre, with everyone else’s texts rattling across the screen. ALW, which stands for Ain’t Life Wonderful!