Would watching films be more fun if smartphones were banned?
10 August 2023
Image courtesy of Startup Stock Photos.
Blockbusters such as Barbie and Oppenheimer have been a windfall for cinemas struggling as a consequence of the Covid lockdowns of recent years, and stories of packed auditoriums are surely good news.
But the news hasn’t been all good. In staying home to watch movies over the last few years, some film-goers appear to have forgotten their cinema etiquette. Reports have emerged of people taking phone calls, scrolling social media, and, incredibly, giving their children phones to amuse themselves should the main feature not be of interest.
While there might be a generation of young film-watchers to whom cinema-going is a new experience, that cannot be the case for their parents. And it seems only a couple of short years of viewing movies from home have been enough to make some forget how to behave at the movies.
Perhaps though, as people begin to come re-accustomed to seeing a film in a communal setting, their conduct will improve. But I wonder. For some time, years prior to the pandemic, I’d been noticing a change in the behaviour of cinema audiences.
While it now seems to be a granted people will glaze at their phones during a film, I would have thought they’d draw the line at taking, or making, calls during the screening. Of course there have always been issues with people arriving late, going in and out of the auditorium repeatedly, along with being baffled by allocated seating.
But talking on the phone during a movie? That’s a whole other level of film-watching misery.
I wonder though, how much of the audience behaviour problems we see today can be attributed to smartphones, and our umbilical-like dependency on them? In the past I’ve been to film preview screenings where we’ve had to leave our phones outside the auditorium, in a secure locker. This to prevent a yet to be released feature being recorded, and leaked.
For sure, it seemed strange to be temporarily separated from our phones, but I wasn’t aware of anyone suffering adversely as a result. These screenings were quite the spectacle though. Everyone, for the most part, sitting still for the duration, focussed only on the film. Of course most of those present were film critics or journalists, at what was effectively a work event.
Still, it’s tempting, if futile, to conject here. Imagine if everyone had to leave their phones at the box office, prior to sitting down to watch a movie. Sure, there’d still be people turning up late, sitting in someone else’s seat, and opening bags of food in the noisiest way possible. But if music festivals can operate phone-free, why can’t cinemas?
For the benefits, and audience comfort, of phone-free movie sessions though, sadly I can’t see any cinema even dreaming of imposing such a demand on customers. After the last few difficult years, movie house owners would be reluctant to do anything that might dissuade patrons.
Over the course of the pandemic, and the lockdowns, I became quite the fan of streaming films at home. Doing so certainly has downsides, such as the waiting time for some titles to become available for streaming, but at least we can engage in all those irritating film-goer behaviours I’ve described, without annoying anyone else.