With Madonna getting the boot from the Alamo Drafthouse and with mad critics calling 911, it’s time cinemas became a no-go for mobile phones.
The cinema has different functions for all of us. It can be a sanctuary to escape to, a pastime to be entertained by, a means of intellectual stimulation or just an excuse to avoid awkward silences on first dates. Whatever it is that a cinema and its films can offer us, it is irrefutably a unique space, wholly dedicated to the exhibition of the moving image. To state the obvious, it is purpose built for it, and its design does a rather good job in providing the opportunity to be fully immersed and engrossed within a generally imagined context and cast of characters, and to potentially escape, at least momentarily, from whatever we were wrestling with in our minds before being ushered to our seats.
The use of the phone in the cinema is a poison for immersive storytelling; a spanner in the cog of the suspension of disbelief
Recently eliciting the banning of Madonna from the Alamo Drafthouse, and concerning film critic Alex Billington to the extent of dialing 911 at the Toronto International Film Festival, mobile phones have been commonly deplored in the cinema since their rise to proliferation. Yet the use of the phone in such a domain does more than irritate fellow audience members. It is a poison in the formula for immersive storytelling; a spanner in the cog of the suspension of disbelief. It grabs the phone user and their onlookers, luring them from a fragile state of absorption to avert both their eyes and minds from the screen, before snatching them back down to what could realistically be just a sticky chair among a sea of similarly sticky chairs, in a darkened room on a retail park, in the midst of an overhyped and excessively expensive vision of a privileged executive producer from LA.
But that is why film, especially when watched within the cinema, is so powerful. It can elevate us to absorption during even the most poorly-made of films, given half the chance. That’s not to mention the rapture we can be plunged into when watching something truly awe-inspiring and affecting at the hands of master filmmakers.
Nowadays, there is something so poignantly pure about devoting all attention to something of the moment, amidst all the distractions and pulls of everyday life and its (ironically) immediately gratifying technology. The cinema should be an environment as cleansed of said distractions as possible in an effort to grace its audiences with all the focus they could possibly wish to devote to the film before them; released from the relentlessness of pseudo-socialising and throwaway digital smalltalk available 24/7 in the palm of a hand, and instead submerged in a bubble in which only the film serves to distract and engross.
“But its an urgent world out there!” I hear all you managers, assistant managers, and assistants ‘to’ the managers moan, “I can’t just… turn it off…”
If you’re so important to require your phone in the cinema, the outside world must need you more severely than the box office does
“Sell this; go here; he’s dead; she’s dying” – many are all-entangled in work related correspondence, looming emergencies and generally demanding friends and relatives who need constant texted attention. Yet with such preoccupations, it begs the question as to why said person has chosen to visit the cinema in the first place? If your work and social life forbid you from turning your phone off for a mere two hours or so of your day, it is clear you must be far too important and clamoured after, to yield to such a paltry pastime as film-watching (probably the case for Madge) and the outside world must need you far more severely than the box office does.
However, to all those common, cinema-going folk, with sparse enough a social life, minimal enough a celebrity status, and appropriate enough a work life not to have to be forever dictated by a mobile phone, this is a plea: give the immediate some credit when you can and pay it some respect, especially in the case of the cinema. It’s a portal to innumerable stories and worlds, just waiting to pull you in if you’ll only let it. Allow time for some real focus on the moment, in whatever reality you’ve found yourself within, on-screen or off-screen, without any sort of consideration as to its appropriateness to be broadcast within 140 characters.
Alex Billington may have overreacted, been a little melodramatic, and wasted a little police time, yet his passion for cinema (and respect for the hand that feeds him) is admirable. There will be plenty of time to dedicate, once again, to whatever a phone and its contacts have to offer as the credits roll and you walk blinking from the depths of the pictures. But until then, why not entirely forget the thing even exists?
Featured image: TriStar Pictures
Inset images: Dreamworks; New Line Cinema