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Backstory: Movie manners - an endangered species

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There was a time, I think it was back in the Paleozoic era, when it was possible to go to a movie theater and hear more noise coming from the screen than from the audience. It was possible, once upon a time, to be lulled by the gentle snoring of one's seatmate. Today that same seat filler is likely to be bleating into a cell phone, or text-messaging a friend, who is probably also in a movie theater.

Before I spin out this tale of woe, however, let me quickly insert a faint ray of hope: A recent Los Angeles Times report says that the National Association of Theater Owners, faced with an alarming slide in attendance, is looking into ways to jam cellphone signals, "eliminating the chance that dramatic silences will be interrupted by a 'My Humps' ring tone."

The movie-going experience, especially for those of us who are middle-aged enough to note the difference, has changed catastrophically in the past decade. People have brought their home-viewing habits into the theaters. Actually, it's worse than that: Watching a movie at a multiplex is often a lot yappier and more aggravating than watching one at home, unless of course you live in a kennel.

I happen to be one of those people who don't like a whole lot of hubhub, least of all inside a movie theater. Because I'm a professional film critic and attend hundreds of screenings a year, this presents a distinct problem for me. Many of my screenings are for critics only, so you would think I have a comparatively easy time of it. The press, as we all know, is so well behaved. Think again.

For example, there is one group (whose identity I won't divulge except to say that it dispenses Golden Globes every year) that's notorious for smuggling hot and spicy entrees into screening rooms (often poorly ventilated) while pursuing a line of nonstop chatter in heavily accented English. Then there are all those critics who pull out their lighted pens at the drop of an insight.

But that's old-school behavior. New school is bringing your laptop into the theater and typing your insights as you go along. If enough of these typists are in the theater, the collective sound is like a squadron of rats clacking across a linoleum floor.


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