[Politech logo]

Politech is the oldest Internet resource devoted to politics and technology. Launched in 1994 by Declan McCullagh, the mailing list has chronicled the growing intersection of law, culture, technology, and politics. Since 2000, so has the Politech web site.

How the MPAA killed the movie theater experience: a first-hand report

[I'd be glad to share other experiences, or a reply from the MPAA should 
they choose to send one along. --Declan]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: MPAA kills movie experience.
Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2005 11:22:20 -0500 (EST)
From: James Reid <jamie@vapour.net>
To: declan@well.com

Hi Declan,

My girlfriend and I are writers here in Toronto and
I thought I'd share this, as if you needed evidence
that privacy abuses are out of hand, here's our
completely insane experience with the MPAA from
last night.


I wonder what kind of dystopian cyberpunk
future we live in when you are physically
searched before entering a movie theatre.

Last night (November 3rd), my girlfriend brought me
along to see a screening of Derailed at the Paramount
theatre in Toronto, which she had to
review for a magazine she works for. The lineup
for the screening was unusually long, as I think
they also fill seats at press screenngs with radio
call-in winners, who in hindsight, might have
accepted such poor treatment in exchange for
the ostensible privilege of paying for $30 worth
of parking and fast food at a free $13 movie.

Anyway, the line was moving slowly because they were asking
customers to raise their arms so that they could be
electronically frisked with a metal detector, and
women's purses were being searched by uniformed
security guards.  Try to remember that this is
Toronto, Canada we're talking about here, not
New York, Tel Aviv or London.

People who submitted to the search (everyone from
what I could tell) had their cellphones taken from
them and checked at a table set up in front of
the theatre and they were given a ticket to reclaim
it when they left.

I was having none of this, and checked
the back of my ticket stub to ensure that there
was no mention of being required to submit to a
search listed as a condition of sale. As my girlfriend
and I made it to the front of the line, the guard
looked at me and asked me to raise my arms for the
search. I politely declined saying "No, thank
you", and proceeded to the ticket taker. I could hear
him calling "Sir! Sir!" behind me, but even though
I slowed my pace in case he was really going to do
something about it, as I had expected, I wasn't

The ticket taker took my ticket and I waited for my
girlfriend just inside the gate, as her purse was
being subjected to a thorough going through by one
of the guards.

Since she was there for work, and her deadline was
that night, she was not ready to risk not seeing the
movie. Her 150 words won't have room for what
happened next.

Her phone was taken from her and put in a sealed
plastic bag with a claim ticket, and she
joined me where I was waiting, past the gate, and
we walked into the theatre together.

To add further insult to the debacle at the
gate, near the exits at stage right and left
were two uniformed security guards at each door,
all four with video cameras scanning the crowd
and making themselves very conspicuous.

This was not just a bit of pre-show MPAA theatre,
they stood there for the entirity of the movie, red
LED's glowing, scanning the crowd to remind
us that we were under close surviellence and our
actions were being recorded.

If you have sat in a chair in a dark room watching
disturbing scenes unfold in front of you, while four
uniformed people with video cameras stand in front
of your, silently recording your reactions, you might
be reminded of scenarios from a Clockwork Orange,
Brazil, 1984, Videodrome, and strangely,
that 90's relic: SFW.

Security guards regularly use handheld video
cameras to harrass and intimidate people,
particularly during political rallies and protests,
as the guards know that the cameras carry with
them a clear implication of future retribution
against those being recorded. The cameras are
quite literally, a threat.

( The threat is that if you do not behave as
   the camera holder asks, the recording of your
   actions will be used to persecute or discrace you.)

Upon leaving the theatre, my girlfriend and I
had to stop at the security desk to claim her
phone, which involved them searching through a
pile of bagged cellphones for the correct one.
We took another moment to turn the phone on
and wait for signal in the threatre to validate
that we in fact had the correct phone.

My girlfriend had said that if she hadn't already
agreed to her deadline, she would have made
a point of walking out of the screening and
giving the PR person a talking to. I did not
confront the camera wielding guards in the
theatre because she was my host she had a job
to do.

Only people who think they have done something
wrong, or deserve to be searched, submit to that
kind of authority, which is why guards get away
with it, and the rest of us continue to be
subjected to it and it becomes "normal".

Anyway, apparently this is Alliance Atlantis'
idea of how to treat an audience, then I for
one can certainly live without seeing any of
their films, and we will be skipping movies
at the Paramount theatre. I also know that
at least one reviewer will also be seeing
her movies elsewhere too.

I would also say that this is further evidence
that movie studios are losing revenue because
of the increasingly poor movie-going experience
and general low-quality of the movies they are
making, as after this, I can certainly undertstand
why someone would prefer to watch a movie on their
14 inch screen than suffer the indignity of a


Posted by Declan McCullagh on Nov 04, 2005 in category intellectual-property

Get a Politech feed through RSS or Atom [RSS] [Atom]

The Politech general information pages and photographs are copyrighted by Declan McCullagh. Original posts distributed to the mailing list are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Creative Commons License