So tell me. Would you take a baby to the opera? Then why take a baby to the movies? Of course, I’m not actually talking about your baby. Your baby is delightful. Your baby is the only baby in town that everybody actually appreciates hearing cry throughout a feature film. But for everybody else…
Let’s recap what babies and toddlers do when they are put in a loud dark room for 2 hours when they’re not sleeping: cry, fidget, talk, kick seats, pull hair, try to run, …cry. Now let’s review what babies and toddlers don’t do in a movie theater: get it, know what’s going on, stay interested for more than 15 minutes, care.
As the parent of two young school-age children I’ve been through the baby phase myself, so I feel qualified to both speak about the developmental stages of children as well as be disgustingly judgmental about people who ignore them. For the sake of journalistic excellence I interviewed my child-having friends on this subject of babies in the theater and have presented their responses here as an amalgam mom named “Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink”.
Me:Why would you take a baby to the movies?
Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink: Because I have an older child who wanted to see the movie.
Me: Try one of these things: Get a sitter for the baby; Let the older child sit in the theater for a few minutes while you take your cryer to the lobby to cry it out; Take another adult with you so you can divide and conquer if the baby gets fussy; If all that fails don’t go! It isn’t a health requirement that your older child attend a movie.
Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink: It only costs $1.
Me: Just because the barrier to entry is low doesn’t mean the rest of us suddenly relish your child presenting a star performance in the audience during the film.
Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink: Its a children’s movie, people expect babies to cry.
Me: No they don’t. Children’s movies are cinematic programs for age-appropriate children who are eager to appreciate a theater experience. The theater has not magically transformed into your living room because there are children present. Mom & Baby screenings (which are indeed hosted at The State Theatre) are appropriate places for babies because there, yes, people do expect babies to cry and nobody cares.
Me: Would you take your baby to a Broadway show?
Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink: No.
Me: Why not?
Mom Whose Baby’s Cry Don’t Stink: Because that would be too expensive and plus Broadway is too far away. And…the theater is an inappropriate place for a baby.
So essentially a motion picture presentation is an undervalued theater experience by many moviegoers. Cinematic shows are available to the public, in our own neighborhood, at low cost to us, therefore the experience is treated by many without a sense of respect or ceremony. Children’s programming at the Traverse City Film Festival only costs $1. Saturday children’s screenings at The State Theatre only cost 25 cents. It is a wonderful opportunity these organizations provide to the community. It is a gift. It is a favor. Families having the opportunity to see movies at almost no cost to themselves is a privilege that, in my opinion, should be met with respect and gratitude both for the theater and for the filmmakers who have granted their permission for the screening.
Film artists and their supporters spend hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars to create one cinematic presentation. A theater experience with that level of production value is only matched by high-end theater, Broadway shows for example. It takes hundreds of people, each with a lifetime of specialized expertise, to create every movie. If all of those people and all of that money was brought in to town and showcased on stage before every screening people might think twice about blithely crunching popcorn with their mouth open while bouncing a crying baby on their knee throughout the presentation.
Needless to say, I spent Saturday morning in a TCFF theater full of fussy babies. My husband and I took our 5-yr-old and 7-yr-old to see “Mia and the Migoo”. (Something we would not have done until the youngest of our boys was 3 yrs old and could actually see the screen.) My joy in the experience was punctuated with distractions from the buggy bumpers in the crowd and one little miss in particular who seemed to especially enjoy treating the back of my seat as a jungle gym and shouting in my ear. On Wednesday morning our family had a delightful time watching “Shorts For Kids”, the audience was age appropriate and no cryers, but Saturday seemed to bring out families who were off work and without daycare…and so it goes…
I must end this diatribe by expressing heartfelt admiration and gratitude for one conscientious grandmother who I saw quietly escorting her crying granddaughter out of the theater mid-movie. That sight momentarily restored my faith in courtesy. Perhaps that woman remembers a time when saving up to go to the movies made the privilege of attending something you didn’t want to ruin for others.