By Craig Bates
Movies showing at Magic Johnson Theaters will no longer have audio.
(LOS ANGELES) Magic Johnson Theaters across the nation are experimenting with a radical new approach to showing movies: Not playing the sound.
While silent movies were all the rage in the 1920s, and made legends of actors like Charlie Chaplin, this new technology is aimed at African American audiences who are notorious for keeping a running dialogue during movies.
“You know how my people do,” Johnson tells The Peoples News. “We are on our cell phones, we are texting, we are feeding our babies. There’s no need for sound.”
The push for picture-only theaters started in 1985, when African-American moviegoers turned The Color Purple into an audience participation event. Those who saw it two or three times recited dialogue along with the characters, sometimes even getting it right. The movement swelled with the release of subsequent movies like Malcolm X, when audiences regularly let out cries of ‘Ooh Lord, don’t go in there,” as the civil rights leader approached the Audubon Ballroom.
But support didn’t reach critical mass until Christmas 2006, with the release of Dreamgirls. Black audience members–both men and women–sang so loudly and off key to Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You” that no African Americans actually heard the singer’s voice until the song was released on the radio.
“Oh yes, I was singing my heart out that night,” says Arneatha Jones, a budding documentary filmmaker from Tallahassee. “When Jennifer won the Oscar, I felt like I had too.”
Johnson, who began his theater chain in the mid-1990s to tap into the urban market, says he feels picture-only movies will be a hit. For one, the tickets will be cheaper and secondly, because the audience is providing dialogue they might make up whole new storylines.
In the picture-only version of Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, for instance, audience members actually provided a credible plot.
“It was a nice change of pace from the usual Tyler Perry movie,” says Today Show film critic Gene Shalit, who saw the movie in Harlem. “No one was calling Angela Bassett a ‘young mother’ for one thing.”
Eugene Meadows, who went with his family to the same showing of Browns as Shalit, says he never noticed it didn’t have sound.
“But I was on the phone most of the time,” he admits. “Plus, I had to change my baby’s diapers a couple times, too. Whenever I looked at the screen, I just kinda made up what was going on in my head, like I always do.”
And that, says Johnson, illustrates the whole benefit of silent films: The viewer controls the show. At a recent silent screening of Scarface in Crenshaw, for instance, the movie took on a whole new flavor.
“Tony Montana cussed out people in a completely different way and there were whole new insights into his motivations,” Johnson says. “You just can’t get that type of entertainment if you, you know, sit quietly and actually pay attention to the movie.”
Note: This article is satire, brought to you by the creative minds at The Peoples News. It’s not real, but we hope it made you think.
© 2008 The Peoples News
Share This Story