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Stay in your seat

Saturday, February 22, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Cell phones playing songs that, under any other circumstances, would be just as annoying.

Children who are too young to see a PG-13 movie, even one based on a comic book.

Talking out loud.

At three hours and 36 minutes in length, the new Civil War movie "Gods and Generals" runs so long that its producers decided to make it even longer - by adding a 12-minute intermission. There was a time when intermissions were commonly found in any movie running longer than 21/2 hours. Now, the "Lord of the Rings" films run three hours without a break. Should intermissions make a comeback, or should they be consigned to the dustbin of movie history along with uniformed ushers, 1,000-seat single-screen theaters and Bank Night? Here are the pros and cons of the debate, presented by movie critics Ron Weiskind and Barbara Vancheri.

Teens who titter inappropriately during a death row drama.

Patrons returning to the concession counter for that promised free drink refill, followed by the inevitable restroom break.

And, now, an intermission?

Do we really need to disrupt the once-sacred movie experience and mood even further? If I wanted a break, I would wait until the movie arrived on video and watch it at home, where I can stop it at will.

The last time I remember seeing a film with an intermission was "The Sound of Music" (or maybe a reissued "Gone With the Wind") at a Downtown theater that's one of those "things that aren't there anymore." Intermissions also aren't there anymore and, frankly, I don't miss them.

Movies are long enough without another 10 or 15 minutes added. I know that sounds as if I should be advocating for a break, but once you factor in commercials, previews and the picture itself, you're looking at a pretty protracted afternoon or evening.

Throw in an intermission and you make it even more drawn out, with the added distraction of patrons inevitably returning to their seats late and in the dark. That creates the ripple effect of others standing up or trying to move out of the way.

We aren't watching double features in old-fashioned movie palaces with intermission attractions and distractions galore -- contests, live organ music, cherubs and maidens dancing across the ceiling (as at the Byham Theater) or vintage movie posters entombed in glass cases. Sometimes we're in converted warehouses so dimly lighted that we're lucky to make it to the correct theater and back without a trail of popcorn kernels.

Have you ever stood in line for the ladies room during the intermission of a play, here or on Broadway? I know what it's like to hear the start of the second act from the downstairs restroom of the Benedum Center.

Face it. If people must slip out of the auditorium now, they simply go right ahead. Works for me.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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