Be careful, or you, too, could become a dreaded movietalker

The Baltimore Sun

It is quite possible I've turned into that most dreaded of entertainment consumers: the movietalker.

I first became aware of the movietalker years ago while watching TV after dinner with my family, including my Grandma Fricke, the Grande Dame of movietalkers.

We were watching Matlock, which, for those of you unfamiliar with classic TV, was an early mystery/courtroom drama; a precursor to CSI only without the kinky deaths and creepy characters. Matlock was the Little House on the Prairie of crime-solving shows, featuring the wholesome Andy Griffith.

Because this was before the invention of family rooms, we all gathered in the living room to watch. In the first scene, Andy Griffith walked upstairs.

"Where is he going?" Grandmother said.

"Upstairs," my father said.

"Shhh," my brother said.

"Why is he going upstairs?" Grandmother said.

"We'll see," father said.

"It's a nice carpet," Grandmother said. "Oriental."

"I'd like one of those on my stairs," my mother said.

"Our carpet's not even 10 years old yet," Father said.

"Have you looked at it lately?" Mother said.

"Shhh!" my sister said.

This is how movietalkers operate. They involve others in their conversations, until the majority of viewers are participating and entire scenes are obliterated by their chatter. If you live alone and would like to simulate the movietalker effect, simply turn on a favorite program, and flip the channel every five minutes to a different show. Watch that show for a good 30 seconds, and then flip back to your original program. Repeat until your program is over, or until you jump out the window.

Because movietalkers predate DVR technology, focused viewers were stuck with enormous plot holes created by critical missing dialogue and action. That's because, in its extreme form, the movietalker will get up and point to something on the screen and say, "Your Uncle Ken used to have a clock just like this one."

In doing so, the movietalker covers up the murder taking place just behind her outstretched arm! It is frustrating. In the case of the Matlock movietalker scenario, I believe my siblings and I might have even left the living room and gone to the basement to watch on a markedly inferior TV.

(Historical note: This was before "good" TVs were typical in American basements. At this time, most basements smelled like wet golden retrievers and were festooned with pull-chain lightbulbs and furnished with stuff relatives were planning to donate to the Salvation Army.)

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when my college son was home for the weekend. He likes to watch films; no mindless comedies for him. My husband and I often complain that we deal with enough real-life angst; we don't want to relive it on a Saturday night. But we consented to compromise with that light little Roman romp, Gladiator. There's a particularly horrific scene in which a child is trampled. "Did they just trample him to death?" my husband inquired.

"Oh no!" I cried. "That can't be!"

My son stopped the action.

"Look, you two," he said. "We can all see that the boy was trampled. Why do you have to discuss it?"

"I wasn't sure he was dead," my husband said.

"I was hoping he wasn't dead," I said.

Turning to my son, I said, "Are you always this irritable?"

My son stood up.

"I can't watch this with you two," he announced, and then left.

We were stunned. We turned the movie back on. A few minutes later, I turned to my husband.

"It wasn't clear he was trampled to death."

"I know!" he said.

"I don't think we're movietalkers, do you?"

"No way," he said, rewinding the film to the part we had missed because of our insightful commentary.

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