"DIVA" IS coming to its complex conclusion. The Spic has been kneecapped. Jules and the blond lady cop are cowering under the gun of the movie's most evil villain, the fleshy-faced "white slave" runner and heroin magnate, who also happens to be the chief cop.
The movie's suspense mechanisms are in fine tune. We in the audience are desperately trying to figure if there's any way for poor Jules to be rescued. We don't know the guy going through "his cool phase" has crept up the back stairs. Our attention is riveted, we have forgotten the convoluted world outside the dark theater. This moment is why we go to the movies.
And then -- aargh -- a beeper sounds somewhere in the darkness. It jars our concentration, intrudes on our escapist rapture, brings the outside world -- a roast finished cooking? a pill to be taken? an errant time setting the contraption's owner forgot to cancel? -- into harsh conflict with the glamor on the silver screen.
I am a person who devours movies. I inevitably become transfixed by them. I have never walked out of a movie -- even Roger Corman has some redeeming value. So when I pay my $5 to escape, to dream, to brood or laugh, I don't want some faceless drone's routine, as dictated by a whining beep, raining on my parade.
The beeper in "Diva" turned out to be the first in a series. I went to four movies that week (it was a trying time). During "Dr. Strangelove," the audience got beeped in the middle of Peter Sellers' climactic Kissinger-esque virtuosity. Some more beeps etched their way across the pitiful young faces of Gallipoli's soldiers. The beeper that interrupted Deborah Winger's heavy breathing in "An Officer and a Gentleman" was the last straw.
A couple of days later, I voiced my frustration at a baby shower for my sister, whose family of in-laws includes some young women who dance for the Washington Ballet. They chimed in about a ballet when beeps from the audience had distracted the performers. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer described Sen. Charles Percy's (R-Ill.) exasperation during a standing-room-only hearing when he threatened to expel the next person whose beeper sounded. A high-school student complained of beepers breaking her train of thought during tests.
I went to some more movies, got bombarded by more beepers and complained some more. Fellow workers commiserated. One spoke of beepers interrupting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed by the Choral Arts Society. Another told about her boyfriend's watch, which he has set to beep on the half hour, waking her throughout the night. He doesn't hear it, but she does.
Which raises the question: How important can these blasted alarms be? How did beeper devotees ever run their lives without them?
And they don't always work, you know. A friend described the time he climbed the Grand Tetons. The group had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make it to the top and get back to the bottom before dark. One of the climbers set his beeper watch to wake them. It didn't go off -- he can only attribute it to the altitude -- but what's important is that the technology failed in a high-risk situation.
In circumstances when a beeper is not a lifeline but merely a convenience, it becomes an intrusion on the quietude and concentration of others. It becomes an inconsiderate annoyance, unnecessary and rude. And when a person has paid the cost of a theater ticket, or when high-pressure performance is affected by random noise, beepers are inexcusable.
Some might say it's an innocuous noise. I, for one, am working on a beeping version of Chinese water torture.