Monday, November 30, 2015


If you've ever been to a movie at the Museum of Modern Art (or Cinema Village or Film Forum) you may have encountered a cinemaniac. Obsessed and cantankerous, they are masters of the shush.

I once witnessed them nearly lynch an elderly woman for the crime of loudly unwrapping a hard candy. If you go to a movie here, you have to submit to the madness. Enjoy it. This is where all the eccentrics who've been driven from the streets of Manhattan have washed up.

I don't go to the MoMA movies as often as I used to, but I hear those characters are still there. What makes them so dyspeptic?

I suspect they shush so violently because, like many anxious obsessive-compulsives, they likely suffer from misophonia, an extreme sensitivity to annoying sounds. Researchers have also found a relationship between misophonia and the schizotypal personality. Schizotypals are your garden variety eccentrics. And they're a vanishing breed in New York City.

These are people who don't function well in a hyper-regulated city custom-made for the wealthy and the mainstream. They require rent control and stabilization. They require the freedom to be unusual, even difficult. They need a city that tolerates odd behavior. Really, they are some of the last of the New York characters. So next time one of them scolds you at the movies, be grateful. You've been touched by an endangered species.

But be careful. They might get a little out of control. "If you don't get up and beat the person up or threaten them or something, then you're going to actually have the film be ruined," says one in the 2002 film Cinemania. Watch it here in its entirety (bonus--it's New York before Bloomberg's erasure, filled with some vanished places and sensibilities):

Roger Ebert wrote about these New Yorkers:

"These are not crazy people. Maladjusted and obsessed, yes, but who's to say what normal is? I think it makes more sense to see movies all day than to golf, play video games or gamble. Not everyone agrees. I know people like these, and I understand their desire to be absorbed in the darkness and fantasy... They really, really like movies. They cry during them. One stumbled out of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' and walked for blocks in the rain, weeping. 'A commitment to cinema means one must have a technically deviant lifestyle.'"


rongee said...

This piece took me back to the days of the Thalia Theater (Broadway @95th) and The Elgin (19th & 8th ave.) both now closed (1987 & 1978 respectively) and repurposed into performing arts venues. The Thalia was known for it's "week-long " film festivals featuring movies of specific directors and actors. My favorite was Humphrey Bogart week, where audience participation was almost mandatory, people would speak the famous lines right along with the Elgin, you'd pay a very reasonable ticket fee ( a buck or two, maybe) and for the rest of the day (into night) you would watch engaging cult and foreign film movie after movie while dining on popcorn and hot dogs. 'Twas heaven.......thanks J.

Reader said...

I've seen "Cinemania" and it's quite the stretch (especially for a therapist) to suggest that everyone who seeks quiet during a movie has a psychiatric problem. I've all but given up on seeing movies in the theater because of the constant bad behavior. If you want to give a running commentary on the film to your companion wait until it comes out on HBO and deliver it from the couch of your den. If you can't stay off your phone, the light of which is distracting, stay out of the theater.

I'm paying as much as $18 to see a film that can't be paused or re-wound. Why on earth are you entitled to ruin my movie experience? If you make me, I will shoosh you, and even contact the manager.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

I wonder how they handle the plethora of loud no-muffler cars, noisy rowdy bar crowds, car alarms, high-tech gadgets and the like.
21st-century life is "hell on earth". Modern advances have NOT made life easier. Quite the other way around, actually.

Unknown said...

this was written for me. its been a long time since i have been in a movie theatre. people really take out their phones? i would kill. i would humilate the offender. there would be an "incident" i can assure you. you may read about it in the next days NY POST. (well, maybe not a cover story). tal hartsfeld 4:28pm, modern advances have set us back. i dont own a cell phone. when i do have one, the number is private. its used to call a cab in emergency. i dont own an ipad, when i go out im DISconnected. i use my lap top to watch movies. i even dissconnect my landline phone during movietime. if i dont there would be an "incident".

Reader said...

I looked it up and saw that Roberta Hill, the older lady in "Cinemania", died in 2009. She was 73. That does sadden me, even though once she almost slapped me with her program in a theater lobby.

Something like five years ago, the Film Forum had a new print of Murnau's "Sunrise". There was a long line. I was at the front, and Michael Musto was a couple of people behind me. Inside the theater, there was some well-mannered debate about the exact name of the Fox corporate entity that made the film, but once the lights dimmed it was as quiet as a church.

"I'm with my people", I thought.

Scout said...

My favorite NYC rep house from the 70s-80s was easily Theatre 80 St. Marks. Although DVD players and VOD make it convenient now to watch any movie you like from your couch, there will never be a replacement for sharing "All About Eve," "The Women," "Dinner At Eight," or "Sunset Boulevard" with a roomful of happy queens, all while sitting in the theatre where the original "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" played for 1,597 performances.

I don't recall any talking from the audience, but there was certainly lots of loud laughter, which I suspect the Conemaniacs would not like, even at a comedy.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I agree with Reader above. Unwrapping candy, crinkling chip bags, talking, cell phone lights, etc, drive me crazy. For me, it's more an affront to common courtesy. The same misbehavior happens when I see a play or other public performance. It's rude. I wouldn't call the ones being upset maladjusted.

Jeremiah Moss said...

To be clear, I'm certainly not saying that everyone who is bothered by noise at a movie is mentally ill or maladjusted, etc. I am saying that people who have an extreme, violent reaction to the slightest noise likely suffer from misophonia, and may also have anxiety and an obsessive personality. It's an extreme sensitivity I'm referring to.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I hate the noise too, especially the talking and the glow of smart phones breaking up the darkness. A lot of time the (usually justified) complaints come from older movie-goers, who are more inclined to speak up when others in the audience are distracting. I think I may be heading towards this less-afraid-to-speak-one's mind state of being. I love theaters in the afternoon, with your choice of seats, and just a handful of older, seasoned viewers watching a film, but even there you can find talkers. Sometimes they don't seem to realize what they're doing (even that they're talking at all!) and I try to be patient, but for most noise-makers there's no excuse. I agree that Film Forum has devout audiences, and have also had good, quiet viewing experiences at The Museum of the Moving Image.