And the Portions Are So Small

I’m still laughing about a cinema club talk I gave recently. We were screening a dour Polish biopic that I couldn’t entirely endorse but didn’t want to bad-mouth since our attendees had paid good money and gotten up really early. It turned out they were not into it either, a fact made abundantly clear.

The way things usually go: We screen the film, I give a 15-minute talk, and then we open up the discussion to a question and answer period, during which everyone tells me the film was great and my interpretation supersmart. (I preen, I tell you; all hail the unbeloved child.) This time, they were just plain pissed. While I was talking, everyone kept screaming SPEAK UP YOU TALK TOO SOFTLY WE CAN’T HEAR YOU’RE MUMBLING.

Now, in the history of my life, no one has ever accused me of speaking softly or unclearly, but the sound system was terrible that day and, given that the average age of our attendees is 70something, some hearing issues may have been afoot. I breathed and opened up the discussion. Here were the general comments: A) They hated the dirge-like quality of the film. (I smiled thinly.) B) They hated the subtitles. (My smile grew thinner.) C) They hated the placement of the subtitles. (I lost my smile.) D. They hated I mean hated the sound system. (My face began to hurt.) E) They found the main character unrealistic. (It was an accurate depiction of the 1940s painter who was the subject; my jaw began to ache.) After 15 minutes of general grousing, people began to shuffle out of the theater while I was still talking. Many mumbled, “Oy, oy” as they made their way. I gathered my things and tried to identify what childhood trauma the event was triggering. Then a very short woman with a red bob and badly smeared red lipstick came up to me: “Did you change your hair?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Well,” she snapped. “It looked better before.” That’s when I placed the experience: It was like badly performing in front of an entire auditorium of Grandma Rosmans. Maybe you needed to have my tiny, red-bobbed, red lipstick-smeared bubbe to find the experience as gallows-humorous as I did, but I could have sworn I was back at her table, glumly mawing gefilte fish while she complained about my goyishe nose. Oy oy.

Illustrations: Sarah Lightman (left); Louise Fitzhugh (right)

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy