So I’m staying at Sandi DuBowski’s cozy little pad on Bleecker Street. It’s a rainy Monday night and I decide to stay in and watch a movie. I’m pillaging his DVD collection for something to watch. He has a lot of documentaries – surprise, surprise – including a film I’ve always wanted to see called Cinemania (by my old friend Stephen Kijak). It’s a 2001 documentary portrait of these out of control film buffs in New York City. As I scan the DVD box I realize that the woman on the cover is the woman who harassed me Saturday night at the Museum of Modern Art premiere of my film, The Joy of Life!
I pop in the DVD and within the first ten minutes I discover that the other wacko who happened to be in the MoMa audience that night is also in this film! And he actually says some of the exact same things in this movie that he said while sitting in my post-screening Q&A at MoMa.
Bill is this straight guy who at first commented on the seeming irony of the fact that my protagonist is ostensibly trying to find intimacy but seems unaware of why she is unable to find it. Which was a great observation. But he then started to give me a hard time about the explicit sexual descriptions in the film, saying that they were lacking in emotional connection and were simply empty sexual encounters. Which made it obvious that he totally didn’t get that part of the film. As I attempted a reasonable response at least a half-dozen hands shot up in the audience. As Jennie Livingston and Kristine Woods leapt to my defense and pointed out how significant it is to have explicit sexuality being expressed from a female, queer, butch point of view Bill interjected words to the effect that maybe this butch lesbian was getting lots of sex, but being poor and male he was not. It was oddly poignant.
So, in Cinemania he specifically talks about how he hasn’t had sex in years and he’s going to try an Internet dating service and he laments: “You know I’m not an unattractive guy. Just middle-aged and poor.”
The great thing about his comment though (as gay film critic Jim Fouratt pointed out to me in the lobby afterwards) was that it prompted a bunch of people in the audience to be much more expressive about why the sexuality in the film was important to them. It was really quite amazing.
The truth is, it was probably the most entertaining Q&A I’ve ever had about the film. Far more interesting than debating the pros and cons of the Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier.
So Roberta, an elderly woman in Coke bottle glasses, is sitting in the very front row and pops her hand up immediately as I begin the Q&A to complain that she doesn’t understand why, for a film that is supposedly about the beauty of the changing light of San Francisco, why did I shoot so many shots blurry or out of focus.
There was nothing to do but smile, pausing to think of a gracious response, as it dawned on me that this cranky, bad attitude was somehow the nature of New York (or at least MoMa) audiences. Having just coped with various walk-outs and any number of snoring audience members during the screening (not to mention the guy who quipped on exit as the credits rolled: “That was a complete waste of my time, I’m gonna go jump off a bridge now.”) it was one of those moments where you just have to laugh. So, I told her I shared some of her disappointment in that the film had been shot on film and was sadly being shown on video. But added that this was the first time anyone had suggested it was out of focus, and that in fact it had been almost universally praised for its cinematography. Fortunately for me I left it at that and it didn’t go any further.
Because as I learned in watching Cinemania, it turns out Roberta has actually had her MoMa membership revoked in the past for being disruptive and violent at screenings.
“Roberta is famous for having these vicious arguments, you know where she’s strangled people or hit them or started screaming at them,” explains fellow film buff Jack. “Roberta is the queen of cinemaniacs in New York. I think the person who is most recognizable, most visible, most notorious on the entire circuit.”
If only I had known I was being provoked by sublebrities! I would have applauded them for their cinematic fanaticism. I would have acknowledged them in some way, pointed out to the rest of the audience who they were.
I would have been flattered, rather than annoyed, by their presence. As Museum of the Moving Image curator David Schwartz points out in Cinemania: “There are some film buffs, like Roberta… where if I see them in the audience I feel really proud ‘cause I know that they think that what we’re showing is the best thing available today in the city. So, it’s like the stamp of approval.”
I hereby want to publicly thank Roberta and Bill for coming to my screening.
And there’s still time for all you other cranky New Yorkers to come see my movie: Catch it this coming Thursday night, Nov 16th at 6pm at MoMa, and Monday November 20th at The IFC Film Center.
11 West 53 St (b/w 5th & 6th Aves)
Adults: $10; Seniors: $8; Students: $6.
IFC Film Center
323 6th Av at W. 3rd St.
IFC Box Office: 212.924.7771
Adults: $10.75; Seniors: $7.
The Joy of Life is also now available on DVD:
For more info visit: