A few weeks ago a young woman in the UK was ejected from a screening of Sergio Leonie’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly after supposedly laughing too loudly. It was later revealed that the evictee, who was celebrating her 25th birthday, was an Asperger’s sufferer, and that the classic spaghetti western was in fact her favourite film.
Maybe it was the poker faced Clint Eastwood, with that perpetual cigar drooping from the corner of his mouth, that provoked her mirth. Whatever the reason, she obviously saw humour in a movie, that escaped the attention of the average cinema goer.
I’m sure many of us have had that experience – being stuck in a cinema and reacting to a particular movie in a manner that might have upset other less discerning patrons. As a teenager I was once ejected from the Eastwood Odeon after opening a side shutter in the balcony, unleashing a beam of light and projecting hand puppets onto the screen during the parting of the Red Sea.
Many years later I was stuck in a screening of the somewhat tedious historical saga Troy, loosely based on Homer’s Iliad and starring Brad Pitt as the hapless Achilles. As the computer generated battle scenes became more and more annoying I began to murmur, “shoot him the ankle, shoot him the ankle”, even though the movie was only half over. As that murmur got louder and louder, I soon raised the ire of surrounding cinema goers and was eventually ‘shooshed’ into submission – long before Brad Pitt finally copped it in the heel.
Perhaps the most unusual case of cinema goers ‘losing it” occurred at Sydney’s Mandarin Cinema back in the mid 1980s during a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Stalker – a bleak and deeply philosophical art house movie. About half way through the 160 minute film, punters in the first two or three rows began chuckling amidst one of the most deeply unsettling sequences in the entire movie.
The subject of their laughter was a large brush tailed possum which had taken up temporary residence in the cinema after it had been chased down Elizabeth Street from its normal habitat in Hyde Park. It had appeared for the first time, running along a narrow ledge just in front of the screen, visible only to the front rows of patrons. Maybe some of these punters were finding The Stalker just a bit too dour and a few handfuls of popcorn in the direction of the intruding marsupial provided some much needed light relief.
The rest of the cinema goers, mainly hardcore arthouse devotees, were not amused by this sudden burst of laughter, at a most inappropriate time. Fortunately the possum soon disappeared behind the screen only to reappear regularly during the ensuing weeks – generating a similar response.
As a postscript the possum eventually departed the Mandarin Cinema after suddenly appearing one night in the theatre foyer. Running amok in the candy bar, it was captured and placed in a cardboard box from which it soon escaped, running directly into the path of traffic in Elizabeth Street. Miraculously it did not end as road kill, taking refuge under the bonnet of a newly parked car. Once rescued, with only a scrape of skin off its little pink nose, it was back in a box, totally traumatised but still very much alive. Following a period of rehabilitation with the good folk from WIRES, it was released back into Hyde Park, as good as gold and mercifully never to set paw in an arthouse cinema again.