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“Those Awful Hats”: A 1909, relevant movie


It’s actually a short movie. And it was one of the little gems of the seventh edition of the Short Film Festival that Ca’ Foscari University of Venice organizes every year.

This festival is a paradise for movie buffs who are on a treasure hunt. The jury does a great job of selecting the crème de la crème from a large pool of applicants. For four days, Venetians, Italians from elsewhere and foreigners pack the Santa Margherita Auditorium.

One of the closing shows was a review of the early days of advertisement, including the first one, for Admiral Cigarette, in 1897. In fact, the first ads for movies were for tobacco. And there were avant-garde masterpieces from Germany, works of art rather than advertising from the interwar period.

But as the headline indicates, we were taken by “Those Awful Hats,” a short movie from 1909, by American filmmaker D.W. Griffith. It seems that moviegoers had to cope with their own brand of pests in every era. Tall hats were apparently the biggest nuisance in the early days of the silver screen. Your correspondent is so old now that he remembers people smoking around him in Buenos Aires, especially at his neighborhood’s Rialto and Atalaya movie theaters. If memory is not failing him, there were pull-open ashtrays at the end of armrests on the red velvet chairs.

These days, however, the pet peeve prize goes to mobile phones or, rather, their users. Of late, shows are surprisingly uninterrupted by one of the little curses going off. Silent mode rules. But the younger generations have taken to texting during the movies. Your correspondent, who is especially intolerant with distractions around him at the theater and at church, duly complained to his neighbors. In the dark, they were successfully frightened into good manners and chose not to mess with him. But there were some others a few seats to the sides and rows down who were beyond the reach of his righteous anger.

During the intermission, he complained to the festival moderator. She agreed to remind the audience to switch off their phones, in case they had missed the big sign outside the door that said in heavy typeset “NO CELLPHONES.” But then she forgot. And when the lights turned on during the break, your correspondent’s neighbors saw he was no Godzilla. So when the movies resumed they texted away with impunity, and posted their comments on Facebook, Twitter and God knows what else with consistent malevolence. Humanity, surely, could not wait for those online pronouncements another thirty minutes, until the show was over.


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