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Ballad of Narayama

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An incident at Toronto

If it were up to me, you would never have heard about the incident at the Toronto Film Festival on the morning of Sept. 6 when a fellow critic whacked me with a rolled-up program or a festival binder or something. It has been blown out of proportion. It is of little interest.

The incident remained private until today (Sept. 11), when a basically accurate account appeared in the New York Daily News. I suppose since it happened at a press screening with 500 journalists in the room, this was inevitable. Now it's become a big deal, raced around the web, and been somewhat exaggerated.

There are always two sides to everything. Here is mine. The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" had subtitles on the bottom right side of the screen. I was seated in an outboard aisle seat on the right. The person in front of me was leaning over into the aisle, making the subtitles impossible to read. He is not short. Because of neck and shoulder surgery I could not look around him.

In my medical condition I cannot speak, I tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and gestured him to move over a little. He said, "Don't touch me!" and remained in position. I tapped him lightly again. "I said--don't touch me!" He leaned further into the aisle, as if making a point of it. I tapped him a third time, and he jumped up and whacked me on the knee with whatever it was. He sat down, and I defiantly tapped him again, not as lightly, but not too heavily, just to show I wasn't intimidated.

There was a commotion, some people stood up and asked him what he was doing, and a person from the studio who was seated behind us across the aisle intervened. I gather there was a conversation with security, which I did not witness. He reentered the theater and took the studio person's seat. His seat was taken by someone who had been standing in the rear of the theater. No more problems.

Rumors spread swiftly. I began getting e-mails asking if someone had "beat me up." I was eventually contacted by the Daily News, and told them I had no comment, apart from verifing that their account was truthful. This whole matter was embarrassing, because it drew attention to me and invited pity, which makes me cringe. My wife, Chaz, did not witness this. Her reaction when she heard: "I'll get a no-neck guy from the West Side to break his knees." Just rhetorical, I trust.

I think the guy was wrong. A film critic of all people should be respectful of the sight-lines of fellow audience members. But in one way I feel sorry for him. He had no idea who was behind him when he smacked me. Now it looked like he was picking on poor me. I have had my problems, but I promise you I am plenty hearty enough to withstand a smack, and quite happy, after the smack, to tap him again. I had to see those subtitles. There was no pain. The incident is over. Peace.

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