La tosse al cinematografo è stata a lungo fonte di fastidio e preoccupazione. Gli esperti del settore sanitario segnalavano allarmati i problemi di igiene delle vecchie sale e le discussioni sui benefici dell’aerazione abbondavano. Quando nel 1918 scoppiò la pandemia influenzale, in tutto il mondo le autorità cittadine resero obbligatorio l’utilizzo delle mascherine, imponendo in alcuni casi misure come quella delle poltrone o delle file alterne. In Italia gli esercenti protestarono a gran voce contro regole apparentemente casuali in materia di disinfezione e chiusure. Frattanto le comiche su tosse e influenza continuarono ad essere realizzate anche dopo la pandemia, a riprova che ridere è davvero la miglior medicina.

Given current preoccupations, it seems appropriate to launch this blog with a post about coughing in the cinema. I’m not talking about movies with people coughing on screen, although I’ll mention a few of those; I mean the sounds and occasional inadvertent sprays of audience members whose coughs tend to generate infectious responses that travel around an auditorium like calls between tree-dwelling animals. We’ve all done it, we’ve all occasionally been bothered by it; during the Giornate, a combination of exhaustion and change-of-season temperatures inevitably lead to an uptick in coughs which, pre-COVID, would have been considered relatively innocuous but now could potentially cause a creeping feeling of paranoia, if not worse. So I thought I’d take a wide-ranging, occasionally humorous look at how coughing in the cinema was viewed internationally in the silent era, including potential causes and methods of alleviation, while also indulging myself by meandering into issues that will sound awfully familiar, like wearing masks, instituting an every-other-seat, every-other-row policy, and disinfecting cinemas. Unsurprisingly, we’ve been here before.

Even without the medical component, coughing during a play or movie has a way of getting on some peoples’ nerves, such as the theatre critic of The Washington Post in October 1918, during the height of that year’s flu pandemic:

A careful record, covering a period of a dozen or more years, will show that exactly 37 percent of every audience have schooled themselves to sneeze or cough at precisely the psychologically wrong moment. These public pests held back their paroxysms until the exact moment selected by the playwright for a phrase or a sentence of paramount importance. Since the Spanish-American war no Washington audience has been permitted to hear all the lines of an important play. If the existing, temporary ban on amusements will bring about a reform of the coughing and sneezing portion of the audience addicted to respiratory demonstration, then, indeed, may it be said that “sweet are the uses of adversity.”[1]

He was definitely overly optimistic. In 1909, Variety’s Paris correspondent reported that a French scientist – I’ve been unable to pinpoint who – claimed the reason people cough more in the theatre than elsewhere is that “when the ear is extended, as it were, in order to better catch the words, the throat becomes irritated and thus provokes the cough.”[2] I’ve located only one commentator who makes a distinction between theatre coughing and cinema coughing, and that’s the prolific Spanish humorist Joaquín Belda (1883-1935), best known today for his erotic novels. Rosa Cardona Arnau at the Filmoteca de Catalunya suggested to me that the “I. Belda” who signed an article in La rivista cinematografica, translated into Italian from Spanish, could be Joaquín Belda, which makes sense given how the letters “i” and “j” are often interchangeable in Italian. We’ve not found where the original-language text was published, but Belda’s playful piece implies that since there’s no live performer on-stage to be perturbed by a fit of coughing, no one in the cinema bothers to cough – he calls it “immunità dal catarro”, or “phlegm immunity,”[3] which sounds to me about as plausible a theory as “herd immunity,” though less dangerous.

Notwithstanding the French scientist’s convictions, most medical experts of the era ascribed coughing fits in the cinema to unsanitary conditions prevalent in down-market establishments likened to the Black Hole of Calcutta.[4] In 1909, Dr. Howard D. King of New Orleans was deeply disturbed by many moving picture halls, where “an ever-moving stream of humanity, constantly passing in and out, stirs up dust and dirt that verily reeks with tubercle bacilli…breathing in air which has become befouled and disease-laden through lack of sufficient air capacity.”[5] The concern was, of course, international: “Il cinematografo ormai è entrato nelle abitudini di ogni ceto di persone; gli spettacoli perciò devono esser dati in ambienti sani, puliti, spaziosi, dove lo spettatore potrà avere la certezza che non si attenti alla sua salute e non corra il rischio di morire abbrustolito o schiacciato da un momento all’altro.”[6]

“Abbrustolito” (grilled) and “schiacciato” (crushed) weren’t the usual concerns – germs were far more worrisome. I’d like to get a hold of a copy of the Bulletin of the Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction from September 20, 1913, which The Lancet speaks of admiringly for an article showing two petri dishes, one taken from an unventilated theatre, revealing 250 “bacterial colonies,” and the other, with just five, from a ventilated one.[7] I suspect both were underestimates, and to be honest, how many such colonies would be found in most cinemas today? This month Lawrence Napper’s always enjoyable and informative At the Pictures blog explores the debate in Britain surrounding ventilation in light of the 1918 flu pandemic (, and it’s a must read.

Ventilation was a major preoccupation of the trade papers of the early teens, when municipalities were enforcing regulations that didn’t always align with exhibitors’ budgets. That’s why the editor of Motography was so happy to repurpose Charles-Edward Amory Winslow’s “The Scientific Basis for Ventilation,” published in August 1911 in the School Board Journal, printing a slightly shorter version three months later as “Some Facts About Ventilation” and crediting the Journal but not the author.  Winslow’s argument was that “rebreathed air” wasn’t dangerous – there were no health risks in crowding people into a cinema and denying them a certain amount of new air between performances. The real catalysts for breeding pathogens, he wrote, was heat and humidity, so air conditioning and the occasional fresh breeze are what’s needed, not government-enforced ventilation standards: “The mouth spray is a local rain which drops quickly to the ground, not a general pollution of the atmosphere. It could not be detected by any analytical standards, and could not be remedied by ventilation. It is a kind of direct contact rather than a problem of air pollution.”[8] I don’t know if Winslow, who became a major public health figure, changed his views on how some viruses, unlike rain, really can stay in the air, but Motography was so happy with what he wrote – or with how they interpreted what he wrote – that they plagiarized that article two years later in an editorial entitled “Give ‘Em Air,” which basically says adequate ventilation in the cinema is more of a luxury than a necessity, so why waste all that money re-fitting your theatres? My guess is the editorial was written by associate editor John B. Rathbun, whose book Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting was serialized in the magazine between 1913 and 1914 before being published in volume form; Rathbun brazenly lifts entire passages of Winslow’s text, uncredited, to reassure exhibitors that their poorly ventilated establishments won’t do any harm.[9]



That may have been a good line in 1914 (though I have my doubts), but once the flu pandemic hit, ventilation was back in the news in a big way. Richard Koszarski wrote the first major scholarly article on how the pandemic was discussed in the press, specifically in Moving Picture World; then two years ago, Ben Strassfeld published an excellent study on how Detroit movie theatres negotiated the virus and its effects (he’s reproduced some original articles these past weeks in his Twitter feed,[10] Another extraordinary source is the University of Michigan’s digital Influenza Encylopedia, whose search engine reveals a wealth of sources: It was there I discovered a letter to the editor regarding the state of affairs in Rochester, New York in December 1918:

I made a round of the motion picture houses on Saturday, to note the hygienic conditions, and from my observation and experience I would say that there is not the slightest possibility of stamping out the epidemic of influenza in Rochester, as long as the managers and proprietors overlook the elementary conditions of sanitation, ventilation, and the ordinary antiseptic preventives. In several of these breeding pens half the audience was coughing and sneezing, spitting and hawking. The muggy warm atmosphere, odorous with the emanations of bodies packed together like sardines in a can, pregnant with disease germs, was an abomination to a health-respecting city.

There is not a motion picture house in any European town that does not have to obey stringent regulations regarding ventilation.

It should be added that the writer identifies himself as a frequent cinema goer, so he’s not one of those moral reformers using the pandemic as an excuse to attack the industry.[11]

As cinemas were forced to shut down, many exhibitors decried the double-standards of municipalities that allowed crowded department stores to remain open while their own establishments were made to close for varying periods of time (and then close again with each new wave of the virus).[12] Every region and city worldwide instituted regulations for remaining open or for re-opening, none of which were embraced by either the cinema owners or the public; now in 2020 as we hear of festivals and theatres trying to work out ways to come back to life, it’s sobering to discover that the masks and alternate seating plans being discussed are hardly fresh ideas, nor, I must add, are they conducive to an enjoyable cinema-going experience.



My favorite article on the subject reports on the citizens of Alberta, Canada, who despite fines for not wearing masks, did their best to avoid them: “Apparently the approved method of wearing a mask is to keep it suspended under the chin until a policeman appears in sight when it is hastily pulled over the nose and mouth.” Those Albertans who did acquiesce to regulations aimed to give the face coverings an air of mondanité, decreeing that fashionable female theatre-goers were to wear black masks, while their male companions should wear white.[13] In Des Moines, Iowa, the mask regulation was so unpopular that it was made optional, though the city’s influenza committee strongly recommended they be worn, and masks were on sale in cinemas and theatres.[14] With the second influenza wave in early 1919, San Francisco returned to mandatory masks in theatres and other public-gathering spaces, notwithstanding objections from religious groups (ring any bells?).[15] In Portland, where by late February face coverings were optional, the manager of the Oregon Theater went to great lengths to ensure his customers felt safe: “Theatre attendants are required to have a supply of flu masks with them all the time and when a patron coughs or sneezes or shows any evidence of so doing, the attendants are empowered to fit him with a mask – muzzle him, so to speak. We presume it is optional with the patron to submit to muzzling or to leave the theatre.”[16]

A greater debate raged over whether instituting an every-other-seat and/or every-other-row policy was an effective means of staving off infection. A flu resurgence in Iowa was so bad that the threat of cinema closures forced exhibitors to rethink their policies:

After a lull the epidemic broke out badly in Des Moines and immediately the usual agitation of “close the theatres” was started. First the use of influenza masks as a compulsory measure was tried out, with poor results, as patrons either regarded the use of the mask as an imposition or a joke. The measure fell through after one day’s trial, and then the agitation for a closed town started. Special committees were appointed for and against closing by the respective parties interested and a merry battle followed.

Finally it was decided to permit the theatres to remain open by using half capacity, spreading the seating arrangements through alternate rows. This is working out with fair results and managers say is far better than closing altogether. Programs have been considerably curtailed and less expensive features offered for the time being.[17]

Cinema owners in Omaha, Nebraska were even less open to such regulations, leading to a Christmas Eve revolt after the Health Commissioner Dr. Ernest T. Manning continued to enforce the every-other-row rule. Perhaps their argument that the policy exacerbated crowding in the lobbies finally swayed Dr. Manning, though it’s more likely that decreasing infection numbers led him to lift the decree.[18] At least as late as March 1919, some cities returned to the alternate rows regulation, such as one in Madison, Wisconsin where policemen were positioned inside the theatres to ensure both cinema managers and audiences followed the rules.[19]

Ciné-Journal, January 21, 1922, p. 16



I’ve been unable to find whether an alternate row policy was instituted in Europe during the pandemic, though I assume it must have been in some places. What does come through quite clearly is the frustration of cinema owners angered by regulations they found onerous. This irritation is especially apparent in an editorial from November 1918 in the Rome-based trade publication Cine-gazzetta, after legitimate theatres were allowed to reopen but cinemas were kept closed until a proper disinfection plan could be worked out. The city prefect declared that cinemas must close for one hour between screenings in order to disinfect the premises:

Un’ora? E come è possibile disinfettare un locale in un’ora? Evidentemente alla Prefettura non si son resi esatto conto di ciò che importa una disinfezione accurata ed efficace. Perchè le cose: o si fanno o non si fanno ! O disinfettare efficacemente, o nulla ! Infatti per disinfettare un locale a regola… d’igiene, stavo per dire a regola d’arte, bisogna prima di tutto attendere che il pubblico sia tutto completamente uscito, poi bisogna aprire tutte le porte, per la opportuna ventilazione. Occorre, per un completo cambiamento d’aria, tenere le porte aperte per lo meno tre quarti d’ora. Quindi si debbon spazzare i pavimenti, avendo cura di averli prima bagnati, spolverare i mobili, le sedie, le poltrone, cambiare possibilmente alle medesime il cuoio, il velluto o la paglia, a seconda di come sono confezionate, dare una passatina di bianco alle pareti, ecc. ecc. Dopo, usciti questi primi, debbono entrare altri disinfettatori con l’incarico di fare delle polverizzazioni di acido fenico o di altro sterilizzante nell’aria ambiente allo scopo di distruggere ogni possibilità di germi lasciati dai precendenti disinfettatori, poichè non è detto che sol perchè un tale esercita il nobile mestiere del disinfettatore non possa essere egli stesso infetto. Dopo di che, uscita questa seconda schiera, si devono riaprire le porte, e mettere in moto i ventilatori per scacciare il puzzo dei disinfettanti, e per far asciugare i pavimenti irrorati.

A occhio e croce si vede che per tutte queste operazioni, che debbono essere eseguite sotto lo scrupoloso controllo di uno o più ispettori, occorreranno per lo meno tre giorni, onde, i «cinematografari» hanno chiesto alla Prefettura, in omaggio ai sani precetti dell’igiene, che il decreto sia modificato in questo senso: Si permette la riapertura delle sale cinematografiche a patto però, che in esse si dia uno spettacolo ogni quattro giorni, affinchè i proprietari possano avere il tempo di far eseguire le opportune disinfezioni dei locali fra uno spettacolo e l’altro.[20]

This battle between city health officials and cinema owners was unsurprisingly fought worldwide, the lines drawn between economics on one side and vigilant safety on the other – something we’re facing in the present crisis. The briefly-lived French review La Pomme cuite was more cautious than most, expressing concern that the cinemas in Lyon had opened too quickly and thus exposed the city to a potential resurgence, as was happening in Switzerland: “Ces mesures on été levées, peut-être prématurément, devant les instances pressantes des « marchands de spectacles ». Et puis la forte dîme prélevée sur les recettes alimente nombre d’œuvres municipales ou préfectorales. Cette considération n’a pas été étrangère à la réouverture demandée. Espérons que cette mesure ne nous vaudra pas – comme en Suisse – une recrudescence du redoutable fléau!”[21]

But by late December 1918 in Milan, tempers exploded when the city prefect, Count Filiberto Olgiati, ordered the movie houses closed after another wave of infections, leading to a boisterous meeting among cinema owners that was reported in outraged detail by the trade publication Film, which pointed out the financial difficulties not just for upper management, but all workers in the sector, including musicians:

In consequenza di un improvviso e draconiano ordine del Prefetto, diramato ieri sera a tarda ora, che imponeva a tutti i locali cinematografici la chiusura da oggi, giorno di festa, e fino a nuovo avviso, per misura d’igiene, dato il ritorno dell’epidemia, fu indetta d’urgenza per stamane una riunione di tutti i cinematografisti per discuter circa il contegno da tenere di fronte a questa misura prefettizia, la quale, per quanto giustificata da motivi di salute pubblica, pure per esser limitata esclusivamente alla cinematografia, e per non esser la prima che contro di questa è stata presa da un pò di tempo in qua, rivestiva tutti i caratteri di un’angheria. La riunione è riuscita affollata e movimentissima; e i più calmi ed equilibrati si son dovuti adoperare per ridurre alla ragione i più esaltati, tra i quali c’era chi voleva aprir i locali in barba al decreto, e chi costringer con dimostrazioni e chiassate i teatri e gli altri luoghi pubblici a interromper e a chiudere….

Dopo lunga discussione, durante la quale il Cav. Corti ha lucidamente esposto la condizione nella quale si sarebbe venuta a trovare tutta la classe per la chiusura, anche breve, dei locali, e il pericolo di disordini nella massa se il decreto dovesse esser mantenuto, il Prefetto ha consentito a revocar il decreto stesso, e ha concesso che i locali aprissero per quattro spettacoli tra diurni e serali, purchè rigorosamente rispettate tutte le altre disposizioni igieniche già emanate, compreso un lungo intervallo tra uno spettacolo e l’altro, e il divieto d’ingresso a i bambini.[22]

By this point, Winslow’s theories about air-borne germs and ventilation had been superseded by recommendations more reassuring to nervous audiences concerned their movie-going experience might put them in danger.[23] Good air circulation became a priority, along with wetting floors to prevent dust from rising (though surely the dampness created further problems) and regular disinfections with products like that marketed by the Vienna-based company Perolin (their production facilities on Feldmühlgasse were just a few doors down from Gustav Klimt’s studio, who himself was a victim of the epidemic), which promised to keep flu at bay: “l’ingénieux petit appareil vraiment pratique et dont le produit disinfectant agréable à l’odorat et ne tâchant pas est le moyen le plus efficace pour combattre l’épidémie de grippe.”[24] Given that Perolin, used in cinemas into the 1960s, manufactured “ethereal oils and essences for deodorizing and purifying the air,”[25], I doubt it was especially effective warding off viruses, but presumably it helped to calm a tense public, and theatre managers overall were reporting a marked decline in coughing and sneezing thanks to all these prophylactic measures.[26]



Another strategy for keeping the flu at bay was education through film itself, via public service spots like the opening of Universal’s “Current Events, No. 73,” declaring, Warning!! To Coughers and Sneezers! and showing how not to cough and sneeze when around others.[27] Shorts like this were also produced on the local level, such as one made by B. W. Reuben in cooperation with Cleveland’s Health Commissioner Dr. Harry L. Rockwood: “Evil effects of coughing or sneezing in crowds are shown, and persons who feel they must cough in a crowd are shown how to do it without endangering the health of others. Model sanitary homes and factories and proper means of ventilating both are pictured.”[28] A great and rare example from the UK, Dr. Wise on Influenza (1919), is available online through Tony Fletcher’s Celluloid Tapestry YouTube channel: Insightful commentary can be found from both Bryony Dixon, and Lawrence Napper,

When I began looking into all of this, I assumed that comedy shorts involving uncontrollable coughs would be a pre-1918 theme, such as Pathé’s amusing La peur des microbes (1907) [29], released in the U.S. as Afraid of Microbes and fortuitously available on the Library of Congress’ website, Or Ambrosio’s La paura dei microbi (1911) also known as Robinet ha paura dei microbi, starring Marcel Perez. But clearly later audiences were still happy to laugh at the flu and hypochondria, as witnessed by Universal’s Star Comedy entry Up the Flue (1919), a Lyons and Moran short “which deals with the recent influenza epidemic” and involves quarantine as well as a wedding ceremony with everyone wearing gas masks.[30] Stéphanie Salmon also alerted me to the 1921 short Fritzigli a la grippe, directed by Amédée Rastrelli and starring the Max Linder imitator André Séchan in his character role of Fritzigli, told by a doctor he has the Spanish flu and must buy a pair of castanets and go to Spain. Unlike the Lyons-Moran film, it doesn’t appear to have been especially well-received.[31]

I think I’ve gone on long enough – future posts will rarely be so long, so if you’ve reached this point, thanks for indulging me. There’s no better way of ending this discussion than a Moving Picture World article from December 1918:

The great epidemic is now passing, but it will not be quickly forgotten. And there is of course the danger of its return at some future time, perhaps next spring. That at any rate has been the experience in other afflicted countries. For this reason we believe the proprietor of a moving picture house will have every excuse for keeping close watch upon the health of his patrons at all times in the future. Just how rigid his regulations may be made is something he must determine for himself, but we think he will make a general gain in the confidence of his clientele if he announces careful supervision of some sort in the future.[32]

Stay safe everybody,

Big thanks for help with this post go to Rosa Cardona Arnau, Mariona Bruzzo i Llaberia, Stéphanie Salmon, Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi and Frank Dabell.


[1] “Gossip of the Theater,” The Washington Post, October 6, 1918, p. E3.

[2] Edward G. Kendrew, “Paris Notes,” Variety, May 29, 1909 p. 10.

[3] I. Belda [transl. E. Dettori], “Il cine,” La rivista cinematografica, August 10, 1920, p. VI. For a French take, suggesting theatre audiences cough primarily when bored, see Alex Madis, “La Toux du Spectateur,” La Rampe, April 16, 1922, p. 9.

[4] “Some Insanitary Features of the Extemporised Picture Theatre,” The Lancet, April 5, 1913, p. 976.

[5] Howard D. King, “The Moving Picture Show. A New Factor in Health Conditions,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, August 14, 1909, pp. 519-20. The article was referenced approvingly one month later in “The Control of Kinematograph Shows,” The Lancet, September 11, 1909, p. 839.

[6] “Every class of person is now accustomed to the cinema. Accordingly, screenings must be given in premises that are healthy, clean and spacious, where spectators can be certain that their hygiene is not in peril, and that they do not run the risk of being grilled or crushed to death.” A[lfonoso]. A. Cavallaro, “Igiene e Sicurezza nei Cinematografi,” La Vita cinematografica, May 30-June 5, 1911, pp. 1-2.

[7] “The Sanitary Conditions of Cinematograph Theatres,” The Lancet, October 18, 1913, p. 1135.

[8] C.E.A. Winslow, “The Scientific Basis for Ventilation,” School Board Journal, August 1911, pp. 13-14; 34-35; “Some Facts About Ventilation”, Motography November 1911, pp. 221-223.

[9] “Give ‘Em Air,” Motography, November 1, 1913, pp. 303-304; John B. Rathbun, “Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting. Chapter VII,” Motography, February 7, 1914, pp. 95-96.

[10] Richard Koszarski, “Flu season: Moving Picture World reports on pandemic influenza, 1918-19,” Film History 17, no. 4 (2005), pp. 466-485; Ben Strassfeld, “Infectious Media: Debating the Role of Movie Theaters in Detroit During the Spanish Influenza of 1918,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 38, no. 2 (2018), pp. 227-245.

[11] J.C., “Influenza Perils of Motion Picture Houses,” Rochester Times-Union, December 31, 1918, p. 6.

[12] See “Fighting the Influenza Epidemic,” The Moving Picture World, November 2, 1918, p. 602; “Facts and Comments,” The Moving Picture World, January 4, 1919, pp. 74-75.

[13] “Albertans Will Not Wear Masks,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune, Nov. 29, 1918, p. 5.

[14] “Influenza Masks Optional,” Evening Times-Republican [Marshalltown, Iowa], December 4, 1918, p. 2.

[15] “Second Influenza Wave Hits Coast,” The Moving Picture World, February 1, 1919, p. 601; “San Francisco Goes Back to Masks,” The Moving Picture World, February 8, 1919, p. 734.

[16] Abraham Nelson, “Portland News Letter,” The Moving Picture World, February 22, 1919, p. 1062.

[17] “Some States Experience Setbacks,” The Moving Picture World, December 21, 1918, p. 1353; see also “Iowa ‘Flu’ Ruling,” Wid’s Daily, December 14, 1918, p. 1.

[18] “Manning Turns Down Theater Men’s Request,” The Bee: Omaha, December 25, 1918, p. 12; “Dr. Manning to Remove Skip Row Rule on Monday,” The Bee: Omaha, December 28, 1918, p. 7; “Omaha Picture Fans Violate the Alternate Row Ruling,” The Moving Picture World, January 11, 1919, pp. 184-185. See also the digital Influenza Encyclopedia’s page on Omaha:

[19] “Madison’s ‘Every Other Row’,” Variety, March 28, 1919, p. 34.

[20] “One hour? And how can premises be disinfected in an hour? Evidently the Prefect’s Office hasn’t completely understood what careful and effective disinfecting consists of. Either things are done effectively, or not at all! To disinfect premises according to state of… hygiene (I was going to say state of the art) standards, you first have to wait for every member of the audience to leave, and then open every door for proper ventilation. For a complete change of air, doors must remain open for at least three quarters of an hour. Then you have to sweep the floors, having first washed them, dust the furniture, chairs and seats, and possibly replace their leather, velvet or straw, depending on how they’re made, give the walls a coat of whitewash, etc., etc. When the cleaning staff has left, the disinfecting people have to come in and spray the air with carbolic acid or some other sterilizing agent so they can destroy any possible germs left by the cleaning crew before them, since just because someone has the noble role of disinfettatore it doesn’t mean they’re immune from infection. Then, when this second crew has left, you must reopen the doors and turn on ventilators to get rid of the stink of disinfectants, and dry the soaked floors.
Roughly speaking, these operations – having taken place under the strict supervision of one or more inspectors – will take at least three days. That is why the “cinematografari” have asked the Prefect’s Office, paying tribute to the healthy rules of hygiene, for the decree to be modified as follows: cinemas should be allowed to reopen, but only if a screening is held every four days, so proprietors have time to carry out suitable disinfection between one show and another.” “Arte muta,” Cine-gazzetta, November 10, 1918, p. 3.

[21] “These measures were lifted, perhaps prematurely, under pressure from the ‘spectacle peddlers’. And then the heavy tithe levied on revenues provides for numerous municipal or prefectural projects; this consideration was not unrelated to the current reopening. Let us hope this measure does not bring – as it has in Switzerland – a fresh outbreak of this formidable scourge!” “Perrache-Brotteaux-Fourvières,” La Pomme cuite, November-December 1918, p. 193.

[22] “Following a sudden, draconian order from the Prefect issued late last night, requiring all cinemas to close from today, a holiday, until further notice, for health reasons, and given the return of the epidemic, a meeting of all cinematografisti was urgently called for this morning to discuss the attitude to be adopted toward this measure. Although justified by reasons of public hygiene and exclusively limited to cinemas, and though it is not the first measure taken against them for some time, the decree had all the characteristics of a kangaroo court. The meeting was crowded and very lively; and the calmer, more balanced participants had to work hard to calm the hotheads, some of whom wanted to open their premises in defiance of the decree, while others hoped demonstrations and ruckus would force theatres and other public places to interrupt their events and close….
After a long debate, during which Cavaliere Corti lucidly explained what the general consequences would be, even with a brief closure of premises, and the danger of mass disturbances if the decree were maintained, the Prefect agreed to revoke it. He granted openings for four screenings, daytime and evening, as long as all other existing health regulations were strictly respected, including a long intermission between one show and another, and a ban on children.” “La Cinematografia Milanese, e la spada del conte Damocle Olgiati,” Film, January 12, 1919. p. 8. The article is dated December 29th.

[23] See for example J.P. Walker, M.D., D.P.H., “The Public Health (Influenza) Regulations, 1918,” Public Health, January 1920, p. 62; and Herman N. Bundesen, M.D., “Theatre Ventilation and Its Relation to the Public’s Health,” Exhibitors Herald, November 8, 1924, pp. VII, XXXI.

[24] “this ingenious little device is truly practical, and its pleasant-smelling, non-staining disinfectant is the most effective way to combat the flu epidemic.” Dr. Tanmieux, “La grippe et les Cinémas,” Ciné-journal, February 4, 1922, p. 20. Just by the author’s pseudonymous name, it’s clear the article is an advertisement disguised as a news item.

[25] See; Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 312, 1923, p. 235.

[26] Robert C. McElravy, “Permanent Health Rules,” The Moving Picture World, December 14, 1918, pp. 1203-1204; see also “Digest of Pictures of the Week,” Exhibitors Herald, February 7, 1920, p. 52, for how the warnings occasionally backfired.

[27] The Moving Picture Weekly, October 12, 1918, p. 37.

[28] “Cleveland Fights Influenza by Means of the Moving Picture Screen,” Reel and Slide, December 1918, p. 10.


[30] The Moving Picture World, February 15, 1919, p. 947; The Moving Picture Weekly, February 15, 1918, p. 32.

[31]; “Les Films de la Semaine,” Le journal du Ciné-Club, January 28, 1921, p. 11; “Export-Union Film,” La Cinématographie française, June 26, 1920, p. 65.

[32]  McElravy, op. cit., pp. 1203-1204.


  1. Bottomore, Stephen ha detto:

    Dear Jay,
    Very sorry that Pordenone has had to be cancelled this year as an in-person event anyway, but glad to see and read your new blog (with an excellent first post).
    You have named your blog, The Silent Cat, so I have nicknamed it ‘Pawdenone’.
    Best wishes,
    Stephen (in the UK)

  2. Pia ha detto:

    How do I subscribe to this blog? Thanks, Pia

  3. Anita Monga ha detto:

    Thank you, Jay! Wonderful post. I’m now going to get my own cat a mask like the one in your photo.

  4. Anne Nesbet ha detto:

    What a great start for the Silent Cat! This was very informative and entertaining. Thank you, Jay, and think how happy we all will be to return to Pordenone in 2021…..

  5. Malcolm ha detto:

    A silver lining to this mess is that those of us in far-flung parts of the world (Australia in my case) will get to play along even without the time or means for a trip to Pordenone this year.

    Please consider those of us in the +10.00 (and indeed other) timezones when you plan for the online edition of Le Giornate!

  6. Stephen Bottomore ha detto:

    Interesting local study here: [open access till end of June]
    The conclusion reckons that the poor were worst affected. Just like in 2020…

  7. Cecilia Cenciarelli ha detto:

    What a brilliant, interesting, funny and clever post! Thank you Jay

  8. Meredith Brody ha detto:

    Dearest Jay, WHAT an amazing post! Funny, poignant, touching — and SO well-researched!
    I was AMAZED at how much work you put into it. But that’s YOU. Sharing it on FB.

  9. Mindy ha detto:

    I enjoyed this post! Thank you!

  10. Simon Killen ha detto:

    Hi Jay,

    I sit here in Melbourne where cinemas have not really been open since mid-March this year (there was a 2 week window) and I need solace. I am up to my eyeballs in digital fare, it’s just so unsatisfying.

    Your piece offers just a little hope and solace. So thanks. And ditto all above – the quality and volume of the research here is off the dial.


  11. Betsy J Green ha detto:

    I write about history in Santa Barbara, California. In November 1918, at the beginning of the influenza epidemic in November 1918, one of the newspapers here recommended putting a drop of kerosene or bicholoride of mercury on one’s mask!

Comments are closed.