Hugging the Shore

Source: John Updike, Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), p. 843

Text: I went to the movies pretty intensely from about 1938, when I was six years old, to 1954, when I graduated from college. My moviegoing has fallen off since, as my willing suspension of disbelief becomes more and more grudging. Of the many movies I did see in my youth, however, I received an ultimate impression – a moral ideal, we may say – of debonair grace, whether it was Fred Astaire gliding in white tie and tails across a stage of lovelies, or Errol Flynn leading a band of merry men through Sherwood Forest with that little half-smile beneath his mustache, or George Sanders drawling a riposte in his role as the Saint. In my own clumsy way I have tried all my life to be similarly debonair. Also I got an impression of a world where everything works out for the best and even small flaws in character are punished with a hideous rigor. And also, of course, of sex, symbolized by beautiful round-armed women taking baths in champagne or being threatened, in Roman or Biblical contexts, by murder or conversion. When one reads, nowadays, of how much actual sex was being pursued and accomplished by the makers of those movies, their delicately honed symbolizations seem almost hypocrisy – but the message got through, to us adolescents out there, and the eroticization of America is (in large part) a cinematic achievement. The Eros is still there, but I do miss in contemporary movies the debonairness, the what Hemingway called grace under pressure, a certain masculine economy and understatement in the design of those films, now all gone to scatter and rumpus in the fight with television for the lowest denominator.

Comments: John Updike (1932-2009) was an American novelist and critic. This untitled memoir of his cinemagoing was written in August 1979 in reply to a query from George Christy, editor of The Hollywood Reporter Annual, who wanted to know “how Hollywood has influenced you, your work, your artistic vision”.

All Pals Together

Source: Terry Staples, All Pals Together: The Story of Children’s Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), p. 233

Text: Living as kids in rural Wiltshire, we never had a chance to go to a cinema there. But every summer we were packed off to our grandparents in Falkirk, and they sent us to the ABC every Saturday morning. In my memory of what I saw in those years cinema and telly are all mixed up, but I remember the atmosphere of the cinema clearly enough. There seemed to be hundreds and hundreds in the Falkirk ABC, and a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, but I don’t think things were being thrown around. It was lively, but not rowdy. At home in Wiltshire we watched telly on Saturday mornings – Tiswas or Swap Shop – and doing that I felt essentially alone. In Falkirk I was part of a crowd. I’d get dressed for the ABC, but not for the telly. The queuing and the anticipation were much more exciting than just walking across the room to turn on the telly. We bought lollipops or liquorice or toffees at the cinema, or we might have taken our own tablet (a very sweet kind of fudge, peculiar to Scotland). For us, the cinema was full of strangeness, specialness and fun.

Comments: All Pals Together is a history of children’s cinema in the UK. It contains many evocative memoir passages such as this, mostly conducted for the book, though they are uncredited (there is a list of the names of the interviewees given at the front of the book). The unnamed interviewee here was a member of the ABC Minors club, to which many cinemagoing children belonged. Tiswas (ITV, 1974-1982) and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (BBC, 1976-1982) were two highly popular children’s television programmes shown on Saturday mornings. They are generally seen as having played a major part in bringing about the long tradition of children’s cinema in the UK to an end.

Midweek Matinée

Source: Douglas Dunn, ‘Midweek Matinée’ in The Happier Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1972), pp. 35-36

Text:
The lunch hour ends and men go back to work,
Plumbers with long bags, whistling office boys
With soup on their ties and pee on their shoes,
Typists with a sandwich and a warm coke.

The indolent or lucky are going to the cinema.
There too go the itinerant heavy drinkers,
Who take the piss out of bus conductors
Or fall asleep in public reading rooms

Over unlikely learned periodicals.
They come in late, just after closing time
And sprawl in the cheap front seats
Dressed in the raincoats of a thousand wet nights.

Muttering with the lips of the unknown kisses.
Legendary, undeserving drunks, beggarly
And good for pity or laughter, you show
What happens to men who are not good at life,

Where happiness is demanded and lives are lived
For entertainment. I watch you sleep,
Grey humps in an empty cinema. You’re dangerous.
All wish you were no there, cramping the style.

You are very bad, you are worse than civilized,
Untouched by seriousness or possessions,
Treading the taxpayers’ roads, being found
Incapable in public places, always hungry,

Totally unlike what people should be – washed,
Happy, occupied, idle only in snatches
Of paid-for amusement or cynical truancies.
You have cut yourself off from barbers and supermarkets.

I don’t want you here on my page, pink faces
under spit and stubble, as fools or martyrs.
You are not new, you have nothing to sell.
You are walking evictions. You have no rentbooks.

You never answer telephones or give parties.
If you have a sense of humour, I want to know.
You claim the right to be miserable
And I can’t stand what you bring out into the open.

Comments: Douglas Dunn (1942 – ) is a Scottish poet. ‘Midweek Matinée’ comes from his second collection, The Happier Life, and presumably describes a Hull cinema, as he was then resident in the town.

Life on Mars?

Source: David Bowie, ‘Life on Mars?’, from Hunky Dory (1971), lyrics via http://www.lyricfind.com.

Text:
It’s a godawful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair,
But her mummy is yelling, “No!”
And her daddy has told her to go,
But her friend is nowhere to be seen.
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seats with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen,
But the film is sadd’ning bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more.
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors
Fighting in the dance hall.
Oh man!
Look at those cavemen go.
It’s the freakiest show.
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy.
Oh man!
Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show.
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow.
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again.
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns,
But the film is a sadd’ning bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more.
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors
Fighting in the dance hall.
Oh man!
Look at those cavemen go.
It’s the freakiest show.
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy.
Oh man!
Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

Comments: David Bowie (1947-2016) was a British rock musician, artist and actor. ‘Life on Mars?’ is a track on his 1971 album Hunky Dory. It was also released as a single, and is one of his best-known songs. Its meaning has been much debated, but it is structured around a visit (real or metaphorical) to a film show, presumably in a cinema. David Bowie died on 10 January 2016.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Source: Gil Scott-Heron, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, from Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), lyrics via http://www.songlyrics.com/heron-gil/the-revolution-will-not-be-televised-lyrics/, adapted to match original version

Text:
You will not be able to stay home brother
you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
you will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised
the revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Mindale Rivers to eat
hog moss confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner
The revolution will not be televised brother
There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mays
pushing that cart down the block on the dead run
or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32
or the reports from 29 districts
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkins strolling through Watts in a red, black and
green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
for just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so goddamned relevant and
women will not care if Dick finally screwed
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Keys nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Engelbert Humperdinck
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ in your
bedroom, the tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that can cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live

Comments: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was an American poet and soul singer, and a noted influence on rap music. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ was a phrase regularly used by the Black Power movement of the 1960s, before Scott-Heron produced this poem and song for his first album. The original version (given above) is a poem recited over a conga and bongo beat; the 1971 version released as the B-side of a single has a fuller musical accompaniment and small changes to the lyric. The lyric refers to a number of American television series, including The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, Search for Tomorrow, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

Watching War Films With My Dad

Source: Al Murray, Watching War Films With My Dad (London: Random House, 2013), pp. 12-15

Text: War films were a mainstay of British male popular culture when I was growing up in the Seventies. To some the Seventies is all about flares and disco, or Mohican haircuts and punk or, worst of all, ABBA – but to me the Seventies is war films on the telly. I was blissfully ignorant of the idea that the movies were a way of British culture processing what had happened to it during World War Two: the nine-year-old me had little sensitivity (or even an atom of it) to what my grandmother who had lost her husband and brother in the war might make of my enthusiasm for war films. Or my mum, who’d never known her father or uncle. They were made for men, about men, with men in them. That’s certainly how I saw them when I was a boy – though I know I didn’t think about it too hard, either.

[…]

I have a clear memory of being taken to see A Bridge Too Far at the cinema when I was nine. It was a really big deal – we didn’t go to the cinema much, and this was a major dad-and-lad event. I think we went to Bletchley but I could be wrong. It might have been the bright lights of Aylesbury, possibly Luton. These were the days of the B-feature, huge cinemas that you could stay in of an afternoon and watch the whole programme all the way round again. I remember seeing The Eagle Has Landed like this: we’d missed the start so stayed and caught the painfully slow first half of exposition and plotting. That was definitely in Luton. And the B-feature was a short about trains.

Now a Sunday-afternoon teatime staple, A Bridge Too Far tells the story of Operation Market Garden. Every male human of my ilk has seen this star-studded war epic, a tale of British pluck and tea, American guts and glory, immaculate German uniforms and ruthlessness, lofty failure, etc., etc. And when I say star-studded I mean star-studded: Connery, Redford, Hackman, Bogarde, Caine, Hopkins, Caan, Olivier – and loads of other people you need the first names for. And Cliff from Cheers in a cameo that irresistibly draws the eye away from Robert Redford, proving that a spud-faced bloke is better than any handsome git any day. Directed epically in an epic style by Dickie Attenborough, with an epic script by William Goldman, it tells the epic tale of the failed Operation Market Garden at a personal as well as, um, epic level. It has tons of guts, tons of glory and stars vying for screen time. It ends poignantly, asking us to ask: why? And it is, like all historical films, shot through with inaccuracies, riddled like a machine-gunned evil Nazi’s corpse. Some of them proper howlers.

And A Bridge Too Far was a big cinematic event for my father, too; living, as we did, in a village in Buckinghamshire with one bus a week. It also wasn’t dad’s thing much – he has always had a restless energy and concetration that didn’t suit the essential passivity of sitting in a cinema seat.

My Dad was an airborne sapper (engineer) officer from the 1950s through to the 1970s and the battle at Arnhem is probably the central event in British airborne culture and history. He knew many of the men who had been there – he did his National Service in the 1950s and then stayed on in the TA. So how Arnhem was represented on the big screen was a properly big deal. He also knew and still knows the battle backwards. An essential truth, how the men fought at Arnhem – bravely and against increasingly overwhelming odds – is in the film, no doubt about it. But it has to be right. Aged nine, I was a willingly thirsty sponge for all of this. But old habits die hard. When I first broached with my father that I’d be writing this book he muttered about how he’d seen War Horse the night before and how most of that was wrong. So watch a war film with me or my dad, or, worse still, me and my dad – at your peril …

Comments: Al Murray (born 1968) is a British comedian, best known for his ‘The Pub Landlord’ character. His memoir Watching Films With My Dad is predominantly about watching war films on television, and their relationship to true history. The chapter goes on to detail the historical inaccuracies in A Bridge Too Far and several other war films of its period.

For the Children

Source: Extracts from D.J. Enright, ‘For the Children’, in Fields of Vision: Essays on Literature, Language, and Television (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 72-76 (adapted from original essay ‘Quick Brown Fox – D.J. Enright writes in praise of Basil Brush’, Listener, 15 March 1973)

Text: [I]n the early 1970s I wrote a piece on a children’s programme for the Listener. […] [T]elevision was new to me. After many years abroad, living in countries where either there wasn’t any television or else it had just been introduced as a prime tool in the processes of ‘human engineering’ and therefore wasn’t taken very seriously. I had returned to this country – England – where television was both firmly established and basically free.

Now that I have learned to look on television not as in the hour of thoughtless middle age, would I enjoy The Basil Brush Show as much as I did then, when the set seemed apparelled in celestial light and its buttons and its knobs were still a mystery to me?

[…]

The pun is the essence of poetry, or its microcosm. The scorn frequently professed for punning is merely a sign of the higher illiteracy, in all likelihood linked with the taste for ponderous formulations and the concomitant suspicion that punning is a sort of cheating. Punning is at or very near the heart of a television programme in which the visual is combined with the verbal in a partnership of equality, something rarely come across – a children’s programme, nominally, and truly.

The Basil Brush Show is a team effort, and credit is due to the producer, Robin Nash, to the writer (of course), George Martin, and to the cameramen. It is also due to Derek Fowlds, most graceful of feed-men, who really seems to enjoy the proceedings and behaves as if Basil’s interventions were unexpected (perhaps some of them are). thus providing a sense of spontaneity to counteract the obviously drilled and sometimes less than gripping insets or side-shows. The feeling conveyed of a continuous relationship between Basil and Mr Derek, an intimacy still open to new discoveries, must have done much towards the show’s sustained popularity. But the lion’s share of thanks must go to Ivan Owen the prime mover, or (as Basil puts it when he has let his brush down) ‘my man, who speaks for me and generally lends a hand.’ Though outwardly simple and uncomplicated, Basil is an expressive creature, intelligent, nervous, and cunning. Just as onnagata, the Japanese actors specializing in female roles in the Kabuki theatre, contrive to be more like women than women are, so Basil is more like – no, not exactly a fox – more like a living being than many living beings are.

[…]

The show follows its own conventions closely. The two principal characters are discovered in the act of welcoming a duly appreciative audience of children. Then comes a passage of chit-chat, perhaps making play with one of Basil’s many relatives (naturally there is a Herr Brush in Hamburg), or Basil scores a point or two off his colleague: Mr Derek is getting to be almost as well known as his jokes. Now and then Basil falls into a pensive mood, and from the gravity of his demeanour one would suppose him musing on the wickedness of blood sports or the transient nature of jelly babies. On one such occasion he had simply misheard a reference to Khartoum, and confided to the audience how fond he was of cartoons, Yogi Bear in especial.

A guest appearance follows, a marionette theatre (a nice touch) or a magician, the Little Angels of Korea, a school choir or a pop group. This yields to the main course: a playlet, often topical in flavour, minimal in plot and with guest help as applicable. Basil and Mr Derek set about buying a house; they get into trouble at the Customs; they rehearse Romeo and Juliet (‘It’s a bit of a drag!’ complains Basil, dressed as Juliet); or they find themselves on holiday at the North Pole instead of Nostra Palma, that sunny spot on the Med. The Christmas edition featured a party given by Mr Charles Dickens for some of his more congenial characters. Music intervenes, mercifully brief, and the show concludes with the serial reading by Mr Derek of a book, latterly The Adventures of Basil the Buccaneer. The story is skeletal and the style unembellished, but Mr Derek is helped out or hindered fruitfully by Basil, who by turns is absorbed in the tale, at cross purposes with the text, and engaged elsewhere, perhaps with his pet mouse or a bag of peanuts.

[…]

Lavatorial humour of a traditional and innocuous kind (even Freudianly relieving, maybe) crops up regularly. Mr Derek assures Basil that babies’ high chairs always have a hole in them: ‘that’s the whole idea.’ ‘I think it’s a potty idea,’ says Basil. And after some talk of Nell Gwyn, when Basil hears that Charles II spent twenty-five years on the throne, he comments, ‘All those oranges, I suppose.’ The subject of underwear attracts repeated variations: ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist/combs in a commotion/undies in an uproar/tights in a tangle.’ The audience identify with Basil, he is one of them, just a bit bolder and more privileged, and delight to see him putting down an adult, even one so amiable as Mr Derek. For all the excursions into Frankie Howerd country, Basil is unfailingly shocked if he thinks Mr Derek has used a naughty word – ‘Unmentionables must not be mentioned- – and his extreme delicacy obliges him to spell out the title of a children’s book, ‘Winnie the … P.O.O.H.’ ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ being one of his bugbears. A riskier joke occurred when he wished he could act in the theatre and Mr Derek told him, ‘You’re no Thespian’; he replied, ‘You don’t have to be like that to be an actor, do you?’ The children laughed like mad, presumably at the expression of shock and concern written all over his body. Like other good artists, Basil Brush can give pleasure at various levels simultaneously.

This being a serious occasion, we should attend to the profounder aspects of Brush’s art and thought. I am not thinking so much of his dealings with Sir Gerald Nabarro, Lord Longford, Mr Edward Heath, traffic wardens, or the Trade Description Act (‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice!’), nor of his alertness to pressing problems like gazumping and traffic congestion (‘Oxford Street, yes. That’s where you sit in your car and watch the pedestrians whizzing past’). But disciples of Zen could meditate profitably on Basil’s koan in a letter to his cousin Cyril: ‘I am writing this letter slowly, because I know you can read very fast.’ The piece of advice about not mentioning the unmentionable should be pondered by writers, and also Basil’s answer when asked what style he paints in, traditional, primitive, surrealistic, or impressionistic. ‘Mine is more the … contemptuous style.’

[…]

He once confided that he would like to be ‘an executive … running a factory or something … about fifty quid a week’. It was pointed out that he had no experience and therefore coildn;t expect a highly paid position. The pundits might care to study his rejoinder. ‘And why not? The job’s a lot harder if you do’t know anything about it!’

‘Boom, boom!’ (bangs head against Derek) (laugh) …

Comments: Dennis Joseph Enright (1920-2002) was a British poet, novelist, essayist and academic. The puppet fox character Basil Brush first appeared on BBC television in 1962 and was given his own show in 1968, which ran until 1980. It was recorded in a theatre in front of an audience of children. A different Basil Brush Show was broadcast by the BBC 2002-2007. ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ is a reference to Mary Whitehouse, a campaigner against sex and violence on television.

Leaving the Movie Theater

Source: Extract from Roland Barthes (trans. Richard Howard), ‘Leaving the Movie Theater’, in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), pp. 345-346

Text: There is something to confess: your speaker likes to leave a movie theater. Back out on the more or less empty brightly lit sidewalk (it is invariably at night, and during the week, that he goes), and heading uncertainly for some café or other, he walks in silence (he doesn’t like discussing the film he’s just seen), a little dazed, wrapped up in himself, feeling the cold – he’s sleepy, that’s what he’s thinking, his body has become something sopitive, soft, limp, and he feels a little disjointed, even (for a moral organization, relief comes only from this quarter) irresponsible. In other words, obviously, he’s coming out of hypnosis. And hypnosis (an old psychoanalytic device – one that psychoanalysis these days seems to treat quite condescendingly) means only one thing to him; the most venerable of powers: healing. And he thinks of music: isn’t there such a thing as hypnotic music? The castrato Farinelli, whose messa di voce was “as incredible for its duration as for its emission,” relieved the morbid melancholy of Philip V by singing him the same aria every night for fourteen years.

This is often how he leaves a movie theater. How does he go in? Except for the – increasingly frequent – case of a specific cultural quest (a selected, sought for, desired film, object of a veritable preliminary alert), he goes to movies as a response to idleness, leisure, free time. It’s as if, even before he went into the theater, the classic conditions of hypnosis were in force: vacancy, want of occupation, lethargy; it’s not in front of the film and because of the film that he dreams off – it’s without knowing it, even before he becomes a spectator. There is a “cinema situation,” and this situation is pre-hypnotic. According to a true metonymy, the darkness of the theater is prefigured by the “twilight reverie” (a prerequisite for hypnosis, according to Breuer-Freud) which precedes it and leads him from street to street, from poster to poster, finally burying himself in a dim, anonymous, indifferent cube where that festival of affects known as a film will be presented.

What does the “darkness” of cinema mean? (Whenever I hear the word cinema, I can’t help thinking hall, rather than film.) Not only is the dark the very substance of reverie (in the pre-hypnoid meaning of the term); it is also the “color” of a diffused eroticism; by its human condensation, by its absence of worldliness (contrary to the cultural appearance that has to be put in at any “legitimate theater”), by the relaxation of postures (how many members of the cinema audience slide down into their seats as if into a bed, coats or feet thrown over the row in front!), the movie house (ordinary model) is a site of availability (even more than cruising), the inoccupation of bodies, which best defines modern eroticism – not that of advertising or strip-tease, but that of the big city. It is in this urban dark that the body’s freedom is generated; this invisible work of possible affects emerges from a veritable cinematographic cocoon; the movie spectator could easily appropriate the silkworm’s motto: Inclusum labor illustrat; it is because I am enclosed that I work and glow with all my desire.

In this darkness of the cinema (anonymous, populated, numerous – oh, the boredom, the frustration, of so-called private showings!) lies the very fascination of the film (any film). Think of the contrary experience: on television, where films are also shown, no fascination; here darkness is erased, anonymity repressed; space is familiar, articulated (by furniture, known objects), tamed: the eroticism – no, to put it better, to get across the particular kind of lightness, of unfulfillment we mean: the eroticization of the place is foreclosed: television doomed us to the Family, whose household instrument it has become – what the hearth used to be, flanked by its communal kettle …

Comments: Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French literary theorist and semiotician. This text, of which the first part is reproduced here, comes from a posthumously-published collection of essays written between 1967 and 1980.

Whose Laetie are You?

Source: Extracts from Rrekgetsi Chimeloane, Whose Laetie are You? My Sowetan Boyhood (Capetown: Kwela Books, 2001), pp. 31-34

Text: The day I saw my first Bruce Lee movie – Enter the Dragon – I understood why all the boys were running around with two bits of stick loosely bound together at one end by a chain. Kung fu hit the township in a big way and almost all the boys around my age were shrieking and screeching out like Bruce Lee: now me included.

[…]

I especially admired the boys who were going for karate and kung fu lessons all over the township. Every time I asked where I could go and sign up for classes, the other boys would look at me and say, “You think karate is for sissies like you? You wouldn’t even last a minute there.” There were boys who walked all the way to the Moravian Hall in Zone Five, about half an hour’s walk through different zones and territories, for lessons, and I wished I was among them. Then I would never again be afraid of any threats or obstacles.

But in the end I stayed with the movies and admired the art of acting. The two genres that had the most impact on me, not surprisingly, were martial arts and cowboys and Indians films. With the martial arts movies, not forgetting the special effects of actors performing the impossible, of great significance to me was the idea of seeing someone fighting bare-handed and defeating a bunch of people armed with a multitude of weapons. To me this was the answer to all the bullies who constantly threatened to beat me up with one weapon or another. The Hong Kong cinema presented me, in my mind anyway, with the possibility of turning myself from victim into victor. It showed me that you did not have to be big and strong to defeat your enemies, you just had to be quick and smart. Movies like Lady Whirlwind, with Angela Mao kicking all the bad guys from one end of the screen to the other, showed me that it did not even matter whether you were a boy or a girl.

[…]

Naturally enough, as young boys we all started adopting role models from the big screen. However, when one talks of the big screen, people should not think that we had a conventional cinema. It was a township school hall a makeshift movie house that existed on weekends only. What Bra Hohle did was to cover the windows with black plastic and throw a white sheet over the blackboard. That was our movie house, and since we had no other in the vicinity, that was fine with us.

Our first and foremost role model was Bruce Lee. As little boys we went crazy over Bruce Lee. What was strange, though, was that we could never remember even one of the names of the characters he played, To us, he was always simply known as Bruce Lee. Most of the other leading actors in the martial arts movies we gave names as we saw fit. We were around Sub B and Standard One and unable to remember or even properly pronounce their names, so we gave them names that seemed to suit their particular styles.

Take John Liu, for instance – due to his powerful kicking style, we called him Mr Ma-Kick. For some reason he was the only one ever afforded the respect of being called “Mr”. I knew for a face, because of the relatives we had living in the area, that in the Mabopane/Garankuwa district, north of Pretoria, he was called Chappies, after the bubble gum. Don’t ask me why. But to the kids in those areas the name somehow must have made sense.

Those we never gave names to were identified by their association with other actors and characters from the movies. It went something like, “He is the guy who was a friend of the starring who starred in the movie Eighteen Bronze Men.” By “staring” we meant the leading actor.

[…]

Another thing: we could not read the English subtitles at that age and were, anyway, not fast enough to follow the dialogue, but afterwards we could tell you exactly what the movie was about and what each character had said to each other.

What amazed me most, still amazes me as I look back, was how a movie you had missed was related back to you with intricacy, flair and style by those who had seen it. You would be told exactly who said what to whom and would get a full demonstration of the action. A second-hand film narration went something like this:

“After the starring fought with the other man … the one who was the villain in that other bioscope I told you about …”

“Which bioscope was that?”

“The one I told you about last time, man … about that man whose dark green punch sounded like a gun from the cowboy bioscope.”

“Is it the same one who rode on a reed on top of the water and always said ‘Buddha bless you’ in the other movie we saw, when they showed us a double feature and the film burnt halfway, and we had to come back the next day and watched that other movie about Shaolin?”

“Yes, but this time he did not have that green fist. In this bioscope he could crush your skull with his bare hands …”

“Yes, I remember that one …”

You really had to know your stuff about martial arts movies to follow a narration like that, or perhaps you just had to be as young, naïve and easily excited as we were about action movies and the big screen.

Comments: Rrekgetsi Chimeloane (born 1964) is a South African writer and novelist, whose memoirs describes his childhood in the South African township of Soweto under apartheid rule. ‘Laetie’ means little brother. ‘Bioscope’ is the South African term for cinema. The films mentioned are Enter the Dragon (Hong Kong 1973), Lady Whirlwind (aka Deep Thrust) (Hong Kong 1972) and The 18 Bronzemen (Hong Kong 1978).

We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.