A Hole in the Screen

Source: Daniel Moyano, ‘A Hole in the Screen’, in Ian Breakwell and Paul Hammond (eds.), Seeing in the Dark: A Compendium of Cinemagoing (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1990), p. 39

Text: In the 1940s we lived alongside a cinema, in a small town lost in the southern pampas of Argentina. The cinema was immediately adjacent to our house, so that every night we could hear the film and imagine what was on the screen. All of us that is except uncle Eugenio, who had never been to see a film, saying that it was all a fraud, all illusion, and that when the lights went up and all the characters disappeared the screen was no more than a rag. When he saw us coming back from the movies every Sunday, discussing the film, he would say, ‘I don’t believe it. I never would have credited that people would talk about these illusions as if they’d really taken place.’ He regarded us as stupid and ignorant. If the film had a sad ending aunt Delicia, who always took anybody’s love affair for her own, would return home crying. ‘Poor thing,’ she’d sob, thinking about the heroine, and she’d get undressed so that she could carry on crying in bed. Uncle Eugenio would get mad with frustration, utterly unable to find the words to refute the fact that illusions might provoke real tears.

We convinced him in Holy Week. They were showing a film, The Life of Christ, and though this was clearly an illusion as well it had taken place in real life, and uncle was very much a believer. He went in acting very worried, looking at people as though ashamed that they were seeing him in a cinema. But five minutes into the film he was as possessed as he was when he was down at the football stadium watching a match.

When uncle Eugenio saw Judas striking a bargain with the Romans he cried out ‘I can’t stand this!’ and ran out of the movie theatre. He appeared with his shotgun just at the moment when Judas was handing over his master. And so as not to hurt anyone inadvertently uncle Eugenio waited until the apostle was some way from the rest of the crowd.

The hole in the screen coincided with screams and the lights going up and the immediate disappearance of the images. In the midst of the smell and dust of his incredible deed, and the smoke from the gunshot, it was uncle Eugenio who seemed like an illusion.

Comment: Daniel Moyano (1930-1992) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer. Seeing in the Dark is a collection of commissioned reminiscences of cinemagoing.

The Crowd at the Cinematograph

Source: Jules Romains, ‘La Foule au cinématographe’ [The Crowd at the Cinematograph], Les Puissances de Paris (Paris: Eugène Figuière, 1911), pp. 118-120, reproduced and translated in Richard Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism: a History/Anthology, 1907-1939 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), vol. 1, p. 53

Text: The lights go down. A cry escapes from the crowd and immediately is taken back. It begins much like the great clamour which dying throngs have wailed into the night down through the centuries. These people are creatures who love the daylight. Their kind emerged from the compressing and transforming power of light. But the night of the cinema is far from long. They scarcely have time to suspect their death and the happiness of imperishable feeling; they are like swimmers who plunge their heads underwater and then keep their eyelids and lips and teeth tightly clenched, in order to experience a discomfort, an oppression, a suffocation, and then suddenly burst back through the surface into life.

A bright circle abruptly illuminates the far wall. The whole room seems to sigh, “Ah!” And though the surprise simulated by this cry, they welcome the resurrection they were certain would come.

The group dream now begins. They sleep; their eyes no longer see. They are no longer conscious of their bodies. Instead there are only passing images, a gliding and rustling of dreams. They no longer realize they are in a large square chamber, immobile, in parallel roads as in a ploughed field. A haze of visions which resemble life hovers before them. Things have a different appearance than they do outside. They have changed color, outline, and gesture. Creatures seem gigantic and move as if in a hurry. What controls their rhythm is not ordinary time, which occupies most people when they are not dreaming. Here they are quick, capricious, drunken, constantly skipping about; sometimes they attempt enormous leaps when least expected. Their actions have no logical order. Causes produced strange effects like golden eggs.

The crowd is a being that remembers and imagines, a group that evokes other groups much like itself – audiences, processions, parades, mobs in the street, armies. They imagine that it is they who are experiencing all these adventures, all these catastrophes, all these celebrations. And while their bodies slumber and their muscles relax and slacken in the depths of their seats, they pursue burglars across the rooftops, cheer the passing of a king from the East, or march into a wide plain with bayonets or bugles.

Comment: Jules Romains (1885-1972) was a French poet, novelist and creator of the Unanimism literary movement. He later wrote a ‘cinema-novel’ that attempted to combine the two artforms, Donogoo-Tonka ou Les Miracles de la science: conte cinématographique (1920). The impression of the projected image as a circle comes from knowledge of magic lantern practice, and is a mistake reproduced in several illustrations of film shows from this period.