Source: J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood: scenes from provincial life (London: Secker & Warburg, 1997), p. 45

Text: Though he goes to the bioscope every Saturday afternoon, films no longer have the hold on him that they had in Cape Town, when he had nightmares of being crushed under elevators or falling from cliffs like the heroes in the serials. He does not see why Errol Flynn, who looks just the same whether he is playing Robin Hood or Ali Baba, is supposed to be a great actor. He is tired of horseback chases, which are all the same. The Three Stooges have begun to seem silly. And it is hard to believe in Tarzan when the man who plays Tarzan keeps changing. The only film that makes an impression on him is one in which Ingrid Bergman gets into a train carriage that is infected with smallpox and dies. Ingrid Bergman is his Mother’s favourite actress. Is life like that: could his mother die at any moment just by failing to read a sign in a window?

Comments: John Maxwell Coetzee (born 1940) is a South African novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Boyhood is a fictionalised memoir of his childhood. At the time recalled here (late 1940s) his family was living in Worcester, Western Cape, South Africa. Bioscope is the term used for a cinema in South Africa. Ingrid Bergman does not die of smallpox in any of her films – possibly the film recollected may be Letter from an Unknown Woman (USA 1948), starring Joan Fontaine (who dies of typhus). My thanks to Lucie Dee for suggesting this.


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