Friday, June 19, 2015

Unless It’s a Lioness

   I’ve always loved going to the movies.
   Movies have constantly been a part of my life. 
   Never more so than when I was a lad of fourteen newly arrived in New Zealand. I was a tall, gawky kind of kid who couldn't seem to fit in, especially at school. The long week would drag by, waiting for Friday night when I could take the #10 bus from Avondale into downtown Auckland and see a movie.
   “Go to the cinema and see a film,” as New Zealanders said.
   My favorite theater was the giant Civic Theatre on the corner of Queen and Wellesley Streets. It was easily the biggest cinema in Auckland, holding over two-and-a-half-thousand people. Built in the 1920s as a spectacular cinema palace, it was extremely ornate with deluxe red and gold plush decor. Even the ruby colored carpet under your feet felt rich and luxurious. Crystal chandeliers hung gracefully here and there. Within the vast auditorium the stars of the heavens, rendered in tiny electric lights, twinkled high above in the deep blue ceiling, while colossal Romanesque statues of crouching lions with menacing lighted eyes proudly flanked the stage. Rows of red velvet seats stretched as far as the eye could see. Long, curving rows that stacked up and up and up, so close to the deep blue dome of heaven that they nearly touched the electric stars.  
   I used to arrive early and luxuriate in these otherworldly surroundings while I watched the other patrons find their seats. 
   New Zealanders were still strange creatures whose language and customs I had yet to learn. 
   Before each show ‘God Save the Queen’ was played, during which everyone arose and stood to respectful attention. As the anthem ended and all were reseated, an imitation night befell us as the huge room slowly darkened. The stars above and the eyes of the lions below would fade out as the houselights slowly dimmed. The heavy red velvet curtains parted, revealing the pure white, virginal screen. 
   A wonderful moment of anticipation and silence followed. 
   Then came the fantastic flickering shadows that would transport me to another world.
   I went to the movies as often as I could, usually on a Friday night when the shops on Queen Street stayed open late. I always went by myself. Only having schoolboy means at my disposal, I couldn’t afford it any more often than that. To me, money spent at the movies was never wasted. Like books, there wasn’t really a bad one, just some that weren’t very good. Movies opened a window to the past, grappled with the present and pondered the future. They were endlessly fascinating. They were alive with hope. They were art. They were humor and beauty and magic and funny and sad and, well, I’m sure you get my point. 
   Movies were important to me. They still are. 
   Maybe they are to you, too.  
   Back in those days (I’m speaking of 1968) they often showed a newsreel and a cartoon before the main attraction. 
   The newsreels were a mix of local and international items. Short pieces meant to inform and entertain. A baby born to someone famous, the happy couple with swaddled infant standing outside their home waving to the cameras. A government official opening a stretch of highway somewhere in the South Island. Or perhaps the splashdown of a Nasa space mission, American astronauts grinning as their shiny helmets are removed.
  Then came the cartoon. Ha! Ha! I love cartoons! And it’s fun to laugh with an audience! Ho! Ho! Who wouldn’t laugh, when that wily old coyote is proved a fool yet again by the speedy little roadrunner? He! He! The look of utter failure on the coyote’s face as a 10-ton safe falls from a great height upon his head!
   I sat in the dark and laughed with strangers, and for a moment I forgot I was lonely at school and unhappy at home.
   At the Interval, as the Intermission was called, young attendants would lope down the aisle and begin to sell ice-cream cones from trays held at their waists by straps round their necks. These ice-cream cones had been previously frozen solid, so that by now they were as hard as a rock. One needed the entire feature to lap their way through one. These ice-cream cones came in Vanilla only, by the way, although theoretically there was the option of chocolate dipped, which they ran out of immediately so it always came back to Vanilla only.
   Then the houselights slowly dimmed.
   The feature was about to start.  
   Ah, the movies I saw at the beautiful Civic Theatre! 
   That was many years ago.
   I am now a writer and a blogger. 
   One of the things I’ve learned as a writer is that each story one writes requires a set of rules. This is to anchor the story in some sort of reality, help insure a smooth flow and avoid reader confusion. 
   Ironically enough, this is true of the movies too.
   One of the rules I made for my blogging was that I wouldn’t bore my readers, if I collected any, with talk about specific movies and what I thought of them or what they meant to me. We all have our opinions on movies, just check your Facebook timeline for proof of that. And movie critics of one kind or another are not in short supply in this world, either. They’re probably pretty numerous in the next world too, I should think. 
   Regarding movies, there’s nothing new for me to add. 
   So I don’t see any point in my discussing movies, unless I actually worked on one (which I will have occasion to do when I write now and then of my career as a film animator) or something of interest happened while I was watching one. 
   Like the time at the Amanzimtoti Star drive-in theater near Durban, South Africa in 1976.
   I’d been living in South Africa a few years by then with Suzie, my second wife. She was from South Africa, although we had met in New Zealand. Her mum and stepfather and two grown brothers with girlfriends lived in the Durban area and we all used to gather to eat Jean’s (Suzie’s mum) curried chicken and go to the “bioscope,” as South Africans call the movies, or the cinema, or the flicks or whatever you call it wherever you are.
   Anyway, one night at the drive-in, as dusk was falling, a lioness and her cubs calmly walked through the playground area, dragging what was left of a zebra carcass behind them in the red African dust. It was just before showtime and children where frolicking in the playground beneath the giant outdoor screen. Ha! Ha!! You should have seen the children scatter! Ho! Ho! You should have heard the shrieking of the parents as they collected their offspring! He! He! You should have smelled the curried chicken as it flew from the paper plates of Suzie’s excited brothers!
   Uh-oh! I should have avoided spilling my beer in my lap!
   Only mildly disturbed by all the excitement they’d aroused, the lioness trotted off with her cubs into the gathering darkness of the nearby veld, not forgetting to take the dusty zebra carcass with them. 
   “Ach man, no problem,” as they say in South Africa. 
   The movie started right on time.
   We saw a double feature that night. 
   Jaws and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
   I couldn’t swim in the ocean, nor don a scarlet red silk corset, for weeks afterwards.
   So you see there are good reasons for these little writer’s rules. 

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