Out of This Nettle, Danger…
I had a cinema experience a couple of months ago that re-affirmed my faith in the magic of film. Inez had taken the kids shopping and I found myself with a few hours to kill.
It was a cold, wet Tuesday afternoon. I was at a loose end but I wasn’t in the mood for a drink.
Feeding the ducks in St.James Park, (an activity I’m inordinately fond of: perhaps I’m a moron), was called on account of the weather. There was only one option. An afternoon matinee. It didn’t matter what was showing. I just fancied sitting in the anonymous dark while lights flickered in front of me and I could feel the sound.
(What’s that, Mowbray? Climb down a tunnel and wait for a tube train? I’ll keep that in mind for next time.)
I remembered a cinema on the corner of the Kings Road and something street…the Ritz? The Carlton? The Charles? No matter. The poster outside showed a grotesquely muscled man wearing the de rigeur ripped t-shirt and clutching a fearsome looking weapon that never existed outside of a film set: a combination howitzer/RPG/.50 cal machine-gun/flame-thrower/toaster-oven. Perfect. Brainless ultra-violence. In I went.
After settling into my seat I inventoried the damp afternoon crowd…the usual suspects…tarts and their managers come in out of the rain, ditto crack dealers, bag snatchers, dips and shoplifters. Lots of senior citizens, students and dole bandits taking advantage of the reduced ticket price. My people.
The lights went down and away we went as the cinematic bobbin began to weave its celluloid dream. To describe the plot as simple is to give it more complexity than it possessed. It made Mother Goose look like The Critique of Pure Reason.
In a miniscule nutshell, a crisis was afoot, south of the border, down Mexico way. It involved, in decending order of relevance, a nuclear detonator, bent CIA spooks, furiously moustachioed narco barons and a cast of assorted cyphers, unamed in the credits as though they had been expunged when shooting finished.
Our hero, Jack, is a retired something-or-other, never specified due to its ultra-secret nature, who is living the bucolic dream of horses, meadows, trees and such-like faff that leaves hard-core Londoners like me cold. As Jack performs some obscure rustic rite, bringing in the sheaves or mangling his wurzels, a sinister black helicopter appears over the trees.
This is never a harbinger of glad tidings. It lands on Jack’s front lawn and out jumps Hank, Jack’s former boss. You’ve seen this a thousand times–the back and forth–I’m retired; we need you, blahblahblah; and we know how it’s going to end although there is one puzzling aside. Hank says: how are Jenny and the kids?
Jack looks at the helicopter, his eyes clouded with erm…pain or possibly indigestion. Perhaps the helicopter landed on Jenny and the kids and for all their relevance to the narrative, it might just as well have.
After hell’s own amount of twitching cheek muscles, forearms corded with tension and similiar indications of butch emotional turmoil, Jack departs in Hank’s whirlybird, leaving Jenny and the kids pressed into the lawn like divots on a golf course…maybe.
We were starting to get a little restive. So far, so banal, but our Stinkeroo detectors hadn’t yet picked up the unmistakable aroma of ordure on a colossal scale–and that, let’s face it, was what we were there for.
A quick montage of the kind Don Siegel began his career making, only made by piece-workers in a Manila sweat-shop, now unfolded. A plane superimposed over a map. Mountains. Waves. An apple orchard that must have fallen into the developing fluid by mistake. A plane landing.
Jack comes down the plane’s steps, flexing his dorsal fins nineteen to the dozen. Waiting is the local CIA station chief, another old comrade. “Jack”.. “Bill”..they flash the fangs, revealing teeth of weapons-grade whiteness. One understands why the locals are all wearing sunglasses or dozing under their sombreros.
Suddenly, our merde-detectors were quivering like nervous miniature poodles. Bill isn’t alone.
He’s accompanied by a woman and she is a piece of work. She teeters on 6-inch heels. Stuffed into jogging shorts that have clearly shrunk in the wash (she’ll catch her death, for God’s sake; she’s practically naked) and heaving a chest of daunting dimensions at Jack, she puckers and unpuckers lips that have been inflated with a bicycle pump. Jack gives her the manly eye-crinkle and muscle-twitch routine, while she flutters the two dead tarantulas that have been glued to her eye-lids.
“Jack,” says Bill, ” this is Lisa. She’s a nuclear physicist.”
Jackpot…Bingo…we have a winner. The entire cinema collapses in helpless laughter. I turn to neighbours all around me and they do the same. We exchange happy smiles. The cinema resounds with catcalls and whistles. Soon, the smell of cannabis pervades the theatre ; (the two teenage staff wisely stay well out of sight). Someone passes a bottle of Myers rum along the row. I’m handed a large spliff.
The soundtrack is now forgotten.
We’re supplying the soundtrack, the dialogue , the effects. The audience is happy. A good time is had by all. A rotten film has been transformed by people power into something cherishable, warm and human.
Afterwards, the audience streams out into a now dark street. Everybody nods and smiles at one another, people give one another the thumbs up, like a crowd whose team has won. It has. Our team won. Us.