A film in the catacinema
The vault went dark and stayed that way. A pitch dark, such that neither nose nor hands were visible. There were, like every time, a few echoing giggles, a couple whoops to hear the sound bounce off the dome. The dark lasted and some were bored. A man called out get on with it, already! to the laughter of others, and another said at least give us a little popcorn, for chrissakes!
The dark lasted without reply. By degrees, however, it became clear that this was not the same dark that had been there before. It was a queer darkness. Unright somehow, as though it was not the dark of lights that were not switched on but of an illumination obscured and crowded out. A blotted light. The audience stopped moving, stopped murmuring. And the dark began to rustle, because it was not something missing but shadows, too many of them, prickly, and shifting.
That dark began to open. Cracks of shaky beams slipped through the saturation, light that was also not right, because it was not yellow or white or even grey, but rather stained with that dark, as a film of dirt smeared over it, and more than that, the forms, the wrong jags and teeth, or hair it was, queer, this bright negative space between things that were not daubs of emulsion. These were rare rays that snuck through a whole swarm of material, a cloud which did not agree with itself and jostled for space and pressed up closest to the casting source they blotted out. The light brightened and now it did not only appear where there was a brief passage between the things in the way but through them. Their density shone, a blurry glow brown and carmine onto a ceiling painted piebald.
In the stillness of a room even so large as to not be a room, there was a buzz to be heard. The ceiling was in a frenzy. The shapes shifted, not their shapes as such, not into different ones, but their distance, their scale, and the wrongness did not subside, no it grew along with the patches of guttering strobe, and now it could be seen that however awfully muddled, there was coherence of motion. The shadows circled, fuzzy past each other, bulbous and spindly these shadows cast out between veins as through foliage. Unhurried they swept and roamed, behemoths sprawled 90 feet wide across the ceiling and those below, lumbering they were in a drowsy drift, some passing through and by and into each other in their wheeling, some colliding and diverting course as pool balls do yet hairy, tens of thousands of minute bristles sweeping over the audience and thick as their thighs, thicker. Frail, barely spiked attachments all a-tremor, a clamor in the air. Over it all were faintly cast the red glares, compoundly radiated, weak sprays of dotting crimson. Segmented collisions, and drooping, and wetness, that hung and dropped wet from the shadows in crystal slicks.
The flies did not stop flying. Drowsy dazed from the lamp’s growing heat, they traced a further widening orbit, shadows shrinking on the catacinema’s walls until they were each no more than twenty feet across. Gradually they assumed an ever more ordered circling around the burning sphere, casting their spiky spots in even scatter across each and every surface. A disco ball glittering in negative.
A soft sigh hushed from the lantern and the actuated blades moved once, twice, seven times, seven clicks, flawless quick, slitting the air like shears and dissecting the flies still in motion so that what was a split moment before a discrete thing was now a thing and its insides, spread like butter across a span of air such that all their guts and wee organs and muck smeared the space before the light to trace a wall of innard and fly, like a pink and brown lampshade, juggled and kept aloft by the fourth cut, the fifth cut parsed, cleared off larger chunks by the sixth, made glazier free of bubble by the seventh, and such it was that through this haze of matter, the film announced its title sequence with nary a word in sight.
It rained in the cinema. Perhaps the Adriatic was seeking entrance from above. But all the same it rained and that rain, spitting on the projector’s hot iron, its cooling razors, its gears and teeth, traps and wheels, its blazing sun, its stocky oven, that rain hissed into fog and thickened the air. It joined and tussled and admixed the richly fatty smoke, that which smelled of bone and coal and rock and pig, it rose as well from the house-fed fire piping out through small vents and all combined to hotbox the cinema, getting up and curled in the lungs of the audience it clouded out the last ruby splatters of fly clotted cussed to and crisping slow on the bulb, out the few errant flies whose straying flight and chance collision excused them from transmuting into a #29 gel for the light, all this was lost in the stoney and particular waft of fog & smoke until the catacinema was but one substance, one bank, one soup of half-light lost.
Time moves slowly beneath an ocean, and it could not be said for how long their eyes wandered in the smog. This being an important point in the narrative, it seemed best to not rush things.
Some time later, the air was not as thick as it once had been.
Shadows could once again be discerned, and they were not still. But they were different than the hairy and smearing shadows, somethings were clucking and shuffling inside the lantern, and what they threw out had shapes that often could be recognized, all too well even if how they related to one another and what they did to one another could not so easily be spoken. As the walls themselves bent and curved, to render the shapes impossibly looming, receding past the domed screen, and as the shadows fell sometimes on the walls, sometimes on the remaindered clouds, sometimes – all times – on those faces and bodies below, as no two people can watch the same film from the same seated position, even if they watch it while all up in each others holes and crevices, as such no one saw the same film, just as no one in the history of seeing has ever watched the same film.
And so some would contest that it was based on Plato’s allegory of the cave, although hackily so, while a few Russians insisted it was a derivation of a Baba Yaga tale for the modern age. Others claimed it bore strong resemblances to Die Hard 14: A Throw of the Die Never Abolishes the Hard, and others asked why the flock of Roadrunners was reaming the Coyote, and one woman said she had never seen such a “Beckettian” performance of Twelfth Night.
But taken on the aggregate, it was, after all, a simple enough film: a sort of slapstick structuralist romantic comedy with fabular splatter elements and no main characters whatsoever. Merely a flood of snakes. Wounds circulating. A terrible war. Severed breasts. A bad date. Marrow. The fanged man eats the rat again and again. Sneezing. Permafrost in the desert. It being sub-zero enough the pie in the face was not especially funny. A terrible war. Why is this Parrot like a drunken Man? Because he is often in the Cage.
There was a plot to have been followed, but it was busy chattering with foxes. Meanwhile a boy loved his unicorn, and architecture kept getting in the way of their adventure. The ocean froze. Montage was exciting and vacant. The movement of history was expressed through the three-way cross-cutting of pin stripes, the melting of glaciers, and a dog trying to ride a skateboard. Many workers went on strike and struck out toward the sea. Why should we stay at the factory gates, they sang, if we do not go inside. The latter occurred in a flashback.
Two planets met in the darkness with nothing to say to one another. Moss caught fire. It looked like shit.
Skirt-dancing, Gymnastics, Boxing, Steeple-Chasing, Flat-Racing, Haute-Ecole Stepping Horses, Military Riding, Leaping Dogs, Camels, Elephants in motion, Indians on the war path, etc.
A density of shadow hinted, at times, at certain men-like objects, dangling from ropes or vines, smashing cities, huffing ether, pissing their satyr legs. But at more times, it wandered through the alphabet as through a sequential forest, which lead part of the audience to conclude that it was, in fact, a kid’s film and a damn good one.
Women and bears joined forces and fought Renaissance ornament as the sun went down at noon. The wounds kept circulating or was it that they remained perfectly still while the room itself rotates around them all. No matter, it still could not decide whether to reflect or to eat the light.
There were tingling things under the seats. They came apart in the hands like thorns.
Who would hang a guillotine at neck height in a dark hallway? There’s no place for such a device in comedy. Aw who are we fooling
Something appeared and it was not a shadow but it was not light, oh shit, it’s the cops! and they were merely the separation between the shadows and light, they were attempt to deblur, to put a stop to all this commingling. They stalked the foxes and the doves, they tore them limb from tangled limb, they put up fences of naught where before there had been flies and meat, they clambered from dirt troughs and declared that dirt illegal. They were napalm and body, flood and well, canyon and loss, beds and Ikea, the incapacity to pay and the soreness of the more protruding bones that stage the body’s fallen tent on concrete, blood and tar, fucked and fucking, he is stroking his thigh and he is stroking his thigh, there’s and theirs, you hear? and you here? They were all of these and none, because they were nothing but that and, and they were everywhere. Less so at first, but as the hospital, or sex, or war, or courtroom scene, variable depending on the angle of sight, as it unfolded it was clear that something was off. The spaces between shadows that hinted at a proximity of what might slip and in out each other stiffened into a parody of themselves, rictussed, just for a minute but damn did it last a long time. It went back to changing but we could not forget the sense that there was some nothing that aimed to say freeze and keep it that way.
And by degrees rigor it did, the parts were still there, furrow, blade, swamp, rigging, amore, they were all there, and we were too, there in the soft rain of shadow, but by degrees it did something to those parts it did not just argue that shapes should not shift, no the parts themselves said fuck off at first but they also said that mostly under their breath and so they accorded, and so they took sides. So there were still concepts of messiness but they were made to be different from the fact of that hot mess. So when the film really got going, its climax obvious as spite no matter how you saw it, whether the current protagonists were bulls or glaciers, at that point the war began as that of shadows and light both against this other thing because they knew it did not belong to them and they said so, splattering as glitter and dusk and cum and knives over and against the rifts drawn between but as the war went on it was harder to tell what was division as such and what was the division between the shadow of one thing that blocked a light source and the shadow of another thing that blocked that same light and not just that but what was the division between light and shadow which previously had no such clear division even if they did not always get along. So they took their enemy into themselves and traced retaining walls where once porous was.
So they fought and in that fighting they made real the separation that had been declared they dragged the whole enterprise further, the film was becoming more melodramatic its tears were supposed to be about a specific wrong and how everything was wrong anyway. But because it was becoming more melodramatic we knew that it was getting desperate because it no longer thought that it would suffice to go on as it had gone on before because it just wouldn’t cut it and the tears wouldn’t come and so the tears were about nothing more than the attempt to have wept.
And it was a mountain that was crying it was the mountain and the plains and the horses that crossed it, it was the men who branded the horses with the mark of the police and who did not even bother to ride them, they left them to be ridden by phantoms and the melodrama did not sing out it merely gave throat to the soft clatter of those ghost-rid horse who whipped back and forth across the icy ground and to the noise of how when they tried to stop this mad stampede they skidded their worn hooves and the hoary ground splintering alike with the sound of many old women and men who cried without saying so because they did not belong to the age that cast them out of those plains and those mountains, not out to pasture but cast to sea to die because the sea did not not belong to the world of the living.
The flies made their triumphant return.
It was a relief, they spelled out sudden a roaring & between the horses and the sea and it was clear that it was different perhaps because & is not a letter but it was once the 27th letter and because it is not a word but it bears the grotesque wind of one twisted over centuries into a penning hand that loops as if knotting a noose. It was not the mark of separation or of unity but of collapse, of falling together into the space of division, it was the decline into a angle of intersection in the forest that no longer competes straightly for sun but litters onto itself, into repose & chaos. And so the war changed, it was between and and & or between and & & even though such a sentence cannot be written without making one side seem to have the advantage & wasn’t nobody to be trusted but there were still heads that rested between the blades of a back & there breathed onto the spine as proof that no one stood or had things to stand for other than this collective downfall that is the hardest thing we have ever known & ever will
However, it was incredibly difficult to make out if and or &, separation or collapse, won in the end. The former had the upper hand for a bit, order seeming in place, but that order itself seemed to become mere pattern, hook and ladder mocking lock and barrel. But it couldn’t be said how it would end for glare and shadow alike, which had all taken on an increasingly ruddy hue, a terribly familiar density, like struggling to be seen in a crowd, alike they, and and & &, became near impossible to make out, as that sea parted into a scorching, peeling roar, for within the catacinema’s ombragraphic projector the body of Emu Plissken, hung in the globe and brought before the lantern, around whom the flies had gathered and taken flight, a rosy filter for a last act, the final material to be made light and dark, finally got too hot and burst into sputtering, splattering flame. The screen, which was also the room and the bodies within it, all & one, they bathed in his fire like a bone-dark sea and no one said a god damn word.
& then the applause rained like it rains on that sea, when it is the season not for fire but for rain