Sunday, 19 December 2010

OLDER HOUSES (John Hinckley, 1987)

A young man visits a childhood home.

'Crossing the road with several other people. The house where we lived between 8 and 14 is here, on a busy main road. In my dream, I know that we have sold part of the house to a young family, and that they will eventually have it all. This is simultaneously a recent event and from twenty years ago.

I retain hope that we can have the house back at some point. I walk up the driveway and meet the grandfather, a rugged Hemingway-a-like with soft eyes and a slight shyness. He is surrounded by playing children. He knows who I am, and upon seeing my excitement at seeing my old house becomes momentarily defensive. It is as if just a moment before he had been relaxed and playing, but now his friendliness is slightly forced. He invites me in, and in the hallway I see the father, who says hello shyly, but certainly with more warmth. He is red-headed and slim. He shows me around, tells me how much they love the place. Every improvement I notice that they have made causes him to point out great things we left behind, as if he doesn't want to upset my memory. I can already see that my idea that part of the house is still ours is misguided, as they have filled or redecorated every room I see. The father makes noises about how I can stay whenever I like for as long as I like, as it is still my house, but through his sweetness I can see that this makes him uncomfortable, and although I'm convinced of the genuineness of the offer, I know that he'd rather I go. We walk through the long kitchen, and I can see the changes we made, like putting the sink by the back window, have already gone.

We walk into the back garden, where I notice the neighbour's house has been changed, from a neat large semi-detached brick house into something huge and somehow scary; much has been cutaway, leaving a large carport area, and the back lawn has been carved into rutted roads. They have some kind of business there. I reminisce aloud about kicking footballs over the fence and sneaking into the allotments to retrieve them, and the man laughs politely.

Then the mother emerges from the house. She is red-headed too, curvy, and wearing a purple velvet dressing gown. She doesn't appear to recognise me, and her demeanour is dreamy and confused, as if she is sick or drunk. The grandfather shepherds the children inside sadly, and this alerts me to a family politic I cannot identify. I tell the woman who I am, and she smiles as if to say 'of course I knew'. She starts talking about how much she loves the house and how beautiful she remembers my mother and family being, before drifting off into elliptical reveries that make little sense. I sense that while the men in the family love her dearly, they are somewhat embarrassed of her, as her conduct is not quiet, but I sense her frustrations with this and sympathise silently. She excitedly tells me about a game she plays on her computer, and that I should play it on mine. She gives a full account of her scores and statistics, assuring me that it is impressive. She looks at me, lingeringly, and I look away, but then look back again an hold the stare. Words are jumbled, but a message skims through, as if telepathically: She likes me. She is sorry they took our house. It is OK, I attempt to communicate. It is silly of me to want something back that is really theirs now. It dawns on me that the house is gone, and that I am happy that nice people have it. Through her distant daze, the woman somehow understands this far more intuitively than anyone else.

I follow her to an unrecognized part of the house, a darkened ground floor bedroom that I'm convinced doesn't exist; this also helps me to feel that it is hidden somehow, and safe. She pulls me onto the bed into a long embrace.'

Older Houses Directed by John Hinckley Produced by John Hinckley Written by John Hinckley Starring James Horston, Sam Nicholas, Lou Longshoot, Bob Fields St Nic Films 65 mins Release date UK: Sept 1987. Tagline: None.

Friday, 3 December 2010

DYSLEXIC FRENCH RED; NE'ER DO WELL (5) (Simone Tzerkovska, 1954)

...the awkward title being a cryptic crossword clue that the heroine is stumped by momentarily at the action's crucial point; an oversight, a slip, as she is something of a black belt in games of linguistics. She can read the black and white shapes in the puzzle corner of the well-thumbed daily rag left on a train carriage seat and know if she's seen it before. She can pass her hand over the clues like braille (an affectation; but it does seem to help her concentrate) and collect half of the answers in one sweep, returning to fill in enjoyable details subsequently. She likes to picture the word grid as a house that she has to clean or illuminate, and each answer, despite being in black or blue ink, is actually removing dark dust from the far flung corners. Large words please her; but more rewarding are the three-letter nuggets to be dug out of the corners, the tricky acronyms and abbreviations, little globs of adhesive.

Off the page her movements are dreamy and vague. Her observations of what is happening slow, and cars will honk at her daily as she wanders across busy streets, chasing code in her head and rearranging alphabets. Her husband calls it 'taking inventory', as it looks like she is internally tallying wherever she goes. He laughs about it by day, and visits other women at night.

This night they make a date: A movie. A throwback to their younger romance, and the effort they make to dress and have fun saddens them both, but they try not to show it. They take a cab, line up for tickets, smile sweetly at one another; he holds the door for her, and she almost laughs. They imitate themselves so well that she is disoriented.

The film begins, and they hold hands, even when it becomes uncomfortable. They check each other's reaction regularly at first, and then settle in. She is pleased at the neatness with which Ernest Borgnine's (or Humphrey Bogart's, or Robert Ryan's; she isn't sure which) dilemma is set-up on screen, the clean moves of the plot containing an elegance. But soon this pleasure recedes, and an uneasy quiet grows in her. Her husband is engrossed, so kissing his arm, she gently unhooks herself and heads to the bathroom to calm herself with a crossword.

She knows, at the moment that the word ROGUE evades her (an easy one, an open goal), that something is wrong. She looks up at the cubicle door and listens. Nothing. She slowly leaves, washes her hands, and looks in the mirror. Her face is hers alright, but a look in the eyes seems to serve as a warning that she cannot quite read. She recites clues in her head (4D: Sunken female?: THE LADY IN THE LAKE, 13A:(intersecting; third letter must be D) Repetitive ritualistic behaviours: OCD), and the look fades. She still suspects her reflection is tricking her, however.

She wants to head back to the movie, but can't. Her husband, handsome and sensitive tonight, now horrifies her.

Minutes pass, hinging on her lack of cutting edge in discovering another answer, one that pivots from THE LADY IN THE LAKE (from the tip of LADY, ending at the the L, which itself is a scissor shape): 'Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke'. She knows, instantly, that 'very sad' yields the definition, that the word will be sombre. 'Unfinished story' suggests, obviously, an incomplete word which houses the 'rising smoke' part. But here her brain apes the clue and itself seems to move upwards, rising from the clean bottom corners of her puzzle to the top, and then further, off the page and into the middle distance. It hovers in mid-air, vaguely aware of an alarm bell somewhere, in another room.

Her face looks reversed in the mirror; she thinks of the lopsided weather vane on the roof of her house whose arrow always points down towards their bedroom, accusingly. A knowledge evades her slightly, but she searches for it. But there it is: she realises she is going to leave the theater and go home. And then she already is, walking across the lobby with purpose. But something stops her at the door: an answer.

TRAGICAL. Of course. The obvious solution makes her laugh: The rising smoke is a cigar, and it runs backwards up the page, clothed in TAL; which is almost TALE, and thus an unfinished story. It takes minutes, but order is restored. She decides to return to her seat, hold his hand and pay attention to the film. She does not know that her husband is gone, vanished in the interim, already in a cab across town, dreaming of flights to carefree territories. Or that the night was an opportunist performance, and that when she finally goes home, with some kind of awareness dawning, she will find a house shorn of every sign that he was ever there.

Dyslexic French Red; Ne'er Do Well (5) Directed by Simone Tzerkovska Produced by Dexter Hunstler Written by Victor Joi Starring Elizabeth Tizla, Hanz Janck Czech Film/CBK 104 Mins Release Date UK: Oct 1956/US: Oct 1956 Tagline: none.