Saturday, January 16, 2016

7690. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 134)

(pt. 134)  section 8
'seminary days'
I never knew why, but on certain Saturday nights
we'd have movies.  It probably had a schedule and 
a sequence, though I never paid it attention. Every 
fourth, maybe, every other. Don't know. The large
auditorium, which was also the theater for our plays 
and drama stuff  -  large stage, curtained proscenium,
batteries of lights and spots, all that real theater stuff,
also had a large drop-down movie screen. I was just
never able to get much interest up. They always 
seemed to be fairly boring and innocuous movies.
So much so that I can really only remember one.
It had everybody abuzz, swooning and talking. I
hated it, It seemed pure schlock, I hated the kid
portrayed and the dumb sentimental lessons and 
stuff from it. It was called 'Shane'.  That's all I
remember. Never a fan of 'Westerns', all that crappy
Monument Valley and Red Rocks junk, those John
Ford, and John Wayne, things had no life for me. 
Stagecoaches always were packed with dumb mothers
and weak-knee'd kids and preachers, the wrong guys
seemed to always get killed, the disasters always 
seemed forced, and everything that was said, it 
seemed, was always said knowingly  -  if if even 
the creepy actors knew they were imparting a message, 
or some sot of asshole symbolism. Right versus might,
always down for the count, and with something wrong.
There were other movies too  -  religious and uplifting.
Mostly everyone just sat around watching  - faces up,
out to the light of the screen. Eyes caught. I used to enjoy
watching the projecting beam of light  as it cut through the
darkness and the dust. That was magical to me. Forget the
other stuff. The whole entire seminary was a set-up anyway.
That's how I felt. I hate it when someone sets something up, 
a fait accompli, sort of, and you can't even argue with it, or
them.  Like who said I had to sit through this stupid movie?
What motive would there be for me to do so outside of my
being forced, communally, into this great wad of manipulated
gum? How come no one could stand up to that guy on screen 
and just say 'hold on; what you just said wasn't true at all,
it's a bunch of crap, and it ruins absolutely the entire rest of
this film which is set up to follow the consequences of what you
just wrongly assumed.' Like that. If it was real life, the guy
would be driven out of town on a log; but if it's a movie, the
entire premise, wrong or not, has to be accepted because the 
whole rest of the movie depended on it. And the other thing
was the women. They were all pretty much cry-babies and 
emoters, just thrown in there for effect, as foils. You knew they
were made to be powerless, so the big guy could shine and be
proved right in the end. Big deal. I don't know how a woman
could even be there and act  -  you know every one's checking 
her out, imagining her without clothes on, noticing all the 'things'
about her. It's a joke -  why even bother with the lame acting?
All this was present, but you couldn't ever talk about it  -  everyone
just gaped and were awed at the idea of a movie. Bunch of junk.
The lobby of the theater building was weird too  -  they had
these really large reproductions of Salvador Dali paintings on 
the wall. Large, framed things  -  the stuff he was known for. 
Not the melting, drooping clocks or anything, but I mean those 
big religious pictures he did of crucifixions and all. Jesus on the 
cross, and all the rest -   bold and weird, twisted up and colored. I 
never quite understood the point  -  like maybe priestly avant-garde, 
Papal hipness or something. They never fit in, were never remarked
about, and seemingly were never even looked at. I always looked,
carefully. It was Art, no matter. I could imagine the theater visitors
and all those lame moms and dads visiting, getting all curious 
and ablaze over seeing them 'Oh Dear,' I can hear, 'they must be 
important paintings.' They weren't. The schlock boat, I figured, had 
brought them in. Funny thing was, in the Drama Department and the 
entire theater scene, that was the one place in the seminary, of all the 
other activities, where you  never had to pray, or open and close with 
a blasted prayer or some silly homily. It was a free-fire zone, so to 
speak. That too was a big attraction to me. It would have been a real 
flop if you had to perform a play or a recitation or something and 
have the entire religious impulse then take it over  -  breaking 
the mood for damned sure. We used to get busloads of school 
kids in attendance at plays and performances  -  and they 
were used to secular stuff, I'd figure. They'd not come 
their distance to get prayed at unnecessarily. 
Out front of the theater, bad enough, there was a gigantic, like
70-foot, I-Beam set into the ground, with a cross beam at the
near-top. Raw steel, a kind of weathered dark red. Yep, you
guessed it, it was a huge, monumental cross. There wasn't a
thing you could do about that, except accept it. Secularism be
damned. There it stood. Last I knew it was still there, somehow
surviving in place, even with the Camden County College thing
going on. Maybe it's gone by now, with those latest changes. 
Don't know. That never really bothered me  - it was different, it
was cool, and it was way up high, like some exalted thought stuck
in the ground trying to float away. 
In the theater work, that end of things, the greatest part about it all,
to me, was the smell. Something about it. You've heard of that
old play, with Anthony Newley or somebody. It was entitled,
ironically, 'The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.'
Which is, of course, backwards  -  and that was the point. What it 
was was the 'smell' of the greasepaint, and the 'roar' of the crowd.
And that's what it was for me  -  the facepaints and make-up for
performance had its own distinctive, exciting smell, it permeated
the place, back-stage anyway, always. You knew you were involved
in something not quite real, or maybe more real than real, and you
 had to prepare for it, because it was so grand. And, behind it all, 
you'd hear that heaping hum of six hundred mouths, or whatever it 
was, five hundred, endlessly yapping, talking things in and talking
 things out. It was only a roar later, at the end, when you knew 
you'd done it all, and won them over.  You were so good that  - 
 if you were playing an invisible man, they'd still be clapping to 
congratulate you on 'not' being there so convincingly. That's the 
twisted logic of the theatergoer, and the magic of theater too. Or
 it was, back then. I no longer can abide any of that stuff, any 
entertainment. Film. Stage. Live. It. none of it, drives enough to 
convince me of the being or the premise. I just can't 
buy their story-lines.
We used to study, a little bit, the old medieval morality plays,
and all that stuff that later became opera. That's how it all got 
started, small troupes of troubled people -   plague victims or 
survivors of same. They wander around, with makeshift stages, 
on wheels, with a strange assortment of oddball people  -  lame or 
twisted, loud or foul, raucous or even insane  -  and they'd impart 
messages, as they could, through their performances, plays, even 
puppetry, to the dazed crowds out before them. People who would 
just wander along, stumbling on this entertaining madness in a 
village square or on the wooded edge of wherever. As Christianity , 
surged, little by little the imparted messages took on the overtones of 
moral virtue, Christian reasonings, things about Salvation and 
survival, goodness, mirth and holiness in the face of travesty 
(and tragedy) too. Life was way different then  -  people were dying 
by the boatloads, the dead wandered off to die, the lame and 
stricken roamed the roads and lanes and alleys, entire families 
would fall within days. You'd talk to someone on Tuesday, and 
they'd be dead by Saturday, and then their family too, and then
 their doctor, who was helping others, to nothing. Doctors didn't 
know what to do, and they weren't even really doctors. Nothing was 
settled or set. Life  was chance, and a sticky wicket. Day to day was 
enough. There was never a future to talk about. Time was not yet 
opened out like it is now. These crazy people coming in from the 
woods and roads, of they offered something, people took it. Maybe
 they were onto another  path, a real solution. 'If their simply being
 here didn't kill us, then let's give them a listen.' That's how people 
thought and reasoned. It was all fear, everywhere. That's how 
things began. Theater. Drama. Even song, and religion too.
Every so often, something would go wrong  -  like today too  -  
the entire raft of newcomers tat had recently swept into town
would be blamed. The hell with their plays and actings, as much
as it had been enjoyed : 'they've brought the Devil with them, I 
tell ya' the stench of Death and Bad Fortune comes on their breath!'
And everyone would turn on them, mob madness. They'd all be 
killed, or they'd leave town by the skins of their fighting teeth and
have to high-tail it our through the forests and fens  -  lowland
hideouts, defensible caves. So much for the real drama craft or the
acting crew  -  it all developed slowly. The correct messages, the uplift,
the idea of entertainment and the songs. It all took years, but, yes, as 
society settled and civilizations and ruler cliques arose and these
little troupes would find favor and sponsor, or be harbored by
a King or Queen (of course, as well, serving them with 'message' plays)
the entire idea of Royal Players, King's Entertainers  -  all the way up
to Shakespeare and the Globe Theater and all those guys with their
King plays and sagas and increasingly intense and introspective plays
and tragedies. Just like us, the 'Queen's Players'.

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