Monday, August 9, 2010

Cinema & Pharmakon (or, stop me if you've heard this one before)

Can a movie change your life?
I believe so. Movies certainly have changed mine, and I think I can say that one film in particular changed me forever. That movie was Peeping Tom, a 1959 British film about a serial killer.
Karl Boehm as Mark, a creepy serial killer who's also an aspiring filmmaker.

 A serial killer? Yes, I'm afraid but, this is what happened. It was a Saturday night, I was a mere 22 years-old, and a friend and I wanted to see a movie. Any movie. We were both living above Home Hardware in uptown Waterloo; she had a long-term lease on this great apartment, and I moved in on a summer sublet because the rent was cheap. Since the accommodations were temporary, I didn't bother to properly settle. In other words, my sublet was a mess of half-opened boxes, their contents strewn haphazardly around the room. I remember overhearing one of our male friends ask Gretchen, incredulously, "Is that Wendy's room?" Apparently my private self didn't match my public persona. In my mind I was being efficient with my energies.
               I had left on my floor a bedside array of unread Film Comment magazines I had borrowed from the office of the Original Princess Cinema. I'd been working there as a manager for almost a year, and I wanted to learn more about movies, so aside from watching them constantly and taking film courses at the University of Waterloo, I also was reading books and stacks of film journals. Gretchen also worked at the Princess and in one month I recall that she and I saw thirty different films at the cinema together (back when the Original's programming was really rep). We would watch anything and everything. 
               If anyone reading this knew Gretchen, you'd know that she was adventurous. She was OUT there. Incredibly smart, charismatic and funny, she and I had a lot of fun together but, there were some places she would venture that garnered no temptation for me. These places --which I considered no man's land-- shall remain nameless to protect the innocent! On this particular Saturday night, Gretchen had procured some psilocybin and I decided I would go on this trip with her. This was the second, and last time I partook of this powerful substance. Some people get the giggles or the munchies when they partake. Not me. I'm one of those people who go to profound and sometimes paranoid places, where my mind never stops and sleep never comes. Needless to say, I have experimented a little because I'm curious by nature (beware the perils of curiosity!) but, I like to limit these experiences because they can be too much. As my dad says, "I can get high on water." Me too, dad. 
                   So Gretchen and I took our sacrament and wandered over to the Princess to watch a midnight screening of a movie about which neither she nor I knew a thing. As we were watching this movie and getting more and more bugged out by what we were seeing on screen (and what was happening in our brains), at one point, feeling like I was falling down the rabbit hole, I turned and whispered to her, most seriously: "I feel like my life is a movie and I'm behind the screen of it." I feel wigged-out now just remembering this moment, because later, after being changed by this film, (I went on to become a huge fan of Michael Powell's films and did a fair amount of research and writing on them while in grad school) I learned that Peeping Tom is one of the most relentlessly and brutally self-reflexive films ever made
Mark not only likes to film, he also likes to watch. For once he has an audience other than himself.
Smile! You're on candid camera!
Is that a knife on the end of your tripod, or are you just happy to see me? Helen (played by the wonderful Anna Massey) refuses to look in the mirror provided for her viewing pleasure.
Home movies like you've never seen before

It gets weirder. Two-thirds of the way into the movie we saw THIS freakish, howling image on the screen before our eyes: 
In unison, Gretchen and I let out a loud, spontaneous scream! We screamed not because we were scared; rather, this was a shocked scream of recognition. Remember the unread Film Comments left near my bed? For two weeks my roommates and I had been glancing daily at the covers of these magazines strewn about my floor, but the most noticeable cover featured that same, bizarre, distorted eye-ball image from Peeping Tom! I hadn't cracked the magazine, so I didn't know that this back-issue included a tribute to Michael Powell (Film Comment 26.1, May-June 1990). I had not heard of this --at the time-- lesser-known, forgotten director and I certainly didn't know what that weird image was. It was just a strange, randomly eye-catching picture from the cover of a magazine, and now, there it was in the cinema, manifested hugely in front of our eyes. Up until that moment, possibly the most shocking moment in the film, neither of us had made the connection. Of course we screamed!
                      It was a powerful experience, full of (ahem) magic, mystery and overwhelming synchronicity. I was never quite the same after seeing that movie, that night at the Princess. That is the power of cinema and that's why I love it so.
                       See you at the movies!

No comments:

Post a Comment