Art House Cinema
Accordion music’s joined by clarinet
and then the director’s name, a cityscape,
a human form, still just a silhouette.
A shot. The shadow’s down. A quick escape
as the well-known actor’s name bursts through the gloom,
followed by the girl’s, though in this room,
we know the plot already, from a class
or book or film review, what to expect
from the director’s work—a weekend pass,
a retrospective, and a familiar name,
a shibboleth of awe, at least respect
or reverence, the reason that we came.
Think clichés—how opposites attract,
how he met her, or how the fight was won,
the underdogs who carry the second act
with dignity—although it’s in good fun.
But here, tonight, it’s slightly more abstract
in black and white. And this is how we like it—
take the convention, batter it, and strike it
with something else. The opening scene’s begun
on a European street
all age and shadows, early summer heat
implied by the heroine
in a svelte new sun dress, delicate and thin
as a modish cigarette
(the actress will get cancer, but not yet),
and the hero of the caper
sips coffee as he burrows through the paper
at a picturesque café—
ironic calm, since trouble’s on the way.
The actor speaks his line—
subtitled, yes, but we all think that’s fine
despite the bad translation
and revel in the iconic situation
and settle further in our seats to see
what lies in store for them, and you, and me.
The griminess of plot and seedy bars
that dot the film like tumors as our hero
chain-smokes through misfortune, dodging cars
in search of a fortune—or reprieve?—drops out,
and as we go from racing speed to zero,
we stop for a moment near a waterfront.
The key’s to always get it, not to pause
or linger on ideas till the end,
but focus on procedure—the swift caress
of tracking shots, the way the lights portend
significance, the slight off-kilter clause
in a sentence. It’s all in the technique—
fifty years ago or just last week,
her face has stayed that oval of remorse,
her line that classic of the femme fatale
(though only understood as text, of course,
in yellow script). This is what we seek
in shadows-and-caves suggestions of celluloid:
a moving, pure alignment of it all.
Extras in the background play at cards.
The city’s emptiness becomes a void
beyond established landmarks. Her and him.
Or maybe not, although they’re at the center
of the shot, an alternate dimension
between the exposition of the plot
and some conclusion that will skirt convention.
But still we linger. This is the money shot,
the poster on a wall, the cultured hard-on,
the pregnant moment that the lovers part on
to be reunited only near the end
in farcical mischance that hardly matters.
Despite the car chase and the final splatter,
this is the mise en scène that will transcend
the train ride home, the vagaries of style.
We won’t forget his shout, her rueful smile.
Darkness, always darkness, at the start,
and silence till the closing credits roll.
Each one of us retreats into ourselves,
an act of solipsism for the art
of reverential silence, of control
of feelings that we cannot call our own.
Our passions stay uncooled
within our bundled clothes, and all are fooled
by silent soliloquies
that argue with the images one sees
onscreen or in the slush
of a February night. The sluggish rush
to reach the train slows down.
Is that something glowing in the brown
of a melting pile of snow?
What’s that doing here? We don’t quite know—
a cast-off cigarette
lies in a drift, smoldering and wet.
And then we walk away
to a city street, a different shade of gray,
and a static traffic jam,
and you’re still you, and I’m still what I am.