Art House Cinema

Poem by Quincy R. Lehr

Opening Credits

 

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.

  

Entr’acte

 

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.

 

Closing Credits

 

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.

 

American Arts Quarterly, Winter 2011, Volume 28, Number 1