Thursday, February 18, 2010

stepping into the sky

When I came home last night, I could hear a strange flapping in the wind - obviously something to do with the construction - so I went into the attic and ... and there was the sky. It felt as though I could walk straight out into air, and was terrifying (not least for what might come in, too - and yes, that is a little squirrel flexing its tail on the bough behind). In daylight, of course, I could see that there was still a safe amount of wall left - but one reason why it scared me so last night, I think, was that it reminded me of the first film I ever saw, Kidnapped - an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel - starring Peter Finch - in 1960. This would have been at the Lonsdale, in Carlisle - which became an ABC in 1962, and which now, alas, seems to be boarded up and empty. It was the first cinema in the city to be built for sound - in 1931 - it had lots of art deco features; it had a famous organ; I've just found a YouTube video that shows people queuing for the Beatles show there in 1963. What is most disturbing is how extraordinarily ancient this looks - and my parents and I had already left Cumberland, two years before, for London.

But when I went to see the movie with my father, I don't think the organist was there: rather, there was a pianist playing before the curtain went up (went up, that is, on the newsreel, and then the feature film - about penguins in Antarctica - and then the interval, when one could buy choc ices in silver paper from a woman with a tray round her neck. Going to the cinema involved a whole show, in those days). And then, quite early on in the movie, the scary scene, the one that's stuck with me - when David Balfour goes to stay with his uncle; finds evidence that his father may have been older than his uncle (in which case he should be the inheritor of the House of Shaws); his uncle sends him to fetch a chest from the top of a tower in the house; doesn't give him a light; and doesn't tell him that this is a deliberate trap - that the tower isn't finished, and the steps just end, in the pitch dark... He doesn't, of course...

I'd been hoping to find the movie on You Tube - it's not on NetFlix - not even available for ordering... but no such luck. I'd been wanting to test out Siegfried Kracauer's assertion, which is quoted in Laura Mulvey's Death 24x a Second (I'm reading about stopped instants, as part of my Flash! stuff) in which he claims that as someone laughs at old films, "he is bound to realise, shudderingly, that he has been spirited away into the lumber-room of his private self...In a flash the camera exposes the paraphernalia of our former existence, stripping them of the significance that originally transfigured them so they are changed from things in their own right into invisible conduits." Maybe, indeed, when I somehow find a copy of the film to watch, I'll find that in it are all kinds of sources for subsequent dreams and recurrent images. But in fact, it was quite dislocating enough just now being transported back, via film, to the streets of Carlisle in the early 1960s. And it felt so modern, at the time, going twelve miles into the city...

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