Ronny left the cinema alone. Shoulders hunched, he buried his hands in the pockets of his long, black overcoat, clearly designed to conceal a considerable frame. It had rained. Sparkling light glimmered from sodden surfaces and gave the appearance of a film set washed down in preparation for a take. The only thing that remained to complete the scene was a call of ‘Action!’
The street was deserted. There were no blinding lights. No one scurried with urgency to prepare the scene. No loud calls heralded a rapidly approaching deadline. Ronny stood on the kerb and hailed a cab with a loud “Taxi!”. The car trundled past. Oblivious. He shook his head, he would have to walk. Although solitary, he did not feel alone. He was accompanied by his invisible and secret companion, The Impression.
Ronny flicked the bolt with a graceful click and with a twist of the brass knob, the front door creaked open. It was dark inside. He flicked a light switch and patted the perspiration beaded on a long-since balded pate, puffing and panting as he swung his coat onto the hat rack.
The walk had taken its toll. Only a few blocks from the cinema , it had demanded every ounce of strength he could muster. Clumsily he swayed his way into the living room. There were no bookshelves in this room. Racks of DVDs took their place. Between the racks the walls were papered with many years’ worth of film flyers. Dramatic scenes of players in embrace or dominating and imposing figures, who peered from the walls with blind eyes. The flyers were shiny and glossy, frozen in time, preserved under varnish, like insects in amber. The images presented were carefully posed to attract the interest of those passing, almost like a spider in its web waiting for a straying morsel. Once captured, the prey would be wrapped in silk and groomed to become one with the captor. Only the remarkable made the wall. An ever-evolving façade and constantly in a state of review. He would, on occasion, wander past the flyers. The memories would come flooding back and he could contrive to relive the experience without the laboured process of watching a whole film again. It wouldn’t have to be the same film again in any case. When the lustre from one film faded and the emotion that elevated it to the wall vanished, another flyer was lacquered on top.
He threw the flyer for tonight’s offering in the bin. He hoped to start another room, to capture more memories, but this was not permitted by
Hilda – Hilda, the keeper of domestic order. He poured a drink and settled comfortably into one of the large leather buttoned sofa chairs. Its breathtaking elixir caused him to shudder. As the heavily polished dark walnut brown clock on the mantelpiece ticked relentlessly, it beat out the rhythm of the world. The only sound to be heard in the room. 11:30. Hilda was asleep and no doubt had been for at least two hours. If only she were awake to talk and discuss. She always teased out a greater insight as if discussing it aloud enabled him to get his thoughts in order. But it didn’t matter now. He had his brief, as disgusting as it was. What could be done?
Well what did you think of that Ronny? The Impression was blunt. “That stupid fool of a director,” he said. “He had succeeded again. Coming up with this crap. It was the worst of the worst and that was saying something, because his was the worst in the first place. The last time you wrote he was crucified. Worst thing you had ever witnessed. Never work in this town again you said. “
The Impression was harsh. Too harsh.
But then you were the great Ronald Parker. Film critic for the largest rag in town. Others took their cue from you. You were good. Very good. Powerbroker of the film world. Your words had the ability to make or break. Starmaker, soul taker. So how could you write any good of the man now. Go back on your words. Your pride. It would never happen. They won’t bring you down. Bring you to your knees.
Ronny flicked open the notepad and scanned through the points he had made in the darkened cinema. None of it was of any use now. What his thoughts were didn’t matter anymore. The new owner. That was good. At least he still had a job. The new editor. Well, The Impression not happy with him. After all The Impression did create all of this. Ronny was simply the medium, the vehicle, the body to enjoy the high esteem of peers and the respect of all the best critics. He knew directors’ knees trembled as they read his piece. At times he could almost hear the anguished cry of an actor The Impression tore to shreds. But they couldn’t swing him. Even with the lavish parties and the gift bags full of goodies. He took what they offered and enjoyed the gifts with relish, but The Impression remained steadfast.
Then there was the meeting. The editor was coy at first. The newspaper was now a proud sister to a film studio. The film needed some,
“How should I put it? …Publicity,” he said.
The Impression was livid. So why don’t you take out a full page spread?
“Publicity?” Ronny replied.
“Yeah it needs a boost. Some cred. Your review will be accompanied by a full page spread.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to…” Ronny was cut off.
“Hey Ronny, just keep it positive. Keep it upbeat. Can you do that for me?”
Positive? Upbeat? What is this? Some kind of musical performance?
Ronny could feelthe anger of The Impression writhing inside him. He didn’t like the way it made him feel. His heart raced and he broke into a nervous sweat. His breath deepened.
“But what about my readers? What will they think?”
“Look Ronny your readers don’t want your knowledge anymore. They only want your opinion to back up the choice of what they are going to see. They already know what is good and bad from their friends on Facebook and Twitter. They want to feel validated. They don’t want be challenged. I want you to tell them what they should see. What we want them to see. They have access to a multitude of different opinions in 5 minutes. We need you to become a valuable piece of this network or else you are just gonna’ lose relevance.”
Ronny reeled. “Frankly I think I would rather die than bow to advertising a film.”
“Argument noted. If you like I can leave your piece and just run the spread. But I like you Ronny and I like your work. I want the piece on my desk in the morning.”
He left the office and returned to his desk and gasped wheezy and faint. He loosened his collar and leaned back in his chair. The Impression was not amused.
So this is what you have come to? A used car salesman. A common whore. Flogging a dead dog of a director and his sad stories for a publication that has abandoned its journalistic ethics. Never.
Ronny slumped into the armrest of the sofa, head in hands.
“Oh go away!”
The Impression was stunned. So where do you want me to go? I am you.
Ronny tapped on the keys of the notebook on the table and the screen flashed into life. So what to do now? Normally when The Impression took the reins it was so easy. The review would write itself. The ideas when they are someone else’s makes the task of composing feel insurmountable. The blank page was cruel in its mockery. It dared him to make a stroke to sully its purity. Remember the basics. Try, try, try to be objective. To start, a simple overview will suffice. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just “Upbeat” as he said. And as for cred. Just by adding my name to the title would give it cred. He shuddered. How disgusting to be lending my name to something so disagreeable and in the name of advertising, utterly detestable. A tight plot synopsis first without giving too much away. Ronny tapped at the keyboard for a few strokes. The keys clattered randomly against the metronomic ticking of the clock. The combination generated a syncopated and complex rhythm, that mimicked the beat of a South African kwela.
Now the background information. Well that was harder. Where can you start when the history was so black? Think of the advertising. Positive phrases. That’s what was needed – positive phrases. The Impression was back. Where do you start in shining up shit? He couldn’t go on. There was no way that he was able to go against The Impression. He tried to type but backspaced everything he had written. The pain of finding words was like pulling out fingernails with pliers. He typed again and backspaced. Typed some more and backspaced. Finally he gave up. The soft leather cushions exhaled as he reclined in his seat. A flyer pasted on the wall caught his attention. He read through some of the testimonies to the extraordinary. ‘Captured something special’, ‘A cinematic triumph!’, ‘Memorable and remarkable’. A cacophony of phrases shouted at him from the walls. How can it be positive? I can’t celebrate mediocrity. After all a bad review was still publicity. But he knew this wasn’t about publicity. It was about a principle. Principle facing off against the formidable and overpowering adversary of money.
What would Hilda think of all this? Poor Hilda. In bed asleep. Oblivious. Once it was dinner and show and then supper. A complete evening. They would discuss what they saw and it was a joy to engage in enthusiastic conversation about a common experience. No longer. It now seemed hollow and everything he saw blurred into what he had seen before. She, in turn, had given up. “Everything has to have a purpose with you,” she said. “You can’t just enjoy art experiences for what they are. You have to tease and poke and pry them apart to find something, anything to critique.”
Ever since the confrontational meeting, the day had darkened. Now into the evening it was black as pitch. He rested his head on the smooth leather of the sofa and felt its cool touch beneath the flesh of his neck. He lost himself in the maze of intricate detail stamped into the pressed tin of the ceiling high above. Without warning he choked out a sudden gasp. Pain seared his chest as if a pair of secateurs were thrust deep into his breast. With each wave of pain the razor sharp blades sliced through his chest, tearing, searing, separating rib from rib.
An electrically charged bolt arced through Xenon and the projector started with a flicker. The clatter was echoed by the tick of the clock that drove the spinning sprockets as they wound film through a complicated mechanism. The journal notes lay open on the table. Scene after scene populated the darkness.
The light, the end of the tunnel, at the intersection of day and night. Cast by many, viewed in solitude then relayed to others by way of pen and press. Filtered through the mind sieve, seasoned and plated with a healthy dose of opinion and taste. Seeking to inform those with little time to choose wisely their engagement and though never acted or produced only pen directed, lauded in the same manner as if by those who had.
The projector clattered, clattered, clattered. Relentless scenes. He had seen them all. Great and moving moments. Yet phrases evaporated into the air as if spirits fleeing from his body. Scenes of controversy. A masterfully crafted screenplay. A slow-building, tense sequence. A horrific and terrifying moment. A memorable kiss. Brilliant special-effects. A truly scary event. A haunting soundtrack. Spectacular action. Cinematically-beautiful images. A tear-inducing, emotionally transcendental and moving soliloquy. Unforgettable dialogue. Heart-stopping and unique characters. A strong scene. An hilarious, sexually-charged, romantic comedy. An exhilarating roller-coaster ride. A box-office disaster. A flop.
The projector stopped. All was quiet. The Impression was gone.
© Anthony Wood 2011