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SILENT MOVIES
NORSEMEN
No one’s ever heard it, I can’t have
invented, an early colour film, experimental.
Was there a sound track?
I doubt it, although this was
about the time when sound arrived.
Well, when sound arrived in Dargaville.
I don’t remember anything except
a monk walking in a garden reading
in a book.
                 The monk’s habit was brown,
the book’s pages were cream. The garden is
vague.
           Somebody drew a bow and fired an arrow.
We looked over the monk’s shoulder?
Perhaps we did.
                           On the cream page against
brown cloth fell more than a drop, a splash
of blood.
                 I almost feel the theatre half-dark
assuringly about me. I do not feel
any frisson, fright, or horror.
Only, how beautiful
colour of blood on a cream page against
a religious brown habit.

EDUCATIONAL
Schools did not own projectors.
Once in a while the local picture show
arranged a screening, something special,
something educational. Part of the takings
went to school funds.
All the fuss of getting there,
everybody marched down in twos, reminded
"You are out in public. Watch how you behave"
past the borough Council Chambers, Oddfellows Hall,
Post Office, the biggest pub where you turned right,
along, and into. Everybody except primers.
Primers were too little, they wet.
Some kids didn’t bring their money, they had
to stay behind and do silent reading.
Two boys would be sent back for fooling,
they’d get the cuts after: "I shall make
an example" Mr Renshaw thundered.
No one said "Enjoy yourselves". This was
educational, not to be enjoyed, still
exciting, to look forward to, Nanook of the North,
Moana, The King of Kings, on a weekday.
I walked part-way home with Franky
who lived out on the coast road beyond the cemetery,
asked him "Are you going to the pictures tomorrow?"
He shook his old man’s head solemnly,
He spoke his old man’s deep voice:
"My father says moving pictures are Works of the Devil"
looking thoughtful. Truly, that was a thing to ponder,
aged seven, coming up for eight.

BLUE MOVIES
We weren’t old enough for blue movies.
We were old enough for military service,
stationed
out in hills south of the City
right up on a ridge past a derelict dairy factory,
camped around an abandoned school.
Across the road the community hall;
over the door the Wages of Sin is Death in fancy letters.
"What do your men do for entertainment?"
– "Nothing. They have to make their own."
One gunner’s father had a kindly thought:
a film show for the boys, supper to follow.
Man of influence in the City
he didn’t mind using up rationed petrol,
didn’t care about rationed butter.
A bite or two, a small projector, small cans
of film, a crate, a keg, like a stag party,
all boys together.
Rutting stags had scratched his films.
They stuttered, flickered, silently
failed to compel the audience.
They didn’t make us horny, just embarrassed.
Wrestle or wriggle, grope or grapple, they did
nothing for us. We were
not men of affairs, had no influence.
Would they have gone better in colour,
not just reduced to black and white?

INSTRUCTIONAL
War’s for real, no backs to benches
in the P.S.I. hall. Fighter Gunnery
School was working up, to posting.
That ordinary midweek Ardmore winter night,
air-to-air combat film, all camera gun stuff,
no sound of course, no commentary,
just one clip spliced on to another,
Name of pilot, date, Type of (target) aircraft.
Poor quality film, visibility impaired.
When fire was opened synchronised camera jumped
spastically. studio simulation does the job
much better.
                   An ME 109 came into sight,
pursued through evasive tactics making use
of cloud. He knew he’d someone on his tail
before the screen began to jump,
ranging bursts.
                        In cloud, and out, swung
then pulled back climbing on a curve
off-screen. Which steadied, like a postulate.
Held, a moment long enough, you felt
a prediction coming true, it came
from top right headed lower left,
dead on course to centre screen
which jumped again, erupted. That was
all.
     People talk about inevitability
of the work of art. This was
inevitable, purpose purely stated,
then complete. A kinetic art,
like ballet? Language as gesture?
                                                  That night
the huntsman, not aware beforehand, was
in the audience. He had to take a lot of barracking.
"Come on," he protested, "lay off, eh. It’s a bit
blush-making, isn’t it? It’s not like rhubarb."
Rhubarb was then a technical term.

L'IDÉE
Right wing governments were afraid of him.
There was this manikin, you see, he ran,
he ran all over left-right left-right
but not to order. He was almost a stick
figure, he was only an idea.
They were afraid he would run to people,
shin up them like scaling a tree and climb
inside their heads. How would they
get him out?
                    He’d have to come out some time.
That stands to reason. They had their own reasons.
They banned him. "You mustn’t look at him.
Don’t mention his name."
He was sort of hero/anti-hero
in an intellectual experimental film, like
a novel in woodcuts lacking popular appeal
but dangerous, metaphoric as black and white.
This I saw at the local Asylum.
One of the doctors set things up.
Better patients were invited along to Potemkin,
Caligari, Golem, The Student of Prague,Metropolis, the hospital didn’t have
a sound system. Patients did not mind.
Some attendants were upset and looked daggers
sideways, muttering, they weren’t intellectuals.
This wasn’t long after the War.
People weren’t used to things like that.
The manikin ran left-right left-right
scratchily: his print was fairly worn.
You couldn’t expect as much, not see too clearly.
Then it was time to go back to the wards.
Some went off briskly left-right left-right
carrying themselves smartly with a soldierly bearing.
Some slouched or shuffled. One slumped,
          head in his hands,
complaining reasonably to a staff nurse
"Look what you’ve done now.
I’ve got enough to cope with . . . what are you
          going to do about it?"
                                                                                3. 5. 85
Editor's note
Silent Movies : first published in Are You Going to the Pictures? Norsemen: KS lived in Dargaville in Northland before moving to Auckland around 1931 Educational : another Dargaville memory; Nanook of the North (1922) and Moana (1926) were silent films made by the Robert Flaherty, a pioneer film-maker; The King of Kings (1927) was a biblical epic made by the Hollywood producer Cecil B. De Mille Blue Movies : a memory of war-time; The Wages of Sin is Death : Romans 6 v.23 Instructional : Ardmore south of Auckland where KS was stationed with the airforce in World War II; ME 109 : German fighter aircraft ; Language as Gesture : title of a 1952 book of literary criticism by R.P.Blackmur (1904-55) L’Idée : Potemkin , Caligari, Golem, The Student of Prague, Metropolis: a list of classic films: Potemkin (1925), Sergei Eisenstein’s fim about the 1905 revolution in Russia; The Cabinet of Dr Cailgari (1919), landmark German expressionist film directed by Robert Wiene; The Golem (1915), classic horror movie directed by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen; The Student of Prague, silent horror film; there were several versions including 1913 and 1926; Metropolis (1927), classic German science fiction movie directed by Fritz Lang
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