It was a little after noon. I got off of the city bus on the outskirts of the infamous, often dangerous Tenderloin district in San Francisco. It had stopped raining just minutes before and a sickly sweet, quasi-organic odor rose from the earth like fog in an old horror movie.
I looked up the street. Gaudily painted X-rated showhouses announced DANCING NUDES and LIVE SEX in dirty yellow neon, less than half of the bulbs working. At the end of the block, two teens in black leather jackets carved on a fence, occasionally looking over their shoulders. A small dog that looked as if it had something stuck in its back scuttled by them and disappeared around the corner.
I turned and looked down the street. There was much of the same, including bars with dirty windows and open doors, occult book stores, new wave art galleries covered with posters and spraypainted slogans, boarded-up shops, empty lots, cluttered alleyways. There was a notably smaller number of people down the street than up.
I walked down the street. A few blocks ahead, near what appeared to be an unused fountain in the middle of a cross-street, a tall lady in some sort of a costume moved swiftly and gently across the way. As I got closer I could see she wore a long formal red gown over her very shapely figure. Her head was completely covered with red fabric roses, her face obscured within the bulb-shaped cluster. Evidently she could see; she handed out sheets of paper to the perplexed passersby. I walked over to get a better look.
She handed me a paper and quickly walked away. The bottom of her seemingly expensive dress was stained black from the wet street. She stepped into one of the nearby storefronts.
I unfolded and read the sheet of paper.
I recognized the title (translated, it means An Andalusian Dog), a collaborative work of artist Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. I remembered that the film is mentioned in virtually every text on film art ever written. I hadn't seen it but I'd read some very unusual stories about it. How could I go wrong for just a buck?
I looked up and saw a theater a half-block down the street. It was a common design: the two large front doors with the ticket booth between, an overhanging marquee, a great facade above. Nothing was announced on the marquee. With the exception of the glass window at the ticket booth, the entire edifice was painted black, including the sidewalk before it.
I dug a dollar bill out of my pocket and walked over.
The lady in the booth was slouched in a chair, reading a large black book. She hadn't noticed me. Taped in the corner of the window was a cheap Polaroid snapshot of the Rosewoman in a somewhat aggressive stance. She was holding up a lobster like a priest with a crucifix.
The lady looked up and mumbled something, then returned to her book.
"Excuse me," I said. "Aren't you showing the movie, the one for a dollar?"
She leaned forward and said something through the hole in the glass. I cupped my ear and moved closer. "I don't think I should let you in," she said, barely above a whisper.
I tugged at the edges of the bill to show that it was read, then set it on the counter and slid it under the glass. She took it, smiled a strange smile without looking at me, and pointed to the door. I stepped into darkness.
As I waited for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light, I tried to remember what I had heard of the film. I knew it had something to do with surrealism, but that was it. Surrealistic images that I had seen in art books and magazines flashed through my mind: a nude and her blue-skinned lover are encased in a vegetal pod; a cup and saucer are covered with fur; a pair of shoes has toes, a dress had tits; a tall faceless purple woman with drawers coming from her flesh is supported by long stick crutches.
"This is the theater," said a gritty male voice from out of nowhere. A flashlight clicked on and shone on a curtained doorway. A hand appeared and separated the red velvet, the beam of light barely illuminating the long sloped aisle, the rows of empty seats. The stage below the giant screen was cluttered with stacks of lumber and empty boxes. "But it's closed," said the young man.
I suddenly became aware of the presence of other people. They had been standing within arm's reach of me. I had no idea how many there were.
"This way, please."
I followed the figure to the side of the lobby and down a wide tiled stairway. I could hear the others moving behind me. No one spoke.
We were led through the men's restroom at the bottom of the stairs, down a narrow hallway littered with paint cans and stage props and the limbs and heads of disassembled manikins, down another short wooden stairway, then through a small door and into a low-ceilinged room with thirty or forty folded chairs scattered about, a small screen on the opposite end.
I sat in the nearest chair. The flashlight clicked off. The others found their way in the darkness. Chairs scooting, low whispers, nervous coughs.
From behind me came a soft sliding sound, then a click, then a whirling mechanical whine. Suddenly the screen was illuminated with white light. For a moment I could see the backs of the heads of the other spectators. A few seats to my left was a skinny, scraggly-bearded teen who looked directly at me, then to the couple sitting a few rows in front of me, then to me, to the couple, to me.
The light dimmed and a countdown began on screen. The couple ahead of me turned to one another and smiled. "Oh, Enrico," moaned the girl. Enrico said nothing.
The title and credits came on screen, then a quote in French, then....
Fade in a medium shot of a well-dressed
man smoking and sharpening a razor.
"Gawd!" I slouched in my chair.
Another title in French. A busy street. A young man falls from a bike and is comforted by a young woman. Suddenly she is in a small room, contemplating the cyclist's clothing laid out upon a bed. She turns to find the man terrified by ants crawling from a wound in his palm. The woman's underarm hair turns into a sea-urchin.
The couple looks out the window where an androgynous young woman is flattened by a car. The man in the room becomes excited and fondles the girl. He becomes mad with ecstasy, blood running from the corners of his mouth...
Sitting right in front of the screen, a young man in a short ponytail began applauding lightly at the sight of the blood. The ragged teen to my left now included the ponytailed man, along with me, the girl and Enrico, and the screen in his shifting surveillance.
On screen, the young woman stands in the corner of the room, ready to defend herself with a tennis racket. The aroused young man is after her, but must pull a rope tied to two priests tied to a rope tied to a piano stuffed with dead rotting donkeys.
At the sight of this, the kid to my left jumped to his feet and pointed to the girl and Enrico, his other hand waving wildly.
On screen there came a shocking close-up of one of the donkey's decomposed heads. The girl with Enrico looked up. "Look, Enrico," she said, somnolently. "Slimy goo drips from the rotting donkey's eyesocket." Suddenly the kid next to me let out a mousey shriek. Enrico rose and scanned the crowd. His girlfriend dug frantically in her purse and came up with a small tape recorder which she thrust in Enrico's face. Enrico then delivered a dramatic but thoroughly incoherent soliloquy. There was a bright flash. During the confusion, two people from the corner made their way over. One was an older man with stark white hair, the other a very young girl with a large camera. She snapped another picture as Enrico babbled on.
I stumbled toward the door. On screen, the young woman and her new lover had somehow ended up buried chest deep on a beach, the elements and bugs starting to take their toll. The picture ended. I left the room and felt my way down the hall, through the restrooms, up the stairs and out the door into the daylight.
I stood outside the theater and waited for the others to exit. The ponytailed man came first, his eyes red and squinted. The scraggly-bearded teen came out next. "I told you so," he said as he walked by. He had said nothing to me prior. Then came Enrico and the girl, the girl clutching the purse that held the recorder containing Enrico's Orphic utterances.
Finally the old man stepped out, leading the girl by the arm. The old man was much older than I had previously thought, the girl much, much younger. The entirety of her eyes were white like snow. She handed a picture to the old man and he handed it to me. They slowly walked away.
The picture had not quite developed yet. I walked toward the bus stop.
Up the street, the two teens in the leather jackets were gone. I saw where they had scratched GOB IS LUB on the fence. The small dog I saw earlier wandered around the corner. A bent fork was stuck in its rear-end. It seemed to cause it no pain. It sniffed my leg and went on its way.
Off in the distance, the bus made its way down the hill as the sun once again hid behind a dark cloud that threatened rain. I looked at the now fully-developed snapshot: a blur of a hand that could have been Enrico's, against a tilted-angle view of four rows of empty seats.