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From 'At The Arthouse (A Farce in Super 8)'
That was when all the trouble had
begun, as far as he could see, with that night degree
she’d done out in University College, Dublin.
She’d started getting ideas about herself then.
‘Film Studies’, no less. At first she’d
thought she’d do ‘Women’s Studies’,
but then she’d changed her mind. It is a woman’s
prerogative to change her mind. There was a ‘Women
in Film’ module as part of ‘Film Studies’
anyway. He’d wondered if a man could do ‘Women’s
Studies’ too, if he wanted to. Studying women,
he’d have liked that. But no, ‘Film Studies’
it was, for her.
Why would she, or indeed anyone, want to study films?
Movies are just movies, and you either like them or
you don’t. Most of the wives of the men he works
with rent videos just to keep their kids quiet, not
to study them. At least Lucy and him hadn’t had
any kids. So they hadn’t had to keep them quiet.
Although maybe it would have been better if they had
had some. Maybe then she wouldn’t have had the
time to go off studying films. Most of the men he works
with watch Sky Sport at home if they can afford the
satellite dish and connection fee, or in the pub if
they can’t, or if they want to be with their mates.
When they watch a film, if they watch a film, their
idea of a good one is something with lots of action
and adventure, featuring Arnold Schwerzenegger or Silvester
Stallone or Bruce Willis in daring escapades, smashing
villains’ heads in. Or else something with a nice
bit of body showing, Demi Moore or Michelle Pfiffer
or Sharon Stone being sexy, getting their kits off.
Or best of all, both of these in the one show. You don’t
need to study those kinds of films. You just enjoy them.
He works in an insurance company, as a salesman. She
had been a cashier in a building society, until she’d
finished her studies. Then she’d left and started
freelancing, as she’d called it, doing different
jobs here and there, buying costumes and props for films
that were in production, and then being a location manager.
At first she’d made less money than he had as
a cashier, and she was only working on and off, now
and then. Then she’d begun to make more money
than before, and to be working more often, in fact almost
all the time. She even made more money than him, all
the time, in the end.
It was while she was doing her degree that she’d
begun dragging him out to see films he wouldn’t
normally have considered going to see, or even watching
if they’d been on the television. She insisted
that the full effect of the best films could only be
appreciated when they were viewed on the big silver
screen, and so staying at home and renting videos was,
for her, a poor substitute. During their courtship,
of course, they had gone to the pictures together, but
since she’d started studying film she called those
kinds of movies ‘commercial’ or ‘mainstream’.
She preferred ‘independent’ films, she said,
or ‘classics’. Although there was another
category, she added, which combined being just for fun
with making you think as well. It was called ‘cross-over’.
One of these new kinds of films that he’d actually
liked, once she’d succeeded in getting him to
the cinema to see it, is really an old one, in black
and white. It is the one about the two men who disguise
themselves by dressing up as women, because some gangsters
are after them because they were witnesses to a shooting.
They are musicians, and they join an all girl band for
a tour, and there’s this one girl they both fancy,
but they can’t do much about it, so long as they
have to keep pretending to be women. This is a comedy.
He’d liked this actress, the blonde one who’d
played the real woman, even if she’d only been
a fake blonde. Lucy had said that this woman was ‘the
last star’, and that the reason he liked her was
because he was nostalgic for women film stars who did
not, either on film or in real life, project a public
image of self-possession and professional authority.
He could not feel about Jodie Foster or Susan Sarandon
or Sigourney Weaver the way he felt about this woman,
because they were stronger than she had been, and had
more control over the lives they led and the parts they
played. Or so it seemed. He liked vulnerability, even
if it was just another pose. With the star of this film,
you could also get the feeling that maybe it wasn’t
just another pose. She liked forcefulness, especially
if it wasn’t just another pose. With the actresses
she admired, you rarely got the feeling that maybe it
was just another pose. He thought that what Lucy had
said was very difficult for such a simple film. It was
comedy. A film so simple that it even has a happy ending,
like most comedies have, unlike most of the films she’d
begun bringing him to see. He loved a happy ending.
First published in ‘New Irish Writing’,
in The Sunday Tribune, February 1998, edited by Ciaran
Carty, and nominated for a Hennessy Literary Award for
Best Emerging Fiction