Sunday, January 25, 2015

Into (and out of) the Woods

Into the Woods (2011) Kodakotype by Pants

Larrikin's End has one small cinema screen nestled in a breeze block shell that also houses three squash courts. Even by Larrikin's End standards, it's ugly - and believe me, we have elevated ugliness to an art form here. There is something about natural beauty that just cries out to be defaced, don't you think?

The odd juxtaposition makes for an interesting sensory experience. The aroma of sweat-permeated walls and wet-dog carpet tangoes uneasily with the freshly popped corn and dust mites singeing in the ageing lights. The patchwork of seat upholstery reminds one of a Kerala bus - although I seem to remember they were more comfortable. To endure a movie the length of Into the Woods there requires a special appetite for self-harm, 24 hours of recovery time and a very hard mattress. In tense moments, the distinct thwacking of a small ball against a wall not exactly far, far away, adds a certain je ne sais quois to almost any film.

I'll talk about the movie in a minute (probably, maybe). With the external temperature up around the high thirties, I make the decision to spend $10 on someone else's air conditioning rather than $4-5 on my own. Given that there's a movie I haven't yet seen thrown in, well it's a no-brainer really. I plan 24 hour's worth of bed-bound activities to follow. The squash courts aren't air conditioned and, well, there is a beach so no one is going to be battering a ball against a wall when they could be bell-flopping into waves. No external sound effects on the menu, or so I thought.

The Larrikin's End Cinema-slash-squash court is a one-person operation. That one person is the ticket-slash-projectionist-slash-popcorn guy. He does a good job. He'll even sell you 3D glasses at a pinch. I always take my own. Even though they're only $1, I take my environmental-slash-penny-pinching responsibilities seriously. Not that Into the Woods was shown in 3D in Larrikin's End. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Much more rhyme and reason in Sondheim than there is in Larrikin's End.

I find a seat I know from previous experience won't land me in the emergency room. There are up to twenty other patrons, most of them kids, all of them with popcorn. I don't actually like popcorn. For a movie of this length, I take a bottle of water and a tube of tic-tacs. I've pre-planned a raid on the tic-tac tube at the nominal intermission. I know this musical well. The first act ends with the false happy ending. 

Well, talk about engrossing. We're well into the second act and I've only recrossed my legs a couple of times to make sure they are still joined to the rest of me. We get to the bit in the film where there is an enormous storm. I realise that the thunder that is shaking the building isn't coming from the tinny little speakers at the back of the theatre. Then everything goes dark, literally. And the emergency lights come on.

For the fourth time in a week, Larrikin's End has suffered a power outage. (If you're here for a review of Into the Woods, you might want to move on, or at least down - then again, I'm not sure where I'm going to end up here. If you're the patient type, then maybe stay with me. Otherwise, you know what, reviews are cheap - actually they're free and where was I?) Oh, yeah, in the middle of a fairly big and not terribly unusual thunderstorm in a smelly cinema in Larrikin's End. 

Owner-slash comes in and asks if we'll all wait for 10-15 minutes to see whether the power comes back on. As a Larrikin's End resident for, god is it six years already? I offer a resounding yes because I know that unless you get the kind of storm that rips out thirty-storey trees, and this is not one of those, then someone usually finds the blown-out candle on our grandiosely named 'power grid' fairly quickly and relights it.

Owner-slash suggests we use the time to stretch our legs - assuming we still have some. I pop a couple of tic-tacs and take a toilet break. I know my way and I carry a small purse torch these days anyway - combination of failing eyesight and absence of street lighting. I'm pleased that it's an afternoon session. I start thinking about this strange land where rhetoric and reality are as disparate as, say, a cinema and a squash court sharing quarters and I start wondering why I end up spending several minutes every morning resetting all the home appliances that want me to know what time it is.

These days Australia is an embarrassing place to be in or from. It's always been a bit that way, but now, more than ever, man does it suck. Here am I, in movie limbo, while owner-slash guy takes on the extra role of liaising with the power company. We are privy to the entire exchange because he's conducting it on his mobile - the landline being knocked out. The complete uselessness of it seems poignantly emblematic.

I start thinking about the broader national power picture and how some of our leading morons recently managed to convince the chief morons of other countries at the G20 that it would be a good idea to build an 'infastrucha hub' here in Australia, a country where the lights go out every time the gods go bowling. In many ways, it's a classic Australian solution to a problem that would seem simple if only the people weren't. Get a bunch of educationally challenged suits who think they're important together in a room, wrap an enhanced finger buffet around it and you never have to think about how hard it is to bury a few power cables in the ground.

There really are big, tall (or perhaps short), terrible giants in (the) Sky. 

After twenty minutes, power is triumphantly restored to Larrikin's End. I schedule time to reset all my home devices and resume my seat in the cinema-slash-squash court. Ten more minutes pass as owner-slash guy takes advice from a group of animated and attentive under-fives as to where we were when everything went dark. Several spoilers later, we re-experience the giant crashing to the ground and make it to the end of the film without further interruption. The children are a bit baffled by the downbeat conclusion, (what happened to the Baker's Wife, Mummy?), but everyone goes away happy and there is rather a lot of spilt popcorn on the floor, adding to the heady sensory mix. Owner-slash-cleaner guy sighs and gets out the industrial hoover.

It is, as I'm sure you know by now, a fabulous film. Sondheim is Disney-proof and so cool now that every A-lister who's ever been one of the seven brides or brothers in a high-school production, wants to be in the film version of one of his shows. I've seen a couple of productions of Into the Woods and have the original Broadway version on VHS. Sadly, my player no longer works so I haven't watched it in ages.  Ditto Sunday in the Park with George - now there's a movie I'd like to see but please let's not have Johnny Depp as George. My favourite Sondheim musical is Company - mainly because it contains the best 11-o'clock number ever written (Being Alive). I saw the Sam Mendes production of it in London at the Donmar starring the divine Adrian Lester. I had a VHS of that as well as it was later shown on television. I guess I will have to buy them all again on DVD. Returning to the subject of things that really suck - constantly changing media formats anyone? 

After a few post-movie glasses of Chardonnay, I remember that I gave Niece Pants a copy of the Broadway version of Into the Woods when she was really little. I remember that it's always been a favourite of hers and how she loves the Sweeney Todd movie. I remember my own childhood and how I always latched onto the subversive and musicals often gave you that surreptitiously. I think about how engaged those little kids were with the movie we've just seen - something I would never have known if the power hadn't gone out. And I sense hope. As long as children are exposed to Sondheim's view of the world, all cannot be said to be lost.

Must go now and reset all the appliances that like to tell me what time it is otherwise they might retaliate by overcooking the lasagne or something...