Cinema # 1
As we sit in the half-light, waiting for the picture to start, music is playing and the crowd is animated, happy. It’s Friday night; it’s an old and beloved movie. We are comfortably and stylishly dressed: well-groomed, nice hair. Couples are tender, friends are merry—we are all alive. It is the present.
I look up at the vast faux-baroque ceiling with its fading gilt trim, and as I gaze downward again at us, the audience, the scene stops. As if we’d become a freeze frame, that movie trick where the soundtrack keeps running but all motion has ceased. Then, silence: we are a photograph of people at the cinema, a grainy, fading image of ourselves. At least a hundred years have passed; we are all dead. Our faces are fixed in the expressions of that moment; our personal characteristics have been recorded, so perhaps we did exist: we were happy; we were alive. But did the flickering dance of our individual lives mean anything, while it happened? All that’s left is the faces in a crowd in a fading photograph: San Francisco Cinema, circa 2000.
What activity is so benign as our communion in the darkened temple of the cinema, when an old movie is playing? And so of course you have a feeling of well being, looking around at the happy crowd, as it smiles in anticipation of a known pleasure, and taps its feet to the vintage tunes the organist plays. It is that feeling of warmth and happiness that pervades the scene as you scan it, and suddenly notice an old friend, whom you haven’t seen in years, in one of the rows, and as you muse about some experience you shared, you notice that in another row are a kindly aunt and uncle, and over on the left a favorite teacher and his wife, and settling themselves in at the back your best friends from childhood…
And now as the theater fills, it fills completely with your friends and loved ones, so that everywhere you look, in every seat, there are people you have loved at some time in your life, up to their deaths in some cases, while others may have drifted off long before, but at this moment here they are, all together, surrounding you with the quiet warmth of their affection, the aura of the times you shared, and the happiness that each one offered you in a different way…
And then the lights begin to dim, and they go down—but slowly, slowly, so slowly now—until the darkness is complete.