Curly Little Shirley Explains It All For You

A Luminous American Life ● by Tom Roznowski

 

In a curious way, Shirley Temple’s recent death at 85 resonated with popular culture as much as her famous childhood did. While turning her back completely on Hollywood and serving in far-flung outposts as a U.S. ambassador, Shirley Temple Black somehow managed to avoid both vicious gossip and the public eye. Hiding in plain sight, as it were.

Over the course of the 20th Century, media in various forms came to direct and define fame in ways that have made this type of anonymity virtually impossible. Because her early public career coincided with the emergence of sound movies, Shirley Temple would become the first celebrity for whom chronological aging became a serious inconvenience. Her film career began in 1932, the same year that the venerated vaudeville venue, The Palace in New York City, converted itself to a fulltime movie house. In the depths of the Depression, a quarter could buy you hours of escape in air-conditioned darkness. Standing all of four feet as she tap-danced, sang, and lectured cranky adults, Shirley Temple reminded a suffering nation that daily life could actually contain joy.

As exhausting as her schedule was, starting at age 5 with 16 feature films completed in three years, Shirley Temple achieved nationwide recognition without appearing on the stage. Her filmed performances ran simultaneously in thousands of theaters across the United States multiple times every day with a brand new feature being produced every few months. By the time Shirley Temple blew out the candles on her 10th birthday cake, she had appeared in 40 separate film titles. From 1935 to 1938, she was the top box-office draw in America.

Good thing, too. Because within just two years the American movie-going public would summarily reject this beloved and bankable star for the simple reason that she was no longer a little girl. With the increasing clarity of visual film images and recorded sound during this period, every half-inch of her growth was being notched on the door jamb. Fox Studios, anticipating that their investment had a fixed time signature, had altered her birth date by a year.

From today’s perspective, we can see that even as sound film multiplied access and more accurately replicated reality for audiences eager for escape, it also encased film stars and their human personas in amber. And all of this happened within the average American life span of Shirley Temple Black. The first Oscar for Sound Recording was awarded at the first Academy Awards ceremony after her birth. In 1932, just as she was getting in front of a camera, sound mixing was introduced. Then she sang “The Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup,” performances so definitive no one else even bothered. She held her own dancing on with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Not backwards in high heels but rather down a staircase in Mary Janes.

Shirley Temple’s popularity began to wane even before she reached adolescence. As you might expect, it all started with some bad decisions made for her by adults. She was initially the choice for the lead role in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, but Darryl Zanuck, head of Fox Pictures, refused to loan her to MGM.  He was very confident about Shirley’s upcoming release the following year; a picture you’ve likely never seen called The Blue Bird.

It became the first of four consecutive flops for three different studios.  Shirley Temple would then marry at age 17. A measure of just how completely she had vanished from the public eye was the fact that her subsequent divorce at 21 did very little damage to either her reputation or her career. Two weeks after the decree was finalized, she married Charles Black – very wealthy and not an actor. Then, poof! Even for the still curious, she was gone. Now she could finally smoke a cigarette in peace.

As film and sound recording became more technically sophisticated in the 1930s, screen characters were presented in ways that defied the passage of time, allowing audiences to permanently project their deepest fantasies. In 1955, popular culture would freeze Marilyn Monroe’s white dress in mid-air as she stood over a subway grate. This, and her death at age 36, conveniently banished the thought that she would have been nearing ninety when the dress was finally auctioned in 2011. Its entire reputation was based on a ten second movie scene. The winning bid was 5.6 million dollars.

The great blues singer, Bessie Smith, had been born just a generation earlier and also never saw 50. She at least had the advantage of leaving her best performances in the present moment. Legend has it that her voice was capable of putting some audience members into a hypnotic trance that drew them like zombies towards the stage. Afterwards, her scratchy Victrola recordings became sepia postcards from the trip. Already been there, thanks.

Over the course of the 20th Century and accelerating every decade, technology has narrowed the breadth of our imaginations. With digital formats in sound and film absorbing more and more creative presence, the work of interpretation is now increasingly being done for us. Illusion created in print or with black and white film can gently guide the senses and the emotions. But as every shade of color and every bit of detail is filled in, illusion is becoming a thrill with diminished impact. The effects extend far beyond the artistic. While it’s true that peaches imported from Chile are camera-ready and consumer-friendly, the process of transporting them across a hemisphere in real time comes at a high cost: It turns out they don’t taste anything like peaches.

This slow fade from the imaginative and the sensory began long before Shirley Agnes Temple drew a breath, yet one could argue the process took a pronounced leap with her first flop. The Blue Bird started production at 20th Century Fox Studios in the wake of MGM’s astounding success with their own film adaptation of a popular children’s tale. The production looked good on paper, at least in the contracts and publicity releases. While Judy Garland was a discovery, Shirley Temple was an icon.

The reasons for the failure of The Blue Bird now seem so plain with the perspective of time. Stark reality collided head on with advancing technology: Shirley Temple at 12 and in Technicolor. Her hair was no longer curled in ringlets. Her pouts were temperamental rather than charming. Her talents were suddenly considered pedestrian rather than precocious. At a time when Bessie Smith’s hypnotized subjects still walked the earth, the movie star was no longer worth the cheap price of admission. It’s the oldest vaudeville adage of all: Never follow a kid act.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

 

Pull quote

The slow fade from the imaginative and the sensory began long before Shirley Temple drew a breath, yet one could argue the process took a pronounced leap shortly after she blew out the candles on her 10th birthday cake.

Magic Steeped In The Real

The Legacy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez ● by Will Healey

 

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez died in April at the age of 87, the literary world lost a giant.  The man best known for his 1967 masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude and the literary genre with which his name became synonymous, magic realism, left in his wake a trove of novels, short stories and essays that simultaneously communicate timeless truths of life and evoke the mysteries of the supernatural.

Garcia Marquez, from Colombia, was the most celebrated Latin American writer of his era, and one of the most revered writers of the last fifty years.  So towering were his works, that when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Letters said “Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance.” Writer William Kennedy famously called One Hundred Years of Solitude  the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Telling a friend that I was finally going to read that novel after Garcia Marquez’s passing, he said, “it’s the history of the world told through the story of one family.”

Garcia Marquez started his career as a journalist, but gravitated to fiction in his thirties.  He had many celebrated works besides One Hundred Years of Solitude – his novel about a 50-year unrequited love, Love in the Time of Cholera; the short story collection The Leaf Storm; a tale about the epic reign of a fictional Caribbean dictator, The Autumn of the Patriarch; and News of a Kidnapping, a non-fiction book about a series of kidnappings carried out by Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel.

Garcia Marquez’s works were very much influenced by the times in which he lived, and he was unapologetically political.  He counted among his friends Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton, and was outspoken in his disdain for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.  Jonathan Kandell, in a piece for The New York Times marking the death of the great author, wrote that Garcia Marquez’s work “sprang from Latin America’s history of vicious dictators and romantic revolutionaries, of long years of hunger, illness and violence.” Kandell went on to quote Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:  “Poets and beggars,” Garcia Marquez said, “musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination.  For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

In some literary circles, however, Garcia Marquez was criticized for the fantastical elements in his writing, something Salman Rushdie (on whom Garcia Marquez’s work had a great influence), took issue with in a New York Times piece written shortly after the author’s death. Rushdie wrote that the fictional village of Macondo, the backdrop for the agonies and ecstasies of seven generations of the Buendia family in One Hundred Years of Solitude (modeled after Garcia Marquez’s north coastal Colombian birthplace, Aracataca), was similar to William Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi.  Rushdie used the comparison to argue that Garcia Marquez, like Faulkner, created real characters inhabiting a real world.

“The trouble with the term “magic realism,” is that when people say or hear it, they are really only hearing or saying half of it, “magic,” without paying attention to the other half, “realism,” Rushdie wrote.  He goes on to say that if magic realism were just “magic,” then it wouldn’t have much effect on the reader.  Because anything is possible, the stakes are lower.  But, Rushdie says, when the magic is “rooted in the real, and is brought in to supplement the real, that’s when the fun starts.

Rushdie describes a famous scene from the novel, wherein a character dies from a single gunshot and a trickle of his blood leaves his house and serpentines up and down through the streets of Macondo until it finally stops at his mother’s feet.  According to Rushdie, the passage “reads as high tragedy,” because the impossibility of the blood’s purpose-fueled behavior, juxtaposed against the plausible event of a mother learning of her son’s death, takes on a higher, even spiritual meaning.  As Rushdie puts it, “The real, by addition of the magical, actually gains in dramatic and emotional force.  It becomes more real, not less.”

In another notable scene from the novel, the death of the patriarch of the Buendia clan, Jose Arcadio Buendia, is marked by a steady rain of tiny yellow flowers, so many that the next day “the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.”  Jose Arcadio Buendia led the expedition that founded Macondo, and was a polymath of boundless energy.  His unquenchable thirst for knowledge ultimately drives him mad, but the solemn poetry of the raining flowers suggests that the heavens were paying tribute to a man who gave everything to try to advance the lot of his people.

True to Rushdie’s sentiments that the power of Marquez’s work lay in the real, I’m struck that the passage that had the greatest effect on me in One Hundred Years of Solitude didn’t contain anything fantastic or unexplainable.  Albeit tragic, masterfully written and heart-wrenching, this passage simply depicts a man’s final moments.

“On the way to the cemetery, under the persistent drizzle, Arcadio saw that a radiant Wednesday was breaking out on the horizon.  His nostalgia disappeared with the mist and left an immense curiosity in its place.  Only when they ordered him to put his back to the wall did Arcadio see Rebeca, with wet hair and a pink flowered dress, opening wide the door.  He made an effort to get her to recognize him.  And Rebeca did take a casual look toward the wall and was paralyzed with stupor, barely able to react and wave good-bye to Arcadio.  Arcadio answered her the same way.  At that instant the smoking mouths of the rifles were aimed at him and letter by letter he heard the encyclicals that Melquiades had chanted and he heard the lost steps of Santa Sofia de la Piedad, a virgin, in the classroom, and in his nose he felt the same icy hardness that had drawn his attention in the nostrils of the corpse of Remedios.  “Oh, God damn it!” he managed to think.  “I forgot to say that if it was a girl they should name her Remedios.” Then, all accumulated in the rip of a claw, he felt again all the terror that had tormented him in his life.  The captain gave the order to fire.  Arcadio barely had time to put out his chest and raise his head, not understanding where the hot liquid that burned his thighs was pouring from.  “Bastards!” he shouted.  “Long live the Liberal Party!”

Marquez/Castro

Marquez (L) And Fidel Castro

Garcia Marquez did not invent the genre of magic realism, but he certainly popularized it.  Countless writers today employ it in their work- Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami, and Toni Morrison, to name a few.  His influence carries over into other media as well.  Watching the film Pan’s Labyrinth, which juxtaposes a strange world of mythical creatures against the harsh realities of the Spanish Civil War, it’s hard to imagine Mexican director Guillermo del Toro wasn’t influenced by Garcia Marquez.  Or take the famous raining frogs sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia, which depicted the mysterious intersections of seemingly disparate lives. What makes Magnolia’s famous sequence work isn’t that the events in the film are so coincidental that, sure, frogs falling from the sky isn’t so far fetched; it’s that the characters that are all strangely connected are so real to us, and the dramas that play out in their storylines so human, that the frogs falling from the sky is an inexplicable moment of wonder that somehow rings true – Garcia Marquez’s personal recipe for successful, affecting magic realism.

Just four months on from his passing, and 47 years after the release of One Hundred Years of Solitude, it is still far too early to fully measure the scope of the author’s impact on the world. But back in April, when it became known that Garcia Marquez had finally succumbed to complications from lymphatic cancer and dementia, I wonder how many of his admirers checked outside to see that there weren’t yellow flowers raining from the sky.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

The 38th Annual 4th St. Festival of the Arts & Crafts

● by Colleen Wells

 

Labor Day calls for cook-outs and a long weekend to enjoy the waning summer. For Bloomington residents it means something more. Labor Day Weekend ushers in the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Fine Crafts, an event coordinated by local artists. With roots stemming from a discussion between two local potters, the inaugural Fourth Street Festival was held in 1977 with the goal of showcasing local talent. The event has since blossomed to accommodate a variety of both greater Bloomington area artisans and those from around the country. Nearly 120 artists from states as far as New York and Florida will participate.

Now in its 38th year, the weekend’s event attracts over 40,000 visitors. It will run from 10:00ama to 6:00pm on Saturday, August 30th, and 10:00am to 5:00pm on Sunday at Fourth & Grant Streets. Artists representing a variety of mediums including printmaking, wood, leather, photography, fiber, glass and ceramics will display and sell their work.

Wendy Newman of Moab, Utah, has participated in numerous festivals for twenty-five years with her handcrafted, contemporary jewelry and was a juror for this year’s event. She spoke of the advantages of art fairs created by artists. “In my experience the shows that artists run are juried more fairly and of a higher quality than other shows.”

Another factor in the event’s success is the willingness of the artists to promote their own work. Bloomington resident and contemporary jewelry artist, Marilyn Greenwood, has been exhibiting her work at the show since 1990. She has her work on display at By Hand gallery, but is able to show a wider variety and her newest work at the festival. Through her marketing efforts the artist stated she “draws on people from Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati and Louisville.”

There will be other attractions including a music stage with bands offering tunes ranging from classical to blues. The kidszone will provide hands on art opportunities for children, and there will be additional community booths. All of the ancillary events run through the course of both days.

The Spoken Word Stage presented by the Writers Guild at Bloomington begins each day at 10:30a.m. with writers reading from several genres. Each presentation lasts a half hour. Since joining the festival in 2011, this addition has been both popular and unique. Tony Brewer, Executive Director for the Spoken Word Stage and Chair of the Bloomington Writer’s Guild, said, “To my knowledge 4th Street is the only arts festival in Indiana that offers a dedicated spoken word stage. Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and many many others around the country have for years, and I have looked to them as a model for how ours might work.”

New this year is an installation located at Fourth Street between Kirkwood and Dunn. The piece is constructed of plywood with a waffle-like structure held together by friction without any bolts or screws. It was created in a workshop with mechanical engineering students at IUPUI-Columbus. Instructor Jonathan Racek, a Bloomington architect with a focus on sustainability and digital fabrication who teaches interior design classes at Indiana University, had spoken with colleagues about building a set piece for a fashion show put on by IU students. The arch was created with 3D software and fabricated on a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) router which Racek said is “like a robotic cutter.” The creation is approximately 8 feet wide, 8.5 feet tall, and 3 feet deep.

Of being tasked with making the piece for the fashion show, Racek said, “We really weren’t sure what that was going to be.” Soon to be exhibited at the Fourth Street Festival, the structure simply called “the arch,” will be at home alongside many other creative pieces.

Whether you are a regular visitor of the 4th street Festival, or plan to attend for the first time, you are likely to find something that resonates. It may be an intricate piece of metal jewelry, or a painting that speaks to you, but the 4th Street Festival is a place where artists and art are appreciated.

Brewer stated that the Poetry On Demand portion of the Spoken Word Stage “offers festival goers an opportunity to interact directly with artists in the act of creation.” This fits with the organizers of the festival’s vision of community involvement.

Commenting on shows where a dedicated staff works closely with the community, juror Newman stated, “These shows are a labor of love for the people who put them on and focused more on the art which is a treasure to have.”

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

The Cult Of Faux Reality

Writer-director Ti West and his film, The Sacrament, are coming to the IU Cinema as part of the Diabolique International Film Festival ● by Max Weinstein

 

[The Diabolique International Film Festival is a celebration of independent horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy film. In its eighth year, DIFF will take place from September 18-20 at the IU Cinema.

As a film festival, DIFF acts as a platform for independent genre films and filmmakers that work to explore possibilities outside of studio constraints. The DIFF Academic Symposium also aims to generate discussion about independent and alternative horror. The horror genre has circulated for years through alternative means including foreign film, art film, independent film, and tonal intersections with a variety of other genres; these are the alternatives DIFF celebrates. The scope of the DIFF symposium is broad yet specific: to discuss the possibilities and future of horror film, or films that intersect with horror, outside of those produced by major studios, exploring the complexities and potential of the genre when unrestricted by Hollywood limitations. For more on DIFF visit diaboliquefilmfestival.com

A version of this article was originally published in Diabolique magazine.]

“In a perfect world, I would have done an eight-part documentary mini-series about Jonestown,” Ti West explains when considering what could have been made in lieu of The Sacrament, his latest film that, with some struggle, he resolves to describe as a “sort of new media type thing.”

The Sacrament is a great horror film ⎯ a film whose media meshing invokes a necessary discourse on the representation of reality in a genre designed to shock and affect. West’s most complete and ambitious work to date deftly interweaves a multiplicity of techniques, aesthetics and subgenres to tell the story of the mysterious Eden Parish, a People’s Temple-esque cult that becomes the focal point of The Sacrament’s  film-within-a-film fictional investigative documentary.

Kentucker Audley co-stars as Patrick, a photo journalist who gains access to Eden Parish, intending to meet his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who has been a member of the commune since being taken in for drug therapy by its leader, Charles Anderson Reed (Gene Jones). In tow are two of Patrick’s colleagues from Vice Media, Sam  (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg). As Reed, the enigmatic leader of Eden Parish known to his followers simply as “Father,” Gene Jones delivers a performance whose potency is the catalyst for The Sacrament’s blurring of ethical journalism and individual moralism; Sam unnerves viewers when he tells Jake, on-screen, that while he wouldn’t choose to live a life at Eden Parish, his immersion in its daily goings-on are allowing him to actually “dig it.”

“That line is a big thesis line of the movie,” West asserts. “What I wanted to show when they got there and saw this place was that it’s weird — it’s definitely weird — but, ‘Hey, if they wanna live like this, if nothing’s wrong, who am I to say otherwise?’ People think that if you’re in a cult, 24/7, you’re just a lunatic every minute of every day. Hopefully the first half of the movie can help educate people to a certain extent, to where they see these people and go, ‘Oh. I understand why they’re here. I don’t wanna do that. But it makes sense, what they’re saying.’ [In] the big interview with Father, it’s all there. Everything he’s saying doesn’t sound so bad.”

Parallels between Father’s diatribes against America’s social, political and economic status quo and Jim Jones’ rationale for coaxing Jonestown members to commit mass “revolutionary suicide” are of primary concern to West in his efforts to school modern audiences on doomsday cults’ hive mentality. “Ideologically, everything he says should make perfect sense to everybody,” West says of Father’s delusional hijacking of serious systemic ills like imperialism, racism, or homelessness. “Like, ‘We shouldn’t have poor people!’ ‘I agree.’ ‘We shouldn’t have sick people!’ ‘I agree.’ He’s saying such basic things. Now, if you’re in a very desperate situation that you can’t improve, and a guy comes along and says, ‘Come with me and I can make your life better,’ you’d try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work. But to get it to work, you stick with it. For a while it is better than the life you had before. But the bigger that group gets, as always, the megalomaniac who’s in charge starts to pervert it. The guy promises everything — great — gives you some of it, and once you’re so deep in, you realize it’s not all there and there’s nothing you can do about it, because your life has become so insular. You’re too in it now.”

The name Eden Parish in and of itself appropriates biblical connotations to slyly suggest not only the “new beginning” Father promises its members, but also the eradication of one’s sense of self that his benevolent-seeming brainwashing gradually creates, in the name of a “fresh start.” West’s voice grows agitated when explaining Father’s theft of the cult’s members’ identity, as if arguing with an imaginary person whose perspective is noxiously contrarian to that of his own: “Even when you go back to Jonestown, it’s like: ‘I wouldn’t have taken the poison!’ How? How would you have been the one person, when everyone you know — your friends, family, babies — are dying around you? You’re living in a work camp in the jungle in 1978. How do you get out of it? That takes a strong person to go ‘No thanks,’ and walk out of there and risk being killed. It wasn’t really a choice. If you’re sitting there and your whole family’s dying around you, you’re gonna walk through the jungle and hopefully find a plane with no money and no passport, get back to America and then just be homeless with no family or friends? That’s not a good option. What they don’t realize is that all that stuff was taken away from them by someone in charge, and they thought they were offering it up to him to have a better life. At first, it was that for a lot of people. But once you get so deep in, it’s not easy to get out.”

In a perverse way, the insularity to which West refers actually facilitates an unconventional home space, and he is intrigued by reading The Sacrament, if not explicitly as a Home Invasion film, at least as demonstrative of its definitive tropes. As the crew’s documentary unfolds, Father’s paranoid warnings about their posing an “outsider” threat culminate in suspicion, derangement, and later, violence, among his constructed family subjected to such propagation. “If you look at it from the Eden Parish side of things,” he says, “they’re trying to get Patrick down there because they’ve got rich parents. If his sister can convince him to stay and get more money, they can keep doing what they’re doing. They didn’t know these [film crew] guys were coming, and they’re like, ‘Oh, shit…’ They’re rolling with it. They can’t just send him away, because people will tell stories about it. So they’re trying their best to deal with, essentially, a home invasion event. It’s not like someone knocking down someone’s door with an axe, but it is these people that they don’t want in their community. They’re trying to spin it, and Father is trying to stay one step ahead of them and ‘work’ this. And they just can’t. The Sacrament isn’t really a home invasion movie, but if you think about it from the characters’ perspective, yes — these journalists came in and started this snowball rolling that unraveled everything.”

The distinctly southern drawl of Father reeks of the television evangelical huckster type who might try to convince you that masturbation distracts from “holding hands with God,” or that heavy metal music is the cause of all suicides (without a hint of self-awareness). The Sacrament’s characterization of this religious fanaticism as geographically bound to red states like Mississippi, where Father says he was born, is a lightning rod for reactionaries, and was consequential during the making of The Sacrament, when the time came for West to receive permission to shoot from local authorities. “We were gonna shoot the movie in Charleston, South Carolina and we did not. They would not give us the tax credit because of the content of the movie,” West reveals of his location scouting process. “To get the tax incentive, you had to get the content approved, and they didn’t want anything to do with it — which is a shame, because that’s a lot of money for South Carolina. It’s a lot of money for people whose army lives just ended. All those crew would have come on to our movie and they would have kept a lot of people in business. They were like, ‘We don’t like the content of your movie. You can’t shoot here.’ So we left. At one point they called us and were like, ‘We’re actually gonna overturn that,’ but it was too late. Then we moved to Georgia where it was not an issue. What’s great about Georgia is they went, ‘Come on down.’”

In terms of its unique status as a movie of technological identity crisis, West himself is contradictory when breaking down how The Sacrament can, and ought, to be received. “I don’t consider it a found-footage movie,” he states. “But found-footage is sort of helpful, because it’s like ‘Oh, I’m gonna watch a movie with a camera in it.’ It’s not like we dug up this tape and this is what was ‘found’ and previously shot. The characters made a documentary. Some point of view is still in it, because the documentary being made is so shocking and so unbelievable, but it was never meant to be like, ‘Thank God we had these baby monitors and surveillance cameras in the corner of the room so we could catch this footage!’ What the main characters do for a living is make documentaries. You don’t call a Christopher Guest movie a found-footage movie, but they’ve been doing that forever; it’s basically a fake documentary. But if you call The Sacrament a mockumentary, it’s wildly insensitive. You can’t call it that. It’s in this kind of no-man’s land, which is a nightmare when you’re marketing the movie. But it also made it easier for me as a filmmaker, because found-footage movies are sloppy on purpose; they have to be for it to feel authentic. So since there’s an on-camera guy and a director of photography, they could actually shoot the movie to make it look good. For me, it was great to be able to do interesting compositions, shoot people and not have the movie be like someone’s video camera that they’re dropping on the ground every two seconds.”

No consolation prize of one spared innocent human life is delivered in an historically grounded, inevitable train-wreck such as this. Forced to bear witness the fabricated deaths of a cult of faux-reality, there is an ever-present sense that the destruction of family, identity, belief systems or basic humanity defies comprehension, even amidst the modernity of our information age.

A lacuna in a philosophy too committed to authorship when writing and directing a film that reflects Jim Jones’ murder of actual human beings, however, is that overt stylization can sensationalize its narrative’s tragic nature. “This shouldn’t be a ‘fun’ horror movie,” West asserts, expounding upon his conscious decision to nix the supernatural elements of his previous genre outings. “There shouldn’t be a ‘clapping scene’ where someone dies in this movie. It should be confrontational. It’s not just reduced to ‘Eh, drink the Kool-Aid.’”

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

DIFF 2014: When, What, Where

The Diabolique International Film Festival, September 18-20 at the IU Cinema

 

Thursday, September 18:

9:30 pm ⎯ DIFF kicks off with a special screening of the award winning film Proxy, directed by Indiana native Zack Parker.

Friday, September 19:

● 3pm ⎯ A Conversation with Ti West with Q&A

● 6:30pm ⎯ The Sacrament  (Ti West hosts)

● 9:30 pm ⎯  Ti West’s The Innkeepers

● 11:59 pm ⎯ Ti West’s The House of the Devil

Saturday, September 20:

● 8am ⎯ Roundtable: Diabolique International Film Festival Academic Symposium 2014

The DIFF Academic Symposium will consist of three horror-centered roundtables on Saturday morning: two led by local horror scholars, and a third led by independent horror directors Ti West and Zack Parker.

Noon-1:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #1

A program of shorts including Zombies 4Kids 

● 2-4:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #2

A program of shorts including Possessed Forklift of Death  

● 4-5:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #3

A program of shorts including The Pride of Strathmoor

● 6-7:40pm ⎯ Screening Block #4

A program of shorts including The Carriage or: Dracula & My Mother 

8-9:40pm ⎯ Screening Block #5

A program of shorts including Extreme Pinocchio 

● 10-11:40pm ⎯ Screening  Block #6

A program of shorts including Franky and the Ant (Dir. Billy Hayes, USA)

● 11:30pm ⎯ After Hours VIP Party and Awards Presentation at Scholars Inn

Visiting filmmakers are invited to join us at our After Hours VIP Party and Awards Presentation at Scholars Inn, a 150-year-old historic mansion. Since our first year in 2007, its dual fireplaces and huge outdoor decks have provided the perfect backdrop for our guests and visiting filmmakers to network, have fun, and share their experiences.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Films: Boyhood

Cinema In the Present Tense ● by Brandon Walsh

 

The uncredited main character of Richard Linklater’s latest film Boyhood is time, and time will tell. Shot over 12 years with the same actors, the audience is invited to watch both the characters and story evolve over time. In the spirit of the longitudinal films of Antoine Doinel, the Up documentary series, and Linklater’s own Before… trilogy, Boyhood compresses time and human experience in a way previously unseen to the art form.

The film is chaptered by various markers of growing up, often without the broader narrative explanation to be expected from mainstream cinema. When we see a young Mason pour mustard on the hot dog his dad bought for him at a baseball game, we aren’t explicitly told what it means to him, but the seemingly mundane focus helps to explain the bond with his father as the film progresses. The joy of Boyhood comes with watching seeds like this grow, in a way that the story allows itself to be told by unfolding in new and interesting ways somehow avoiding most audience-pandering cause/effect conventions. In doing so Linklater places trust in the audience’s own humanity to decide which moments to attribute importance, the very same logic that goes for one’s own life. As a result, there are numerous ways to identify with the film (nostalgic/prospective as a parent/child), and all are valid.

Archibald MacLeish writes at the end of “Ars Poetica” that a poem, “should not mean/But be,” a notion meant to match the fluid subjectivity of life. The argument could be made that more films have been employing a mode of “visual poetry,” leaving more elliptical moments meant to question our relationship with time rather than a straightforward narrative payoff across scenes. Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color and Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder come to mind as two modern examples of narrative films with such moments, albeit with a stronger regard for imagery over character. A thesis of Boyhood could be that as a kid, things just sort of happen to you, and that we’re all thrown into life without much guidance of how to do it right, left to stare at the clouds. Mason’s boyhood vulnerability drifts away with his increasing willingness to flow with the inexplicable. He begins to trust others, depend on himself, love and reciprocate, consider the consequence of his actions, gaining the qualities of a well-rounded adult.

As Mason matures, so does the film itself, leaving plot-centric scenes for more focused philosophical conversations, without the traditional motive of sequential action. The film’s aspirations are lofty, but reaches them by avoiding metaphor-laden humanitarian commentary well recognized in the Oscar-winning canon of great film. Late in the film, Mason talks with a young woman who works with kids approaching their “awkward years,” and the reality hits that we’ve watched Mason live through his. Life is presented as no more or less than a series of events, but more than the sum of its seconds.

For those who have been following Linklater’s filmography, the film’s reclining structure will come as little surprise. However, the later scenes serve a deeper purpose. Whereas a film like Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are encourages the audience to interpret the events with a child character’s limited perspective, Linklater invites a broad understanding of childhood and adolescence, one that recognizes the nuanced effects of parents and environment on a growing mind, but also understands the individual can’t entirely be defined by his/her surroundings. Therein lies the onward-explorative spirit of Boyhood, a film with as much ineffable heart and consciousness as its characters.

At its very best, film packages the experience of consciousness into digestible entertainment. It’s phenomenology made tangible, a personal study that invites a deeper appreciation of the impermanence of life. Time survives in retrospect, but it only moves forward. In expressing this through Linklater’s production, we’re reminded the death of time is life in the ongoing present. Much like the end of Linklater’s Before Midnight, the film doesn’t end as much as it stops presenting itself to us on a screen. The rest is on us.

[Brandon Walsh works for Facets, whose Cinémathèque is an independent art house theater in Chicago that screens international film targeted to younger audiences.]

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

 

IU Cinema Fall Preview

● by Craig J. Clark

 

The Indiana University Cinema’s Fall 2014 program book will be out within the next few weeks, but in the meantime, The Ryder has been given a sneak peek at what’s on the docket for the next four months, courtesy of director Jon Vickers.

“We are very excited about the IU Cinema’s fall program this year,” Vickers says. “There is definitely plenty from everyone, from the casual movie-lover to the most discerning cinephile. We will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary some of the most iconic films of 1984, like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, and This Is Spinal Tap, the 40th anniversary of one of the scariest movies of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the 10th anniversary of the film Kinsey.”

Vickers promises that the entire season will be online before the first of September, but visitors to the Cinema the weekend before Labor Day will witness the kickoff of three of its regular film series – Underground, City Lights, and Midnight Movies.

The Underground series gets off to a chilling start on Friday, August 29, with 1973’s Ganja & Hess, which doubles as the first of three films in a series entitled “Blaxploitation Horror of the 1970s.” A most unusual vampire film, in the sense that the v-word is never once spoken in it, Ganja & Hess was written and directed by Bill Gunn, who had previously scripted Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, and gave Duane Jones his only starring role outside of Night of the Living Dead. He plays a renowned anthropologist who takes on a neurotic assistant (played by Gunn) who stabs him with a ceremonial dagger and kills himself. Jones is far from dead, though, and he now has a taste for blood which he satiates by raiding blood banks (prefiguring Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive by four decades) and killing prostitutes. Then Gunn’s wife (Marlene Clark) comes looking for him and eventually marries Jones, who turns her and initiates her in the fine art of body disposal. Only then does he seriously contemplate what “till death do you part” means.

As envisioned by Gunn, Ganja & Hess has a very strong religious component, represented by bookend scenes at the church of a firebrand reverend (Sam Waymon) who’s also Jones’s part-time chauffeur. Faced with such an idiosyncratic film, distributors responded by cutting it to ribbons and releasing it under more exploitable titles like Black Vampire, Blood Couple and Double Possession, but the print being screened by the Cinema is a 35mm restoration of Gunn’s director’s cut, which makes it a veritable must-see. Incidentally, the two other films in the Blaxploitation Horror series, which picks back up in October, are 1976’s J.D.’s Revenge, and 1972’s Blacula, the film that set the cycle in motion and which will, appropriately enough, be shown on Halloween.

Other screenings in the Underground Film Series include the experimental documentaries The Great Flood and All Vows, which filmmaker Bill Morrison will be present for, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial final film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel’s Malpertius, made the same year as his cult vampire film Daughters of Darkness, and an evening of shorts by experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert. Those looking for something a little more accessible, though, will want to keep an eye on its companion series, City Lights.

First up is the Jacques Demy musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is being screened on Saturday, August 30. Made in 1964, it’s a frothy concoction in which every line of dialogue is sung, and the performances by Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as two young lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control are totally endearing. (To go with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the Cinema is screening another Demy musical, 1967’s The Young Girls of Roquefort, along with 1961’s West Side Story as part of a two-film tribute to triple-threat George Chakiris.)

The remainder of the City Lights series includes the work of such notable director/star pairings as Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich (1930’s Morocco), Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas (1957’s Paths of Glory), Alfred Hitchock and Joseph Cotten (1943’s Shadow of a Doubt), and Arthur Penn and Dustin Hoffman (1970’s Little Big Man). Then there’s the post-Halloween double feature of Mad Love and The Raven, both from 1935, featuring horror icons Peter Lorre, Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. One of the highlights of the semester, though, is likely going to be November’s twin screenings of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent The General, presented in collaboration with the Jacobs School of Music, with a newly commissioned score by IU alumnus Andrew Simpson and live orchestral accompaniment.

The Midnight Movies series only pops up in the fall, but it tends to feature some of the most adventurous films that the Cinema screens all year. First out of the gate, on Friday, August 29, is Prince’s film debut Purple Rain. Co-written, directed and edited by Albert Magnoli, the 1984 film stars His Purpleness as Prince-like musician The Kid, who fronts a band called The Revolution and is in direct competition with Morris Day, lead singer for The Time, for supremacy in the Minneapolis music scene. They also come into conflict over aspiring singer/dancer Apollonia Kotero, who hooks up with The Kid first but is actively wooed by Day to be in his new girl group. Meanwhile, The Kid has what could charitably be called a difficult home life and a strained relationship with his abusive father, who is nevertheless a brilliant pianist/composer. How much of this correlates to Prince’s actual biography I couldn’t say, but the film’s main saving grace is, of course, the soundtrack, which opens strong with the one-two punch of “Let’s Go Crazy” and The Time’s “Jungle Love,” and closes with blistering live performances of the title song and “I Would Die 4 U.”

Also getting the midnight-screening treatment is 1976’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which continues the Cinema’s tradition of showing at least one X-rated film a semester. This one, a “porno chic” updating of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is the work of director Radley Metzger, who also made 1974’s Score, which was screened in the spring as part of the “Queer Disorientations” series. Other films in the series include Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (their second giallo homage following 2009’s Amer), and Alex Cox’s Repo Man, which – like Purple Rain – is pulling double duty as part of a film series entitled “1984 Revisited.” (Look for a more in-depth article about that next month.)

“Many more filmmakers will be presenting their work in the Cinema,” Vickers says, “including Josephine Decker, Natalia Almada, and Polish master Krzysztof Zanussi, to name a few. There are also additional, very exciting guests that will be announced before September 1.” Sounds like the makings of a cinephile’s dream to me.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Deer Park’s Americana Music

Howlin’ Brothers to Kick Off Series ● by Chris Lynch

 

Deer Park Manor, the site of many Bloomington weddings, will inaugurate an Americana Music Series on August 31 with the Howlin’ Brothers, a trio from Nashville, Tennessee (pictured above). Bloomington inventor and broadcast mogul Sarkes Tarzian, who contributed to the development of FM radio and color television, built the manor in the 1950s, and it has operated as a banquet facility since 1999.

Those who have walked the beautiful grounds and gardens understand why it was a fitting place for Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon to stay on their visits to Bloomington—and now its beauty can be enjoyed while taking in great music. According to Angela Backstrom, who is promoting the series, “The venue is in the outdoor courtyard, under a tent, at the lovely manor. There will be some tables and lots of chairs available, and there is a nice slate dance floor for those so inclined.”

Backstrom says that the series defines “Americana” very broadly. “Americana is a large range of music—folk, blues, country, alt-country, singer/songwriter, old-time, bluegrass, newgrass, string band, folk rock, indie, and more.” Backstrom feels that this kind of music in this unique setting will allow the manor to carve out a niche, offering something “that is currently somewhat underrepresented in Bloomington.” Wishing to differentiate itself from the classical music and club scenes, Deer Park Manor is offering “a family oriented, high quality scenic and sonic experience unlike anything else in town,” she says.

The Howlin’ Brothers, whose music combines influences from most of the range of Americana that Backstrom describes, will start the series with a bang. Ian Craft, one of the “brothers,” describes the trio as a string band. “We love blues and great songs,” he says. “We adapt them and perform them with banjo, fiddle, guitar, and upright bass, so to some it may seem like bluegrass—which isn’t wrong—but we also incorporate several styles from Cajun to country and anything else we run into that we dig.”

The trio has come a long way from when they first started working together. The three met in central New York while studying classical music at Ithaca College. “We were all at the school of music learning about different things,” recalls Craft. “Jared and Ben were studying guitar and recording engineering, and I was a percussionist. We met in a recording session—Jared was recording my steel drum band. We became great friends and started learning a lot of folk and bluegrass tunes.”

They learned to play a lot of instruments too. Craft plays banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and kick-drum; Jared Green plays guitar, harmonica, and piano; and Ben Plasse holds it all down on the upright bass. All three contribute vocals, trading off the melody to whomever wrote the song.

For the concert at the manor, the group will perform many original tunes from their commercial albums. Howl, released in 2013, peaked at number six on the Americana Music radio chart. That year they also recorded The Sun Studio Session, the recording of which is documented in a PBS series called The Sun Studio Sessions. Their stop in Bloomington is part of a national tour promoting their third album, called Trouble, which appeared in April.

Their set list will feature lots of other songs too. “We’ll play a full range of music from the new album as well as traditional tunes and other timely classics,” says Craft.

The Howlin’ Brothers’ stop at the manor will also feature some local talent. Bloomington singer-songwriter Jacob Latham will open the evening with an hour-long set at 7pm. At just 19, Latham is already an accomplished performer who has played clubs across the country. His rich and grainy baritone voice perfectly suits his folksy guitar style, mandolin picking, and Dylan-esque harmonica riffs, and will be a wonderful introduction to an evening of Americana.

[If you’re interested in learning about upcoming acts in the Deer Park Americana Music Series, you can follow the series’ page on Facebook.]

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Introduction To The Fiction Issue

A word about the words in this issue ◆ by Justin Chandler

It was a little over a year ago that we got the idea of putting together an issue that would showcase Bloomington fiction. I was immediately interested, not just because I write fiction myself, but because I knew that if anywhere could offer up an eclectic and brilliant collection of work, it was here.

I saw the fiction scene as existing in factions. I had been involved in the undergraduate and graduate writing scene at IU through various workshops and as an intern at Indiana Review. And I knew of other factions, like the writing group at Boxcar Books and the Writers Guild. I also envisioned some secret faction, writing in the shadows, plotting the upheaval of all we know.

I’m not so sure we’re ready to start soliciting work from that last group. But what intrigued me about a fiction issue was the chance to reach out to all these groups and see what kind of amazing kaleidoscope could be created when we put them together.

So, with way less time than we should’ve had, we set out to make that issue happen. Two weeks later, our deadline passed with zero submissions—not because no one submitted, but because our site had been hacked and our email accounts, perhaps due to protocol or maybe out of some existential dread, ceased for a period of time in the laborious struggle of being. When they came back online they were empty, and what I’m really afraid of? Is that in some alternative universe, maybe they still are….

Whatever. We pushed the fiction issue back to July 2014, to well, for you, right now. And this time around we, and the hackers, did it right.

I knew that we would get a unique mix of work. What I didn’t know is that picking such a varied set of stories would be so easy. I still find it kind of hard to believe we got this lucky. These stories are wide-ranging in their concerns, their characters and themes, and they are all really good. They deal with love, its possibility, its inevitability, and what happens in its terrifying absence. They deal with life, with the beauty of the known, and the provocative specter of the unknown. I think most of all they deal with people, trying to figure out what it all means, or for the first time realizing that they might not know.

A drawing by Ali Maidi accompanies each story. Ali is an artist and a Bloomington native who graduated from IU with a focus in Jewelry and Metalsmithing. Although he works with several different medias, he prefers drawing. Maidi currently works for the art and signage company, Moda Industria. Ali also drew the cover which presumably, you’ve already seen. Take another look. See — he’s good.

I’ve said way more than I wanted to already. Turn to page 14 and you’ll find the first of five stories by Bloomington artists. For you.

Illustrations by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

Fiction: Ahmed’s Spring

by Cara Prill

11:11:11 on 11/11/11 was a long time from when they first met. Sarah had been barefoot, sitting on the back of a couch, when Ahmed fell in love. Of course, he’d been in the States awhile and seen plenty of feminine toes exposed in flip flops outside or trotting naked across the dorm’s lounge. Sarah’s, though, were smoothing the couch cushions beneath her, and Sarah was laughing in a way that gave him shivers. He watched her light hair fall across her mouth and stood too long staring.

David knew Sarah already and, for some strange reason, suggested to Ahmed that she would make a great match with Steve down the hall. They spent an afternoon deciding how to set it up, which meant Ahmed got to ask David lots of questions about Sarah, all for the purpose of helping out Steve.

That evening, after David invited Sarah and Steve to Ahmed’s room, the four of them spread out. David was in the chair, Steve against the desk, Ahmed on his bed, and Sarah on the floor. No matter how often Ahmed offered a pillow, Sarah just smiled and said she was fine. Pizza was delivered, late night talk shows ended, and Steve left to finish a paper. Eventually, David got tired and took off. Then Ahmed and Sarah stayed up through the night; she was still on the floor beneath the edge of his bed, so Ahmed hung his head over the side. Her face, below him, looked angular and perfect.

Ahmed liked counting the freckles on Sarah’s nose, twenty-four, twenty-five. He planned to be an accountant. Sarah studied religion. She said she liked knowing how people answered the big questions about life and death. Lately, she had a lot of questions about Islam. Ahmed prayed five times a day, or tried to. She said she loved how Muslims touched their heads to the ground in prayer. But he couldn’t pray in front of Sarah, and the only time he misused his prayer mat was when they sat by it together.

Sarah was doing her homework on Ahmed’s back while he bent over his laptop. He studied her feet against the black and gold corner of his mat. They were like shells, those pearl shells that shone. He touched them again to feel how soft they were. She readjusted her legs around his waist and tapped her pen on his back.

“Are you bored?” he asked her.

“No. This is nice, doing homework. Like this.” He felt her arms sneak under his elbows and around his waist.

He said, “You’re like a turtle shell on my back, you know?” She wiggled her toes and fingers in front of his computer. He felt completely crazy. “Sarah, do you want to kiss?” was what he’d been thinking of asking for a month.

“Yes.” She put her head on his shoulder.

“What?”

“Yes, I want to kiss you.” He stopped breathing, and she added, “That’s what you said, right? Under your breath? Oh, I mean,” she stuttered, “I’m sorry.”

He pulled her right foot off of his crossed legs, set it to the side, leaned over, and brushed his lips against her toes.

Ahmed had never been on a date before, not exactly, and not American style, so he studied up. David said that it wasn’t much different than in the old movies that Ahmed watched in his film studies class: take her out to a movie, out for pizza or a sandwich, pay for everything, maybe get ice cream. If it gets cold, offer your jacket.

So Ahmed wore his best leather jacket. He walked Sarah across campus and bought tickets at the little theater that played “artsy flicks,” as Sarah called them. But he was afraid she didn’t like the movie much. It was more serious than he expected, and she only laughed once. He wasn’t sure if he was holding her hand right either.

At the pizza place she ordered a sandwich, so he did too, except that he ordered the beef. She’d taken three large, adorable bites and had a mouthful of ham when he couldn’t stop himself and began to laugh. She reached up to her lip as if she had some sauce on it.

“No, no. It isn’t that.” He explained that he loved how she could be herself around him and order whatever she wanted.

Her eyes opened wide. “Oh, God,” she said, setting down the sandwich. “I forgot about ham!” He asked her to please not stop eating just because of him. He wasn’t sure if kissing an American who had eaten ham counted as eating ham yourself, but he was certain, ham or no, that kissing was forbidden in the first place, and he decided to think less.

He kissed her on the mouth later anyway. She was wearing his jacket, and they were hiding in a classroom on campus to get out of the cold. She smelled like leather, ham, and shampoo.

“You missed seeing Hamid and Zaynab. They came to your cousin’s wedding.”

Ahmed switched the phone to his other hand and turned his back to the bed. He started speaking in Urdu.

“How was it?” he said, trying to change the topic.

“Fine, Ahmed, fine,” his mother replied in Urdu, and then continued in English, “Why aren’t you calling Zaynab? She says you haven’t talked for a while.”

We haven’t talked for six months, Ahmed thought. “I think we’ve both been busy, Mom.”

“Well, I hope you’re not too busy to plan your wedding. We went to a lot of trouble, convincing her family that a Shi’a was welcome in ours after you two begged us to match you.”

Ahmed looked behind him at Sarah, who smiled before hiding her face under the sheet.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“You should have come home this break. If you’re not careful, Zaynab will forget what you look like and marry someone like Hamid!”

Ahmed wondered if his mother knew already. “Hamid isn’t bad looking.”

“Really, son, come home for your spring break. Don’t spend so long away. We can pay for your ticket.”

“I know. OK, I’m sorry,” Ahmed stammered, then said that he needed to eat breakfast before the sun came up. She sounded relieved that he was keeping Ramadan, and let him off the phone after that.

When Sarah said she thought he was speaking Urdu with his family, Ahmed relaxed, but then she laughed a little, telling him that eventually she realized he was just speaking English very fast. He didn’t get back into bed. He tried to remember what he’d said in English. Sarah answered that for him: “Hamid must be hard to talk about.”

After an awkward moment, they managed to discuss it, seated together on the edge of the bed. He was relieved to learn David had already told Sarah about Zaynab and his best friend. Instead of being jealous, Sarah seemed sad for him. She took his hand in hers. “Losing your sweetheart to your best friend,” she said, “is a good reason to not want to go home.”

Ahmed thought to himself that Sarah was a good reason to not go home. They hurried to the cafeteria to beat sunrise.

Not having homework over semester break and having the dormitory to themselves was bliss. It was going to be “Oh-one, Oh-one, Oh-one,” as Sarah liked to call New Year’s, 2001, and she was cooking dinner for him. He assured her that Ramadan had ended three days ago and he could eat at a normal time. Besides, he was very hungry. But she insisted they have a late night meal to stay up for the New Year. He was supposed to show up in the lounge at 9:30 p.m. sharp, with grape juice—“the kind that’s not fermented,” she said.

To pass the evening, he walked to the grocery store and back. When he went downstairs at 9:30 the lights were off, the TV—showing Times Square—was on mute, and Sarah had tall candles burning. Chicken legs and rice were on the end table, and she had arranged throw pillows on the floor. He held out the grape juice to her like a prize, for which he won a smile. He had never seen someone in blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and oversized socks look so beautiful.

After the ball dropped in Times Square, after they kissed for 01/01/01, after they cleaned up the dishes and lit more candles, Ahmed held Sarah on the couch. He lifted up on an elbow and took off her socks to count her toes.

“I have ten, same as you!” she said.

“I know, but these are special.”

She twisted around to face him. “What do you think you’ll be doing ten years from now?”

“I don’t know.” Ahmed thought about it. “Maybe I’ll be a wealthy accountant by then. Or maybe I’ll go into computers.” He wadded up her sock and threw it at the TV.

“Hey!” she said.

“It’s binary today, Oh-one, Oh-one, Oh-one,” he said, wadding up her other sock. “Maybe it’s a sign I should go into computers.”

She went to grab his hand, but he tossed the other sock across the room too. “My feet’ll be cold, computer guy!”

He smiled, “Well, I can keep them warm.”

She turned back around and spooned up against him. He maneuvered his legs around her toes like a sandwich.

“The coolest date,” she said, “is going to be all ones. Eleven, eleven, eleven.”

“That’s about ten years from now,” he said into her hair. “It’ll even have eleven-eleven, like the time, twice in that one day.”

“Ooh, you are so good with numbers,” Sarah replied.

He loved every compliment she gave him, even if he didn’t deserve it.

A ticket home showed up in the mail a couple of weeks later, and Zaynab called a week after that. It wasn’t so easy to talk with her again, not as easy as with Sarah even though Sarah and he could only speak English. Hamid had broken up with Zaynab because he wasn’t supposed to date, and Hamid, or “Chicken-Shit” as Ahmed began referring to him, still hadn’t returned his calls. No way would Ahmed want him at his wedding now, assuming he had one.

“I always thought I would have two children,” Ahmed replied to Sarah’s question. “A boy and a girl, or two girls. Because people don’t always value girls at home, but I would.”

From the chair behind him, Sarah rubbed his shoulders and kissed the top of his head.

“What about you?” he asked, as he tilted his head back to look at her.

She squeezed him with her knees. “I don’t think I’ll have kids.”

“Really?” He turned all the way around. “Why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess I never saw myself with kids, you know, as a mom.”

Ahmed shifted back into position between her legs and thought about it. “You are lucky you’re American. A Muslim woman in Pakistan would be expected to have children.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I would make a good Muslim woman.”

They sat quietly for a while, hands entwined. Then Ahmed laughed lightly after the silence. “I don’t make a very good Muslim man.”

Sarah said, “I don’t know about that! You observe holy times, and do prayer. You even pray in the stacks at the library when you have to.”

“That’s not what I mean. I always think I am too liberal, you know? Like I think Bush is wrong about abortion. I think women should be able to decide if they want to be pregnant.”

“You’re awesome,” she replied, giving his head a bear hug from behind.

Ahmed blew out his breath from underneath her forearms. Sarah released him and went back to rubbing his shoulders.

He said softly, “It’s just that I always thought I’d be too liberal to raise my children up as good Muslims, but I thought Zaynab, as a Shi’a, she would be more strict. She would make sure my children don’t end up too American.”

Sarah’s hands kept going, but she didn’t speak for some time. Then she said, “Would you raise them here? In America?”

“I’m not sure. Wherever I could get a better job. Probably here, but I’d like to be near my family too.”

Sarah slipped her thumbs under the neck of his T-shirt, caressed the hair along his spine, and pressed deeply into his shoulder blades. Someone knocked on his door, but Ahmed ignored it. Then he asked, “Why do American women hate hair on men’s backs?”

Behind him, he heard Sarah sniffle, and then say in his ear, “Because they’re stupid.”

The night he said what he had to say, Sarah made it easy for him. She didn’t cry or say he was making a mistake; she didn’t even get mad. There was one thing she did ask, though, after they stared at each other from opposite ends of the bed. She wanted to keep seeing him for one more month, up until Spring Break. Then it would be over.

And Ahmed agreed right away. He didn’t want it to end, not really, not with how he felt when he was around her, the way her face lit up. So for a few days they kept going. Eating at the cafeteria, watching some TV.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about the numbers. They were always there, counting down. He kept eyeing the leftover dates on his calendar, feeling as empty as each tiny square.

Ahmed sat at his desk with lined paper and his best pen. He had written a page already, trying to explain. If he saw her in person, he would never be able to do it. Or he wouldn’t do it right. He let his pen tell her that. He let his pen say how much he wished she could find a nice American boy to marry someday. But the whole thing seemed cold to him, like the weather outside. It was so cold and he was so lonely without her. She deserved something better. She deserved better words, better English, something that truly said how he felt about her and how he would always remember her. Because she was—had been—his life these last few months. She was warm, like spring. She was, she was….

Sarah believes in lucky days and lucky kisses, and she isn’t about to miss a New Year’s style moment on the luckiest day of the century.

“Meet me at the front of Eagan Hall. I’ll be there at 11:05. Be there, or be square!” she types, adding, “Oh, yeah, you already are square.” She hits enter, and wonders if his boss will read his Facebook. They might get caught!

She grabs her coat and house keys and heads to campus. A half hour walk from home, she is sitting on the steps outside their rendezvous point and grinning in the chilly weather.

“It’s your lucky day,” Sarah says when Josh takes her hand and lifts her off the steps. She hugs him and whispers, “Come on!”

They pretend to be nonchalant as a group of undergraduates passes in the hall.

“This one’s empty,” she says. “This was my old classroom when I took Buddhism.”

She sits Josh in the last row of the auditorium-style seating. They remove their gloves and coats, and he pulls out his cell phone which has the date spelled on its background.

“Hey! It says eleven-eleven!” Sarah beams at him. “Can you get it to say the time too?”

When that doesn’t work, they settle for watching the little time marked in the corner of the phone, but it can’t count down the seconds or rather, in this case, count up seconds. This means that to get their good luck right at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11, they have to start kissing at 11:11 and keep on kissing for at least eleven seconds. Josh kisses Sarah for longer.

Sarah kisses Josh again outside before he sneaks back to work. Then she wanders along the campus paths that connect her with the road home. Campus has changed a lot, she thinks, but this is the same brick path she took on a date with Ahmed ten years ago.

The last time she heard about him was from David the next school year. It was after 9/11, and Sarah had worried that Ahmed would have trouble flying home from his summer internship in Atlanta. But David said Ahmed called him in October, soon after the wedding.

Sarah knows that Zaynab has married well. There was a letter Ahmed wrote that Sarah keeps in her boxes from college. Before she met and married Josh, she would pull the letter out from time to time, especially whenever some dumb American boy had dumped her. Now, she doesn’t need to go looking for it, because she has read its last few lines so many times, she has them memorized. She wraps her coat tighter around her body and smiles.

You are the fresh spring breeze that breathes new life into all species. You are the rainbow after the torrential storm. You are the face that makes me smile. You are the reason someone, someday, will be glad that he came home.

Cara Prill grew up in southern Indiana, and like many others who have attended IU, she stayed put after college. Bloomington has been her home for 20 years. She leads creative writing workshops through Ivy Tech’s Center for Lifelong Learning and enjoys participating in the Bloomington Writers Guild.

Illustration by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

1 3 4 5 6 7 12