Sunday, November 20, 2005

Potter, Potter everywhere ... But who switched the acting off?

Something went rather wrong with my organisational abilities last night. There I was, chewing on a nice warm puddle-marinated chicken bone, when down floated this ticket for “Harry Potter and some sort of cup,” or similar. Now, I am not one to pass up a free ticket, even when I can simply squeeze under the door, so I finished off a last tendon, used the grease to slick back the old whiskers and trotted off to the local Picture House.

Since the old tart in the box office, her thick make up slowly sliding down her face under the pounding from a rusty fan heater, refused to notice my attention seeking tap dance routine, complete with special flag waving demonstration using the ticket held in my teeth, I renounced the legality of ticket ownership and squeezed under the door any way.

You know, you really do not truly understand a place until you see it from 3 inches off the ground. Apart from the obvious "wow, doesn't everything look REALLY BIG" part of the scenario, you have to appreciate that the entire sense of the place is different. Okay, so I am not so wonderful at comparisons here because unless I stand on something I ALWAYS see things from this height. So sort out the differences for your self, I will just stick to my perspective.

Lets get one thing straight immediately - When I walk across the room you don’t find half the occupants picking up their skirts and screaming as they climb the furniture. Remember the saying, "You are never more than 10 feet from a rat?" Working on the assumption that this is probably true, how many times do you actually notice a rat? Yeah, right, not often is it? No. You see us rats are pretty good at getting on with our lives without getting caught up too much with the big people. Oh, one or two get careless and get seen, even get caught, but the other MILLIONS of us generally have little problems.

Now working on the principle that the room was around 50 feet long, I tipped a whisker at the couple of other rats that had come in for the film, including one sad, thin fellow who was still trying to give his ticket to someone, and made my way over to the food counter.

I need to back track in time here a bit, to a time before I was a rat, or even before my great-great rat thingy was a rat. Indeed, I need to go back to the time when, in my view, cinema was REAL cinema. Cinema has changed much in the last couple of decades. In the old days there were two types of cinema. The local fleapit showed last month’s big hits, last year’s children’s films on Saturday mornings, and old b-movie romances at four o’clock. In the evening, there were normally two screenings on the one screen, one at around 6 and another at nine. Some showed a midnight movie (normally and older film) at the weekends. It was all pretty predictable stuff. The cinema had one big screen, a dress circle and, if you were lucky, an art deco decoration on the ceiling. It echoed like crazy and the sound was in mono.

The other type of cinema was basically the same, except it was twice the cost, twice the size, showed the latest flicks and had the benefit of being clean! It also, and this is the important part, had a second flavour of popcorn. Now, to you enlightened modernites, this might seem rather a daft thing, but it really meant something. Going to the cinema was an event that far outweighed any interest the film might possess. One used to get tickled with anticipation, teased with promise and excited with expectation. If you were lucky, you went to the cinema by bus, wrapped up in scarves and woolly hats against the cold, and rushed into the theatre blowing steam, and rushing to the Kiosk to get your ration of Popcorn. Did I say theatre? Oh, they were theatres all right! You went to the cinema for the performance, for the play, for the organist before the films, for the dodgy ice cream in the intermission (Wow, what’s an intermission) and then when it was all over, you were released like liberating animals from a zoo and rushed out into the now darkened city, chattering, comparing, commenting, reviewing, desperate to get home and dive into the cocoa pot.

And anyone that ever went to Saturday kids cinema – a thousand noisy kids, laughing at the cartoons, being played jokes by some enthusiastic cinema employee, drinking orange juice through straws and generally raising the roof.

Then one day it all changed. They brought in the workmen, shut off the dress circle, covered the stunning art-deco plasterwork and lights with board, and one cinema became four. Gone were the creaky, velvet covered seats, gone were the worn brass edgings on the steps, gone was the Wurlitzer organ, the intermission and the special shows. Instead we were given four uniform, dull, cheap, featureless boxes with tiny screens and a rapid turnover policy. Gone were the backseats under the balcony (and they wonder why the birth rate has fallen), gone was the old lady who not only knew every seat in the house, but remembered where you liked to sit and what the names of your kids were and gone was the intermission.

And gone too was the treat of the second flavour of popcorn. Now you have loads of different types, in sickenly big buckets. There is no treat involved, it is expected, guaranteed, taken for granted and demanded. No one is excited about it any longer. Yet another subtle moment of fun expunged from the process.

So, now I am at the food counter.

Look, it is pointless as a rat trying to buy anything. It is going to scare the living daylights out of the counter girl and, to be practical; I can’t carry more than one piece of popcorn at any one time. So, I steal. It is not exactly the crime of the century. The booty is normally discarded and on the floor, I doubt anyone is truly going to miss it, and I am normally in desperate need at this point (It is a bit of a hike to the local picture house.) For some reason, a young human looked down at me as I had just liberated a piece of butterscotch popcorn from the carpet and smiled at me. I don’t worry about small children. They are not frightened of me, and I won’t bother them – it works in it’s own way. I winked at the kid and he giggled. However, not one to over egg the entertainment, I turned tail and ran along the skirting board till I got to the right “Screen.”

Why do they call them screens? They are rooms – the screen is nailed to the wall. Daft modern people!

Oh, people often think that rodents are cowardly by the way they run along skirting boards. Rudyard Kipling made a big point of it in his biography of that egotist, Riki-Tiki Tavi. But, rats are not stupid. They are, however, very small. And your feet are very big. If you were in a room full or blundering big feet where would you stand? Running along the skirting board is not cowardly in the same way as getting squished is not brave. Good, I am glad I cleared that up.

There were quite a few rats in for the screening. Not particularly surprising. It was not so much the subject matter of the film, as the wetness of the matter falling from out of the sky that had brought them in. But once here, you might as well settle in and take in the film, I always say. And so we did; a little row of glinting eyes, peering from under the feat of the kids in the front row. Each rat sat back on his haunches holding his piece of popcorn. Oh, yes, there was one exception – there always is. The thin rat had eventually got the hint about ticket had gone on the rummage and staggered in half an hour late dragging an entire hot-dog. Someone will have indigestion tonight, I said from under my jealousy.

Cinema floors are interesting places. There are not many places you go as a rat where feet have stayed stationary for so long. I suppose they do get cleaned regularly, or at least the management think they get cleaned. But then, they don’t see and smell the carpets from my height. Was a minefield of information the carpets are. And you wouldn’t believe how many fleas you humans leave behind. Oh, yes, they are yours not mine. I have different ones, and I count then regularly and know what they are up to. You people just think you are bug free. It’s called arrogance, you know, or perhaps blind delusion. Anyway, what you leave behind on that carpet can tell all kinds of things about you.

Where I was sitting was beneath a child whose feet only just jutted over the edge of the seat. A bit young for this film, I thought, but had reasoned that he might drop a fair amount of popcorn every time he screamed, so it was a good position. I wasn’t the only rat who had reasoned thus and there was a fair amount of scrabbling and jostling going on under the seat.

Anyway, due to his height problems, the kid wasn’t about to leave much in the way of footprints. So we were entertained by the previous occupant. Unfortunately the entertainment was rather off as we were fairly sure that the previous occupant had been spotty, putrid, male, and about 15, going by the rather nasty cheesy smell whofting from the floor. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. And anyway, I had managed to get myself stuck on the bottom of a pile of around ten rats and was unlikely to be going anywhere in a hurry.

The film certainly had its scary parts. We had a constant little rain of popcorn and even a couple of boiled sweets. There had been desperate moment when the kid spilt his cola, but someone on top saw it coming and the whole heap had managed a backward leap in one choreographed moment just in time. It had brought an annoying giggle from the rats under the seat to our right, but little more that a snore from the seat to our left. It seemed as if the thin rat had finally finished his sausage.

Getting out at the end of a film is always a bit tricky. Back to the days when a film was an event, people used to clap at the end of films and often watch the credits, since they were a) short and b) shown while the lights were still out. That gave the part of the audience that were on four feet time to get out unnoticed.

Now, the credits go on for ever, and the lights are brought up quickly to rush you out and allow them to cram another sitting in. This means that, as a rat you need to have your wits about you. The trick is to work out what the very last scene of the film will be and leg it out before the credits start. The ideal film to go and see if you are a rat is, therefore, one with a really obvious plot line, and preferably a loud end that keeps people eyes fixed on the screen for a few moments.

And generally this is not a problem. Most films finish very logically and getting a good punch in at the end is almost a must. Still, if anyone bothered to look down, they would see a very disorderly rug rushing for the exit at around the 89-minute mark. This night was no exception, and we all made it out via the toilets with at least 30 seconds to spear. Even the thin rat, though he was mostly carried out on the wave, to be honest. Rats being highly sociable creatures we then all stared at each other for an exquisitely distrustful moment and shot off in a thousand different directions.

Time for a snack. Actually, when you are a rat the only time it is not time for a snack is when it is time for a sleep. Since I wasn’t sleeping, this meant I should be snacking. And let me tell you, there is nowhere better for a nice second-hand, sweet snack than a cinema. Oh, look! Where did that come from?

The film? What do you mean? Oh, did I like it. Yeah, fun enough. Pity about the acting.