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Anna Tambour

Before something is camp, what do you do?

Many years ago at my local university cinema, fresh from lusting after Alan Bates in King of Hearts, I sat through a classic that is still revered. Was it The Hidden Fortress, Kurosawa's Macbeth? I don't remember. One of his. Lots of bent-kneed action, spit-flying Heh!s--and a plot and a plot and a plot.

I grew up a culture snob. I read the comedies of Shakespeare, went to Ashland for summer school no less, though I took off my glasses and couldn't see a thing, because this cute boy next to me said . . . Never mind. I lost any interest in the serious stuff when my mother gave me as a thirteenth birthday present, Hamlet with Richard Burton on 78rpm.

So there we were, popcorn out, and the plot was still unfolding with cartoon subtlety and murky motivations. My friends were probably asleep. It was, at least, near the end, and we had apple pie with cinnamon sauce to look forward to. They would have died rather than walk out on a classic, but I was too riveted to sleep. Because, suddenly there we were, having made it through, along with Toshiro of course, to the bitter end.

The battle was on. The hero railed against his foes. Spit spattered. And yes, in another cultural pick-up never revealed until this moment--in a pure Maoist inspiration, "Let a thousand arrows fly" Kurosawa must have yelled.

For that's what they did. There's Mifune, soliloquizing to the max, in full cartoon-erect position, and within the first three minutes, or is it hour, I lost track, he's a porcupine. But he doesn't miss a beat. He continues as if he's paid by the word.

That did it. After the point that he would not have been able to put his arms to his sides, not to mention fall flat, I began to laugh. And once I started, I couldn't stop. I was in the middle of the theatre, and I have never been able to cry or laugh silently. The more I laughed, the more it seemed to egg the archers to shoot this guy, and the more he droned on. My friends were thinking hard about being classified ex-friends--I could feel their cheeks radiating--but I was past caring. And then, from behind, the laughing began. And then in front. Well, once it started, it didn't stop either. By the end of the movie, it was impossible to hear the movie itself, as the laughter in the theater drowned out anything coming from the speakers. The odd thing is that although the entire middle section of the audience was convulsed, the side, at least one, maintained a stony silence. I've theorized about that fruitlessly ever since.

When the lights went on, I wiped my eyes and staggered to the aisle, where a tweed-jacketed, elbow-patched man about the age of my father rushed up to me and hissed two words, "You cur!"

I always felt guilty about my non-appreciation, so when Ran came out, I tried again. The fifth time the old venerable guy in white staggered up from an unutterably filthy encounter, the kind that laundry commercials use to show tough wear, and his robe was whiter than white, I could feel the attack coming. I got out fast, before ruining the next four and a half hours for the people in tweed.


Anna Tambour's fiction has appeared in Infinity Plus, Quantum Muse, the HMS Beagle, and is upcoming in Strange Horizons. Her first omnibus collection, Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales is ready to kill trees for your pleasure.

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