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
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.