“Time won’t find the lost
It’ll sweep up our skeleton bones”
My Love Letter to Mark Potts’ and Cole Selix’s Cinema Six
by Pablo D’Stair
Those who have worked, as I have, the job (or jobs similar) to the one on display in Cinema Six know that there is no way to explain what the air in the back office of a run-of-the-mill, more or less obsolete movie theatre feels like, no way to (with however much poetry) describe the taste that lingers on the slick over ones teeth of popcorn eaten with bored mouth out of a Styrofoam cup, the exact feel under the arm or against lightly shoving palms of cardboard tubes containing cinema posters, the listless scent of a mostly unused parking lot, the weight of button-down shirts washed with sleeves never unrolled and never ironed, neckties done up once and then loosened, tightened (loosened, tightened) anything but unknotted to be redone, the day long sweat of palms on glass candy cases Windex does nothing ever to clear, the feel through barely tied shoes of carpet which remains as dingy whether vacuumed or spot swept or entirely left alone, the way the never swept steps up to the break room feel when sat on to have a grave chat about the details of a film or television show (chats had while avoiding like the plague even the briefest and most mundane encounter with a customer or a trip to restock cups). These are things that can only be shown, a life that can only be told—someone in the audience either lived it and gets it in their marrow or can just play tourist, gleaning what they can and trying to make overarching observations of the general human condition, entirely missing the point that the condition of working in such a place, being such a person, is something singular and removed from all other context.
Attempting to come at Mark Potts’ and Cole Selix’s Cinema Six, I could discuss it in terms of its place as representation of a current patch of contemporary cinema, look at it as a fresh point in the line of the influence of Wes Anderson, noting its tight control, its almost “moving picture-book” style of scene presentation, its couching complex expression in precise deadpan delivery and hyper-specific progression of character—I could discuss its place in a line of films from Napoleon Dynamite to Charlie Bartlett to Thumbsucker to Submarine to Eagle vs. Shark.
Or I could distance it back even further, consider it borne of a felt apprenticeship to the films of Jim Jarmusch—particularly noting that (to differentiate from Anderson-esque work) it does not contain intricate camera pacing and breaths, does not drift into a magical perspective “above its content” but instead cavorts in the banality of details that are particularly beautiful for their lack of otherworldly verve, instead utilizes only the most simplistic turns of camera or breaks of perspective, its style of over-lingering on an unchanging image there to specifically note the lack-of-change rather than to let extended regard unearth nuance after nuance suggesting every stitch of clothing has a voice beyond itself.
More properly, maybe, I suppose I could liken it to the films of Aki Kaurismaki (a natural thing to do if Jarmusch has already been invoked) except for the film seems to have no interest in a sociological unpacking, has no desire to outwardly celebrate a lifestyle, dissect it for an outsider to find significance in and connection to, does not seem to want to make an outsider feel closer to a secondary world, be participant–Cinema Six wants to reinforce its special isolation, its aggressive and hard-fought malaise.
I could (and do, certainly) praise the particular and confident style of the script, the line deliveries of the performers, could pontificate that this film must, must, must have been based on actual lived experiences by the ones helming the project, could demand my belief that no creative mind would even have means to actually invent the banal truths and rhythms that move this picture from frame-to-frame, scene-to-scene—but this would not (and does not) make anyone understand the beauty of the film.
I could explain that my belief is that the “storyline” element of the film was there only because…well, the general cinema-goer wants to watch a movie to see what happens to ‘imaginary-others’ or ‘symbolic-selves’, that the writers and directors (as well as all of the performers) deftly use only the bare bones necessary to keep audience from straying away from the screen, use the familiar (almost instinctively understood in this day and age) tropes and progressions of a “movie” to prestidigitate a real state-of-life (knowing full well it is truthfully a cipher to most watching) that they make audience, unbeknownst to themselves, experience something rather than observe—but to say so would do nothing, because the actuality this film expresses is something that can only be Recognized or Not Recognized, cannot be explained or reduced down to a “Yeah, things are more or less like that” from one uninitiated.
Oh yes, there are moments for everyone—moments comic, moments ennui laden, moments that can be related to or laughed at, sighed over in the abstract. Yes yes, Cinema Six can serve as a light entertainment or a melancholic romp. And sure, the human relationships can (in a lowest common denominator way) be commented on just like those in any film.
I could just call it “wonderful,” could just call it “an understated delight” or any other blurb-ready doo-dah.
Or what else?
I could sing-song that it is a detail-oriented cinema-lovers wet dream, could balladeer about how anyone who likes to peer in to the background of a frame for wry in-jokes, for textures that have a personality all their own (the faux movie posters, the scrawled notes on the break room dry erase board, the signs advertising “special bundles for date night”) will find true love, but even this would be kind of a waste of time. Unless you have stood there, worked such a job, even to mention the filmmakers’ joy in details is not enough—because there is no way to express why the fact that the door to the mop/supply room behind the concession counter always remaining partially opened is not just incidental or a nice nuance but a perfection, a truth, a detail that carries with it an actual euphoric soul.
To me, Cinema Six is an utter expression of a particular way of life, one that is often reduced down, looted for particular aspects, or bastardized, one that is made a tool or a set-piece (as in many films from Clerks to (gah) Employee Of The Month or (peh) Waiting) but one that is seldom allowed to own its gorgeousness, expound its non-cynical appropriateness, its oddball seductiveness, its siren song of irreverent frustration that was as indulged in by those who endured it as it was despised.
The film stirred a private aspect of me. As someone who has departed (even escaped) from what I must in public call a dismal, sodden, even miserable lifestyle, but in private know I will always be irrevocably in love with, the film kindled a secret lust for a hole I may have once been buried in but—God help me—I will have to always admit is as beloved as Home.
Pablo D’Stair is a novelist, essayist, and interviewer. Co-founder of the art house press KUBOA, he is also a regular contributor to the Montage: Cultural Paradigm (Sri Lanka). His book Four Self-Interviews About Cinema: the short films of director Norman Reedus will be re-releasing October, 2012 through Serenity House Publishing, International.
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