Flickhead
After Hours
with Richard Armstrong

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Max Schreck

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A Woman’s Desire

By Richard Armstrong

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    On April 23 1989 at London’s National Film Theatre they were going to show Nosferatu, the 1922 German horror film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and starring Max Schreck. It was a wet Sunday evening and I came out of the NFT restaurant about ten minutes before the screening to wait for the doors to open. There was a sign:

OWING TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, THE 6:20 SCREENING OF NOSFERATU WILL NOT NOW TAKE PLACE. IN PLACE OF THE PUBLISHED PROGRAMME, THERE WILL BE A SCREENING OF WORKING GIRL STARTING AT 7:00. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE THIS MAY CAUSE.

    I felt let down. I had never seen Nosferatu, a textbook example of German Expressionism about which I had read and heard a great deal. Could I settle for a Hollywood romantic comedy with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford instead? I retreated to the restaurant to think…
    Doubtless there were others more disappointed than me. I could imagine that someone had taken a bus in from Buckinghamshire, hopped on the tube at Amersham, and wended their way through leafy suburbs, across the monoxide din of the West End to Tottenham Court Road, where they changed onto the Northern Line for that final (liable-to-delay) stretch past Charing Cross, under the river to the blasted concrete of the South Bank to be here tonight. I could imagine that this person first saw Nosferatu in a pre-war film society hall full of hard-slat wooden chairs and the stench of disinfectant. Perhaps he still cherishes memories of a ‘50s fleapit somewhere off the Place Pigalle. What was my letdown compared to his?
    Besides, I was too curious to leave. Nosferatu was to have screened in the ‘In Repertory’ slot of the NFT program, a strand which this month admitted a cornucopia of riches from David Cronenberg’s recent Dead Ringers to Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor. I imagined that the Program Officer, perplexed by an eleventh hour conundrum, thought on her feet with a movie not only doing brisk trade in the pricey West End houses, but possessed of a certain cultural piquancy for the Sunday broadsheet crowd in the lobby, as well as flattering this ambitious minx. “They’re in for a treat”, she whispered under her breath.
    But looking back, I can’t help feeling for the tweedy suburbanite keyed up for a somber tale of Gothic regret suffused with the ageless chimera of female longing, medieval rumors surrounding its leading man, tonight confounded by the dime-store jollies of Melanie Griffith’s ascent to brokerage executive amid the libidinous flow of ‘80s Wall Street.
    I wasn’t sure I would but I enjoyed it, I told my neighbor in the restaurant afterwards. He looked at me sadly, picked up his overcoat, and trudged out into the rain.

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Harrison, Melanie and Sigourney

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This article originally appeared on the website, StickYourNeckOut

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Copyright © 2004 by Richard Armstrong