Julian Barnes, Before She Met Me (2)

Before she met me

When the flick started (Graham used the limiting noun of his adolescence: ‘movie’ was American, and ‘film’ made him think of ‘film studies’), he remembered a lot more about why he didn’t like the cinema. People talked about the artificiality of opera; but had they ever looked at this stuff properly? Garish colours, ludicrous plot, 1880s music with a topping of Copland, and the moral complication of a copy of the Dandy. Of course, Over the Moon was probably a poor example of the genre; but then it was always bad art that one examined to get the clearest idea of the form’s basic conventions.

Meanwhile, whoever thought that a comedy-thriller about a very fat burglar who kept getting stuck in coal-holes was a good idea? And who then topped it by coming up with a thin detective whose gammy leg made him run even more slowly than the fat burglar? Oh look, said Graham to himself as one of the chase-scenes was suddenly speeded up against a background of honky-tonk piano, they’ve discovered that technique. More dismaying to him was the fact that the two dozen people in the audience – none of whom appeared to go to Alice’s school – seemed to be laughing quite genuinely. He felt his daughter tug on his sleeve.

‘Daddy, has something gone wrong with the film?’

‘Yes, darling, the projector’s on the blink,’ he replied; adding, when the scene finished, ‘It’s mended now.’

From time to time he squinted across at Alice, fearful that she would be excited by the cinema – the child of teetotal parents swilling a tot of sweet sherry. Yet her face stayed expressionless except for a slight frown, which Graham knew was her way of registering contempt. He waited for the scene featuring her school, but much of the action was indoors; during one long-shot of a city which was meant to be Birmingham (but which Graham judged to be London) he thought he spotted a familiar building in the mid-distance.

‘Is that it?’

But Alice merely frowned more fiercely, bullying her father into shamed silence.

Julian Barnes, Before She Met Me
Vintage, 1982

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