Turn off the news, put your shoes on. Take me on a date, to the movies tonight. We’ll park the car, our masks, the world outside, and head into the old theater, where they play reels in black and white.
Here, in the universe of old, classic films, we will buy glossy ticket stubs, follow concession stand smells. You will carry the popcorn, as you always do, piled high in vintage cardboard boxes with red and white stripes. Past the bright colored posters, to the red velvet seats. Holding hands in a darkened room, we'll travel back in time and space.
Lights out, colors muted, what shall we watch today? We could go anywhere we want on that silver screen. To Princess Ann having gelato in Roman Holiday. Ankles crossed on the Spanish Steps, two scoops in a little cone. The white could be vanilla. If we are daring, ricotta, honey, and pear. The black, Gianduia with bits of hazelnut, or a red berry sorbet. The film will guard its secret, revealing only black and white, and a woman deliciously happy on a steamy summer day.
Or Sylvia in La Dolce Vita, wading in the Trevi Fountain in a long evening gown. That could have been navy or could have been black, could have been deep red or green. Dancing to music only she can hear, unapologetically alive. Waiting for Marcello to come and carry her out. We could wait with her and pray he does, knowing that each time he will.
Watch a kiss in a Casablanca train station, a heart break on Waterloo Bridge. Follow a nun across Soviet Poland, two lovers down the Champs Elysées. Here we can dream, we can laugh, we can cry, with no one to judge or see. In these black and white movies we play over again, it is safe to imagine, to feel.
The world outside is thorny and cold, we walk through it like Russian dolls. The less we can touch the pain, the better. Thick layers keep us warm. Emotions locked inside a shell, we develop a dis- ease. A dislike, discomfort, disquiet with life, the existence it necessitates.
A famine, a war, an earthquake, we’ve watched the news so many times. More sadness and pain, but then a commercial. After that we are fine.
But ‘light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. […] We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.’
No wonder people still go to the theater that plays reels in black and white. There is more color in those classic films than in our lives outside.
So let us, tonight, forget that we are sick. That we are jaded, emotionally blind, forget we are bruised and scared. Instead let us go on a date for the hundredth time. For the hundredth time, two ticket stubs, popcorn at the concession stand. Let us wait for the ending for the hundredth time, and at the ending, still hold our breath.
‘and so they went to the comedy
with their popcorn
and their cokes—
the old wife whispering everything twice,
the old husband
cupping a palm to his ear,
as the late sun lit up an orchard
behind the strip mall,
and they sat in the dark holding hands.’
- Patrick Phillips, ‘Matinee’