Monday, September 29, 2014

The Blind Amok of Muharrin

       The inspiration for Salvador Dali's 1931 painting, "Paranoic Village.





This whole thing may have been a dream. I can’t tell anymore.       

My maternal grandfather died of emphysema when I was ten. He and my grandmother used to babysit me whenever my parents wanted to get away for the weekend. I have many happy memories of my grandparent's house - climbing the apple trees in the backyard, playing cards with my grandmother, going for long walks with my grandfather. And watching home movies.

     They had TONS of home movies. Lots of boring parades. Lots of family vacations (seeing my mother as a little kid around my own age was a revelation I still remember fondly). A lot of nature stuff (Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, etc), and a lot of grainy, 8mm footage of their travels around the world.

     When my grandparents were a young couple (early 1930's) they set out on several global adventures. They didn't have much money, so their long journeys must have been difficult and taxing. Especially back then. I always think of the characters in The Sheltering Sky that insist they aren't tourists, but travelers.

     My grandparents were like that.

     One night they set up the projector and screen (they had a real roll-up movie screen. Like the kind we had in school) and ran some short home movies - parades, picnics, the beach, the mountains, etc...

     And then my grandfather clicked a reel onto the projector and said, "I took these shots in (I think, please forgive my poor worn-out memory) Muharrin (go ahead and look for it - I can't find anything...) in 1929."

     I will now describe everything I can recall about the film:

It's black and white and the film is worn. The leader moves through the projector and thousands of angry scratches pour across the screen. The first shot reveals an empty desert at sunrise. It blurs, and then comes into focus. Soft dunes stretch away forever. Cut. A shot of a village. Thatched, conical roofs, fences weaved from gnarled tree limbs. There are people moving between the buildings but they are too far away to see clearly. Cut. A shot of two men dressed in coarse robes. Their faces are rough and craggy, baked and sculpted by hard sun and desert winds. They do not speak. They climb out of their robes and stand naked. They bend down and each comes up with two flat stones. The camera zooms in on one of the men as he slides the stones under his eyelids (I remember the camera jiggled at this point. I imagine my grandfather was quite unnerved at this sight). He has just blinded himself, his eyeballs covered by the stones. The camera lurches to the other man. He too has secured flat stones under his eyelids. Tears of blood trickle down his cheeks. The camera jumps back and a small boy enters the frame. He hands each of the men a machete.

     The boy's mouth moves as he starts walking toward the village. I think he's singing, guiding the now-blind men with the sound of his voice. My grandfather follows the strange procession from a nervous distance. When they reach the village, the boy runs out of the frame and the two men move between the buildings, swinging wildly.

     The villagers do not run. They turn, tuck their arms into their sides, eyes closed, and wait to see who will get hit; who will live and who will die. My grandfather's camera is in a panic, turning and swooping and shaking and blurring. One of the men hacks an old man's arm, nearly severing it. He collapses. In the distance, the other blind machete-man hits a woman in the neck. She too falls. The camera whirls around, takes a blurry shot of the bright sky and then cuts.

     I remember staring at the blank screen, listening to the tail of the reel flap flap flap.

     Then my grandfather shut off the projector.

     That's all I remember. Years later, after my grandfather died, I searched through their box of home movies. The film I just described was not there.

     Was it ever there? I can't tell anymore.
 Oh no...

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