The Movies of My Youth


Italo Calvino in The New York Review of Books:

I went to the cinema in the afternoon, secretly fleeing from home, or using study with a classmate as an excuse, because my parents left me very little freedom during the months when school was in session. The urge to hide inside the cinema as soon as it opened at two in the afternoon was the proof of true passion. Attending the first screening had a number of advantages: the half-empty theater, it was like I had it all to myself, would allow me to stretch out in the middle of the third row with my legs on the back of the seat in front of me; the hope of returning home without anyone finding out about my escape, in order to receive permission to go out once again later on (and maybe see another film); a light daze for the rest of the afternoon, detrimental to studying but advantageous for daydreaming. And in addition to these explanations that were unmentionable for various reasons, there was another more serious one: entering right when it opened guaranteed the rare privilege of seeing the movie from the beginning and not from a random moment toward the middle or the end, because that was what usually happened when I got to the cinema later in the afternoon or toward the evening.

Italian spectators barbarously made entering after the film already started a widespread habit, and it still applies today. We can say that back then we already anticipated the most sophisticated of modern narrative techniques, interrupting the temporal thread of the story and transforming it into a puzzle to put back together piece by piece or to accept in the form of a fragmentary body. To console us further, I’ll say that attending the beginning of the film after knowing the ending provided additional satisfaction: discovering not the unraveling of mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and a vague sense of foresight with respect to the characters. Vague: just like soothsayers’ visions must be, because the reconstruction of the broken plot wasn’t always easy, especially if it was a detective movie, where identifying the murderer first and the crime afterward left an even darker area of mystery in between. What’s more, sometimes a part was still missing between the beginning and the end, because suddenly while checking my watch I’d realize I was running late; if I wanted to avoid my family’s wrath I had to leave before the scene that was playing when I entered came back on.

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