A night at the Movies or You Must Remember This



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After Lazarus
Titles and credits fade in and out against a plain white background, later understood as a bright but overcast sky. Silence at first; then, distantly, gradually augmenting, a hollow voice: "I have risen! I have risen!" As the cry grows louder, it repeats and echoes itself, until it folds in upon itself entirely, unfurling into a kind of hollow vibration which fades away as the last of the credits fade.
Slow even tilt down to a village on a flat plain under the overcast sky. The camera moves into the village by way of a dirt road, which gradually becomes the main street leading to the cathedral, the dominant feature of the village. The houses along the street are small, humble, huddled close together, the outer walls made of clay, some of them whitewashed. The light is penetrating but not glaring; virtually no shadows. A dark frame is painted around the doors of some houses, and there are empty flowerpots on sills or lying about. No trees, grass, flowers; no animals; everything is empty and silent. The doors are all closed, the windows shuttered. Long steady contemplative takes. The cathedral is glimpsed frequently as the camera pans slowly about, but it remains unexamined, out of focus, mere background.
Silence maintains, as the camera proceeds deeper into the village, occasionally pausing as it pans onto small streets or alleyways. These are narrower than the main street, rutted, winding. Once or twice, the camera hesitates before a side street, zooms in slightly, pauses, pulls back, pans away, continues. Finally, at one side street, no different from any of the others, it zooms in slightly, hesitates, then continues slowly to advance, leaving the main road.
Same kind of penetrating shadowless light on the side street; same silence and emptiness. The houses are, if anything, poorer and pressed even more tightly together. The camera movement, though still unhurried, is less steady as it passes over the rutted street. The camera now makes frequent turns into yet smaller side streets, each in worse condition than the last, and the camera motion becomes consequently more and more unsteady. The camera pauses briefly from time to time to focus on some small detail or other: a barred door, a shuttered window, a lone dry weed, a small fence, a rock, the texture of a clay wall.
The streets narrow, the surface worsens, and so does the jolting movement of the camera, until it is almost impossible to keep anything in focus. Stop. Inconsequential view of part of a rooftop. Brief jolting motion. Stop. Inconsequential view of the street, the corner of a house. Jolting motion. Stop. View of a house, like the others, and of the narrow space between it and the next house. In this space, between the houses, but in full light (still no shadows), a cord is strung and hanging from it is a small scrap of tattered white cloth. Pan to the house and slow zoom in: clay wall, shuttered windows, closed door. The slow zoom continues, moving in on the door and toward its handle.
Sudden brief fluttering sound, like a bat's wings, loud, breaking the silence. The camera swings back to the scrap of white cloth on the line: it droops lifelessly there as before. The camera, after hesitating, begins slowly to pan back to the door. The cloth, still in view, moves slightly (no sound): the camera pauses, pans back to the cloth, waits.
Sudden loud click, amplified alarmingly. The camera wheels sharply past the unshuttered front window to the door, still closed, zooms in on the handle, pauses. The handle does not move, but the camera, after a brief wait, begins to pan hesitatingly back toward the window, the now unshuttered window. Behind it, in the darkness, a pale gaunt face is staring out, as though in anger. Or judgment. Then the face fades back into the shadows, leaving only the darkness. The camera hesitates, then zooms very slowly in on the window.
Again the loud fluttering of cloth or wings: rapid pan to the clothesline. Focusing adjustments. The tattered piece of white cloth is motionless, but the bottom end of it is now curled back up over the cord, so that it hangs in a tattered loop.
The camera pans steadily past the shuttered window to the door, from which an old woman is now emerging. She is stooped almost double, dressed heavily in black, with thick skirts to her ankles. Her shoes, of which we see only the tips from time to time, are highly polished. A heavy black shawl, draped over her head, hides her features from view. She pulls the door to with a soft click, the same click as heard before but not so amplified, and, keeping her back to the camera, moves off down the old rutted street. The camera hesitates, then follows at a discreet distance.
The old woman hobbles along through side street after rutted side street; camera motion is erratic and the camera has some difficulty keeping her in the range of the lens. Silence, except for the sound of her feet shuffling through the dust of the street. When she turns corners, as she frequently does, the camera loses sight of her for a moment, but on making the same turn, always relocates her a few paces ahead. Almost imperceptibly, the deserted streets widen, the way improves, the motion grows more even.
Suddenly, upon turning a last corner: the cathedral steps, looming high over the camera -- rapid zoom back through the open square in front of the cathedral and down the main street, until the frame encompasses the entirety of the cathedral once more. The old woman is halfway up the now-distant steps, taking each of them one by one, doubled over, holding her skirts, a slow and difficult climb. At last, she reaches the top, the cathedral doors yawn open to receive her, and she passes through them to be swallowed up by the darkness within.
Distantly, very faintly: a dull throbbing tympanic music, measured, gloomy, like the cavernous beating of a sullen but determined heart. Very slow zoom in toward the cathedral, music augmenting slightly.
Sudden close-up of the open front portals of the cathedral, a priest standing in them, the funeral music bursting in thunderingly at the same instant. The face of the priest, staring out upon the village, is that seen earlier in the window of the old woman's cottage: high-domed, pale, drawn, with thin tense lips, large eyes gazing out, perhaps in anger or judgment, or even: in terror.
To the heavy measure of the dirge, the priest, still staring straight ahead, descends the cathedral steps. The camera maintains a tight focus on the priest, but visible behind him are other people, dressed in black, moving to the same somber rhythms, carrying what is eventually seen to be a casket. Upon reaching the bottom of the steps, the priest moves across the open square and on down the main street, toward the camera.
Camera focus now moves off the priest, drifting back over his shoulder to encompass the three men, walking side by side behind him. Like the priest, they are gaunt and solemn, dressed in black robes, their faces in fact identical to that of the priest. They stare straight ahead, walking slowly to the beat of the funeral music.
Behind these three men comes the casket: huge, black, ornately carved, elegant, polished and gleaming in the pervading white light of the overcast day, held aloft on the shoulders of twelve men, six on each side. Like the priest's three assistants, they are duplicates of the priest: the same pale forehead and high cheekbones, large staring eyes, etc. They wear black suits, fresh white flowers in their lapels. They advance, under their burden, with an exaggerated rocking motion from side to side, to the cadence of the dirge. One of the pallbearers winces briefly or perhaps starts to smile and quickly suppresses it.
Behind the coffin come the mourners, all women, all stooped and covered with black shawls and thick black skirts. Dust rises and drifts about their shuffling feet, but the glitter of the toes of their hard-polished shoes is still visible through it. One of the women glances up at the camera briefly: again, the same face. There are many women following the casket, their bowed backs like a dark sea, like black sheep in a fold. One woman seems more agitated in her grief than the others, her shoulders shaking; she glances up: she is laughing, silently, or perhaps is about to sneeze. Or weep. She ducks her head again.
The camera zooms slowly back from the women and tilts up to the casket, now directly overhead, rocking back and forth. As it swings away, there is a play of lights and shadows over the detail of the carving on the side, but as it rocks back over the camera, it becomes only a massive black shape against the plain white sky.
Slow elevation of the camera until it is level with the rocking casket: it rocks away from the camera, then swings toward it. Under it, the pallbearers stare expressionlessly ahead. The coffin is lidless.
Continued elevation of the camera until it is directly over the casket, pointed down at the advancing procession. The dead man is, not surprisingly, identical to the others, though his eyes bulge a bit more starkly, seem filmed over and sightless, and his lips, dried and cracked, are pulled back over his teeth in a disconcerting death-grin. He is laid out on soft velvety cushions, dressed in formal black attire much like that of the pallbearers, a wilted white flower in his lapel. His thin white hands, the fingernails long, are crossed over his breast.
Cut to the same camera position as in the first scene after the titles, village in the middle distance, etc. The funeral procession, led by the priest and his three assistants, approaches by way of the main street out of the village. The music, having diminished abruptly at the cut, now slowly augments as the procession advances. The road is lined with mourners, all dressed in black, the women wearing black shawls, the men dressed in black suits, their heads bowed. There are hundreds of these mourners, several deep all along the road, from here near the camera all the way back to the cathedral. When any of them chances to glance up, he or she reveals a face identical to that of the priest, the pallbearers, dead man, etc. One of them seems to be biting his lip, another rolls her eyes, another's shoulders are gently shaking, etc., three or four such exceptions amid the multitudes.
The procession pulls abreast of the camera, then passes on, the music augmenting to full volume, then slowly diminishing. The camera, in the road, wheels around to follow -- at extreme close range -- and then pauses to allow the old women to pass by. White dust, scuffed up by their polished shoes, stirs hazily around their skirts.
As the last of the old women passes, the camera tracks along behind them, now watching from the rear as the procession with its rocking casket moves slowly toward a cluster of cypresses in the middle distance. But for these cypresses, the fields are barren. The camera follows the procession at a discreet distance, steadily at first, then slowly commencing to imitate the to-and-fro motion of the casket.
The cemetery with its cypresses is enclosed by an ancient stone wall. The procession and then the camera pass through its gate and under the lugubrious trees. The walls and cypresses seem to bend toward the center of the frame as the camera passes beneath them, then vanish in a sweep at the corners. The cemetery is littered with broken tombstones, dried wreaths, little silver frames containing photographs of the dead (again, always the same face). Weeds, flowers, grass grow wildly. The procession halts at the mouth of an open grave, freshly dug, a shovel rammed into the mounds of excavated earth, and the music, abruptly, breaks off.
Cut to a close-up of the priest's face, staring down into the open grave, the mourners filing silently into the cemetery behind him, filling it completely. There is a faint rustling sound, like that made by the wind. The camera zooms slowly back to encompass more of the cemetery: there are thousands of mourners crammed in here. They make small furtive motions with their hands at their faces, then clasp them at their breasts. The sound of the wind fades away to silence.
Now the pallbearers climb the mound of freshly dug earth with their burden, the camera tilting upwards to follow: they hover above, dark against the white sky, framed in the tops of cypress trees. A quiet unarticulated murmur begins to be heard, almost inaudible at first, then gradually augmenting. The lips of the priest and his assistants seem to be moving slightly, then they close firmly, but the murmur continues, growing louder. The priest turns his gaze upon the pallbearers and nods slightly: the murmur breaks off instantly.
Carefully, the pallbearers lower the casket, the camera tilting, following its descent. As the casket enters the open grave, the camera passes overhead and zooms in sufficiently to watch it lower, holding only the twenty-four white hands of the pallbearers in the frame with the casket. The hole itself is utterly black, seems bottomless; the shadows in and around the casket gradually deepen.
Suddenly, the hands of the corpse lift tremblingly from his chest, reach plaintively up toward the pallbearers, toward the camera. The twenty-four hands release the casket simultaneously, as if in choreographed shock, and there is a brief loud gasp, almost a cry, from the multitude of mourners. The casket drops away, disappearing instantly into the blackness, but making no sound in its fall. Before the sound of the brief gasp has faded again to silence, the camera too withdraws from its overview of the grave, assumes a position at ground level about ten feet away.
During the prolonged stillness that follows, the camera, remaining at ground level, slowly zooms in toward the lip of the grave. There is a faint scraping sound, like the sound of mice in the wall. It breaks off, begins again, breaks off, continues. Then, at last, a pale trembling hand with long fingernails emerges from the grave and clutches at the edge. A moment later, the other hand appears. It claws for a hold, discovers at last the shovel, closes around it. Scraping sound now greatly amplified. The head of the corpse appears above the grave's edge. The eyes still protrude, the lips still smile rigidly. The head pivots slowly, jerkily, like that of a wooden puppet, until it comes to stare straight at the camera. Slow withdrawing zoom. With a final effort, the corpse drags himself out of the grave, staggers to his feet, stands spare and tottering at the tip.
Suddenly, a man, a pallbearer perhaps, lunges forward, jostling the camera on the way, leaps on the corpse, and tumbles to the freshly dug earth with it. He struggles to his feet (everything momentarily is in motion), lifts the dead man above his head and hurls it, its limbs twitching violently, back into the grave. There is a deep-throated community wail, almost a scream, then silence.
Close-up of the pallbearer's face: his thin lips are pulled back from exertion, his eyes bulge slightly in excitement or horror, as he stares down into the grave. Then, slowly, he lifts his eyes and gazes about him: he is alone, the cemetery is empty.
The pallbearer stumbles to the gate of the cemetery and stares down the dusty road leading to the village. It, too, is desolate. The village lies distantly on the treeless plain, the cathedral rising above it. The pallbearer starts running down the road, limbs out-flung, mouth agape, the camera following at a discreet distance. He arrives at the edge of the village, stops, peers about as though confused. The village is, as at the beginning, empty and silent under the overcast sky. He staggers toward one side street, peers down it, hurries to another. He seems to be screaming, but no sound is heard. He disappears down one of the side streets, the camera pausing to hold a view of the main street and the cathedral beyond. And now, faintly at first, but more and more clearly, the hollow voice as before, already repeating and echoing itself: "I have risen! I have risen!" It folds in upon itself until the words are indistinguishable, and fades away.
Cut to the tattered scrap of white cloth hanging motionless on the clothesline. Slow pan past the clay walls and shuttered windows to the door. Silence. Slow pan to the pallbearer, standing about six feet from the door, clenching and unclenching his pale fists, breathing erratically. He lunges forward, hammers on the door with his fists. This hammering is not heard, but very faintly there is the sound of a heart beating. The pallbearer rattles the shutters, bangs again on the door. He tries the handle: it opens. The sound of the heartbeat increases perceptibly. He rushes inside, the camera following.
The room is plain with white walls, a dirt floor, empty but for a chair in the middle; on the chair: a black dress and shawl. The heartbeat is now clearly audible. The pallbearer grabs up the dress, stares at it a moment, then pulls it on over his black formal suit. His movements are clumsy, overanxious, his face showing tension and fear, yet a kind of pleasure as well, and a fierce determination. Once in the dress, he throws the shawl over his head, stoops, and peers up at: the pallbearer standing before her. The pallbearer smiles faintly, nods emphatically, and runs out of the house.
In the street, the pallbearer hesitates, then bursts through the door of the next house, the camera following. Again, a plain room and clothes on a chair. And again he pulls on the dress and shawl, stoops, peers up at: the pallbearer, now grinning, almost as though in greed or lust, rubbing his thin white hands together. Heartbeat continues evenly throughout these scenes.
The pallbearer bursts into an empty room: not even a chair with clothes. But by a window, on the dirt floor, he finds a fresh white flower. Smiling faintly, he picks it up, removes the wilted flower from his own lapel, inserts the fresh one. He turns and, smiling confidently now, offers the wilted flower to: the pallbearer standing beside him.
The pallbearer pulls the shawl over his head, stoops, peers into a mirror at herself. She sees in the mirror, behind her, the pallbearer, smiling at her over her humped back.
The pallbearer sits at an empty table and fastens the fresh flower in his lapel. He turns and offers the wilted flower to the pallbearer seated beside him, who offers it to the pallbearer beside him, who in turn offers it to the pallbearer beside him. The four turn, smiling, to the pallbearer standing behind the table. He returns their smile with a slight bow, his face damp now with perspiration, and accepts the wilted flower.
A shawl. He dons it, stoops over, peers up at the pallbearer, who reaches up her skirts and pulls out another dress and shawl. He dons them, stoops beside the other old woman, peers up at the pallbearer, who reaches up her skirts and pulls out another dress and shawl. He dons them, stoops beside the other two old women, peers up at the pallbearer, who reaches up her skirts, etc. Heartbeats continue.
Cut to the street. The pallbearer is rushing feverishly in and out of houses. Occasionally, doors open behind him and old women peer out, all of them stooped and wearing black shawls.
The pallbearer arranges his tie in the mirror, turns, smiling, to accept the fresh white flower from the pallbearer, three old women looking on.
Donning a shawl, the pallbearer lifts an empty wineglass to toast the pallbearer across the table from her, also holding an empty glass. The pallbearer standing beside them pours their glasses full, bows, hurrying away, adjusting the wilted flower in his lapel.
The pallbearer, smiling wryly, hands a fresh white flower to the camera. The camera moves toward a mirror on the wall: reflected there is the pallbearer, adjusting the flower in his lapel.
The street is full of women in shawls, watching the pallbearer break into one house after another. He drops the wilted flower, races back frantically to snatch it up, tripping and tumbling over himself as he does so, then picks himself up and bursts into another house. Heartbeats augment slightly.
The pallbearer pulls on the black dress, covers his head with the shawl, peers up at the pallbearer, nods her head for him to follow. She leads him to a straw mat in one corner of the room. She settles herself upon it, glancing coquettishly up at the pallbearer, then reaches in her skirts and pulls out a clay pot full of fresh white flowers. The pallbearer, smiling, accepts a flower and crawls down over her, handing the pot of flowers up to the pallbearer, who accepts one, passes the pot on to the pallbearer, who, etc.
The room is empty. The pallbearer undoes his fly, reaches inside, pulls out a shawl and dress. Quickly, he puts them on, reaches in his skirts and pulls out a fresh white flower. Heartbeats augment.
Quick cuts of shawls, flowers, lapels, mirrors, smiles, heartbeats augmenting.
The pallbearer is dashing down side streets, running in and out of houses, filling them up. Little old women in black shawls trail behind him, dropping little patties of white flowers in their wake.
The old woman on the straw mat hands the fresh white flower to the pallbearer settling down over her, who hands his wilted one up to the pallbearer. The old woman grabs at the pants of the pallbearer with the wilted flower -- laughing silently, he pulls on a black shawl, as he comes tumbling down on the old woman's face. As she falls, she tosses a fresh flower to the pallbearer coming down on them all. A motion of white flowers and faces, black clothing, heartbeats augmenting.
Cut to the street, heartbeats augmenting abruptly. The pallbearer has stopped running. He listens intently, his smile erased. The shawled women watch and listen. A vein throbs in his temple. Faintly at first, in rhythm with and then replacing the heartbeat: the funeral music again.
Startled, the pallbearer staggers back a step, then sets off running toward the sound, leaping the ruts and pits of the road, stumbling, picking himself up, lumbering on, the camera following jarringly.
The music, though still muffled, slowly augments, as the pallbearer lurches pell-mell through streets populated with his likenesses. When he turns corners, the camera loses him briefly, bounces hastily ahead, picks him up again. Turning one such corner, he arrives suddenly and unexpectedly at the steps of the cathedral. He hesitates, then bounds up the steps, taking them two and three at a time.
Inside, the church is dark and empty. The pallbearer runs toward the altar, the sound of hollow echoing footsteps overriding briefly the still muted music. At the altar, he finds the rich robes of the priest, a complication of garments. He pulls some on, removes some, pulls on others, at last gets them in the proper order, fits the tall miter to his head and, haughtily confronting the anxious pallbearer, points a long white finger at the robes of one of his assistants. The pallbearer snatches up the robes and tugs them on, stares icily at the trembling pallbearer, ordering him to don the next assistant's robes. He does so, points to the third assistant's robes. While the pallbearer is still struggling frantically to pull the last robe over his head, the dirge becomes suddenly thunderingly loud. The third assistant, now fully robed, joins the other two behind the priest, and they begin their slow measured march out of the cathedral. The music, bouncing percussively off the high walls of the empty cathedral, is echoey and distorted.
The light of day glares through the open cathedral doors at the far end, throwing everything this side of it into silhouette, as the priest, the three assistants, the casket supported by two rows of pallbearers, and the mourning old women pass slowly out and begin their descent down the broad cathedral steps. As each figure passes through the doorway, he or she is lit up briefly before disappearing down the steps.
Slow zoom back to the pallbearer, slumped weakly at the altar, a wilted white flower in his lapel. He watches the last of the old women vanish through the open doors. The music becomes abruptly thinner, more distant, as the last old woman leaves. The pallbearer pulls himself to his feet and staggers forward, utterly drained, his feet shuffling hollowly across the stone floor.
From the cathedral doors, the pallbearer gazes down upon the procession, proceeding slowly up the main street of the village between the files of standing mourners. As far as the camera eye can see: this double row of mourners, several persons deep on either side, their heads bowed, blurring eventually into a single line, leading toward the distant grove of cypress trees.
The pallbearer stumbles wearily down the steps and toward the procession, the camera following. The music slowly augments as he pushes past the women and up to one side of the casket. He counts the pallbearers there: six. He wades through the thick mass of trailing old women, reaches at last the other side, again counts the pallbearers: also six. He stops, frowns, staring in confusion and disbelief at the procession jostling past him. Then a light seems to dawn. He struggles forward once more and, with difficulty, clambers up on the shoulders of the nearest pallbearers: yes, the casket is empty. He glances about him, at the village, the cathedral, the old women, down at the heads of the pallbearers, over his shoulder toward the cemetery, the road lined with mourners. The casket rocks from side to side. No one seems to be noticing him. He slips over the edge and down into the casket, pokes pleasurably at the plush inner lining, runs his fingers along the ornate carvings around the sides. Timidly, he eases himself down into the cushions, folding his hands on his chest. His soft smile stretches into a wide dry-lipped grin, his eyes protrude and film over. The flower in his lapel has long since wilted. The casket, all the while, rocks from side to side below the camera's overview. The music is at full strength, resonant and clear.
Cut to the open grave at the cemetery, view from ground level over clumps of freshly spaded earth toward the gate and road, the funeral procession, led by the priest and his three assistants, approaching. The sullen hollow music, which diminished abruptly at the cut, slowly augments as the procession passes through the gates and up to the open grave. When it halts, the music ceases abruptly. A wind seems to rise, then pass away. The pallbearers with their casket proceed directly overhead, looking down on the camera. The priest glances down at the camera, then turns back to the pallbearers. A low murmuring sound has begun, augmenting rapidly. The priest nods, the pallbearers lower the casket toward the camera. Sudden blackness, the murmur ceasing abruptly. Silence. Then, in the darkness, a faint nearby scraping sound, like that of mice in a wall. Silence. Again the scraping, louder. Silence. Again the scraping, faint again. Silence.
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