Friday, May 28, 2010

10: The Street Near and Far

This story is the 10th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Finley.

During filming of his tenth film The Street Near and Far, Griffin visited his old childhood neighborhood. It had become boarded-up houses and storefronts, growing weeds scaling crumbling stone structures, trash and debris scattered on the cracked sidewalks. His childhood home—long ago replaced by apartment buildings.

He named the film after the main street of his neighborhood, where everything was—restaurants, supermarket, clothing stores. His mother called it the street near and far. He never knew why, never heard anyone else call it that. It was uphill from home, a leg-toughening trek up a steep incline. It was close, maybe half a mile, so it was near, though it felt far on hot summer afternoons or snowy winter days. He’d meant to ask his mother why when she was alive.

The street also had a theater, long closed, though the marquee still existed, its lights long dead. Spray-painted cedar boards where the entrance used to be. Liquor bottles and fast food trash and a decaying rat in the entryway. Cracks to the box office window, papers and broken glass just inside the semi-circle opening where you’d buy your ticket. He hadn’t seen it in years, and knew it had been long ago since it had closed, but still he was shocked by its condition.

He hadn’t planned to go inside but decided to after seeing the place. The front provided no possibilities so he walked around the block to the back. Past abandoned stores, one structure hollowed by fire, pawn shops sealed by metal gates, an Asian eatery that smelled like garbage. The back alley was crumbling asphalt, potholes, backyards of ramshackle houses. He found the backdoor, rusted and wrapped in chains. He looked up and down the street, thought briefly, he has family at home, what’s he doing, then pushed the door until it creaked open.

The film’s premise was that the protagonist discovers an old theater where films he sees are replays of his life. He goes during the day and often he’s the only person there. He tries to enter the projection room to see what’s happening there but he can’t. He finds people working at the theater—box office cashier, snack stand attendant, ticket taker, even the manager—tries convincing them of what he’s seeing but they think he’s crazy. When he finally someone comes and watches, the film is what’s on the marquee, not his past. In the movie, the protagonist never learns what was up but realizes his real life is stuck in the past and he can’t keep living there.

The inside smelled musty. Griffin found debris, dust, darkness. Outside light filtered through cracks, revealing dusty seats and floors, screen scarred by cuts, the ceiling sagging in places. The interior mostly untouched. He couldn’t believe it. He sat down in the front row, the seat creaking and crunching. He looked at the battered blank screen. The memories flowed. When he was a child, feet barely touching the floor, he sat eating candy and popcorn, his parents flanking both sides, flickering images reflecting off their glasses. Older, during summer vacation and days off school, he came with friends, crouching down in darkness between shows to stay for the next show. Then he came with dates. Then, as a student of film, as the films became smaller run, less popular arthouse-type fare. Then he was gone.

Griffin sat there, eyes closed, until he heard the door creaking. Someone else coming in. He jumped, felt his heart race, heard someone calling. Anybody in here? An older man’s voice. He answered back. Just me, I mean, yes. The man was standing just inside, below the Exit sign. He was short, hunched shoulders.

I saw the chain off. It’s never like that.

I sort of…I used to come here when I was a kid. Grew up close to here. Just wanted to see what it looked like.

I ain’t gonna give you grief. The man’s head moved, scanning the theater. Man, this place—loved this place. Clean it up, add a new screen, she’d be up and running.

The old man sat down in the aisle opposite Griffin.

Been walking this alley for years. Never been in here since it closed.

You know the first movie I saw here, said Griffin. Pinocchio. I was five. Loved Jiminy Cricket.

Don’t know if it was my first but I remember Strangers on a Train. That Robert Walker—man, was he something. Packed house. Everyone riveted.

This whole neighborhood, said Griffin. The center of my life growing up. Things just change so much.

Used to be bustling, way back when. Momma’d say, let’s go to the street far and near, see a movie, get lunch.

Wait— Griffin heard the words; his blood became ice crystals. What’d you just say?

You mean, the street far and near?

Yeah. Where’d you hear that? My mother always called it, the street near and far. How’d you—why’s it called that?

You know, I never knew. Far and near. Near and far. Weird.

The two sat silent for awhile. Griffin closed his eyes, listened to the man breathing. The guy didn’t know who Griffin but that wasn’t unusual.

Nothing like the old days, the man said. Nothing like watching movies in these old palaces.

Do you think if we sat here long enough, we’d start seeing movies. Griffin kept his eyes closed, recalled the buttered popcorn smell, the sound of the rolling projector. Maybe the old times would return like we never left.

The old man laughed then coughed. Griffin thought about Helena. Would he tell her about this? Soon, he would leave, return to her. Now, though, his eyes closed, time passing and, not sure if the old man was still there, he saw the colors of old filling this place, images flickering on screen. He was young again, his parents alive next to him. His childhood house still alive, freshly painted and landscaped, warm, humming, waiting. The dead street outside restored to fresh color, alive with footsteps and mesmerized children, decorated with streamers and banners, declaring it the street near and far.


  1. I totally love the idea of that film - like a combination of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers. I like those echoes too: near and far, far and near, especially if Griffin is much younger than the other man (I'm not sure of his age here). Fantastic imagery.

    Not to underestimate the pleasure of this as a flash piece, but I think these ideas are worth developing. Truly.

    (Awkward sentence here: "Griffin remembered thought about Helena.")

  2. Really love this series, because it's not really necessary to read everything before it. They stand alone, each of them, like little paintings on a pedestal to form one giant mural. Good job again. The imagery is so vivid. Love the descriptions of the movie house in its livery.

  3. I agree with Carrie, I had no idea until I read her comment that this was part of a series. Very touching; the movie theater is perfect for nostalgic thoughts and reflections on the past.

  4. Thanks, Mark, Carrie, and Kim, for stopping by to read! Mark, extra thanks for catching that error (now corrected).

  5. What a great read Christian! The imagery you weave here is nearly palpable, very nice.