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Six and a half samurai

Jay and I met for lunch at the Newbury Cafe in Berkeley, on Shattuck near Ashby. Their banana shakes are so thick they’re almost chewy, and I had a cheese omelet, of course — and it was superb.

So now I've met Jay, and she has a friendly aura. She’s more outgoing than I’ve ever been, even way back when I sometimes at least tried to interact with other humans. She had a quick repartee with some strangers at the swap meet in the BART lot, and the guy behind the counter at the Newbury knew her by name. She shouted once, at a friend across the street, and it was like a scene from a folksy family sit-com. "Hey, Mabel!" "Hey, Jay!" 

She’s a people person, the opposite of me, but it was nice meeting her, and like my mom always urges, it’s good to come out of my shell once in a while. I don’t think Mom would like Jay, though. Jay can be outrageous, and my mom is more … 'rageous'. 

The plan was, I was headed to a movie at the UC Theater. Jay didn’t want to see Seven Samurai (1954), but she rode along to do some shopping. We were a little vague on whether we might meet up gain after the movie. “Look for me," she said, "and maybe I’ll be there, but if I’m not don’t worry, just call it a day and head back to the city.”

Seven Samurai is a classic, an absolute must-see. It’s Akira Kurosawa’s most famous and best regarded work, and all the rave reviews aren't BS. It's about a Japanese farming village that’s bullied and looted by roving thieves every year at harvest time, so no matter how good their crop, they’re left with barely enough to survive until the next year, when they’ll be robbed again. After putting up with this for years, maybe generations, someone has a bright idea: Let’s hire free-lance samurai to defend the town.

It’s a rousing adventure, smart and thrilling and funny, as the townsfolk look for affordable warriors to hire, building toward the popcorn-munching action scenes. It's the UC Theater, though, so in the back of my mind I was wondering, are they going to screw this up? The film was focused and framed, which ought to go without saying but like I said, it’s the UC.

Just when I thought they’d done it right tonight, the strangest thing happened. There’d been several battles, samurai vs brigands (‘brigands’ being a word I only know from samurai movies; it means ‘bad guys’), and it looked like we were about to see the movie’s climactic battle. One of the villagers turned to the camera and shouted, “The brigands! The brigands!”

And suddenly, women were in the fields, and two of the warriors were wistfully looking back on everything they’d been through. The End.

Now wait one god damned minute. This was a movie I'd already seen, and I don’t have it memorized or anything, but last time and the time before, it didn’t switch so abruptly from the battle to a recollection of the battle. The theater’s program had promised that this was “the uncut version” of Seven Samurai, and I didn’t even know there was a “cut” version, but whatever I'd just seen was clumsily circumcised. 

My guess as a movie guy is that either the print arrived with one reel missing, or the projectionist skipped a reel. I attended a movie once at the UC where the reels were shown in the wrong order, so them skipping a reel seems much more plausible.

I wanted to corner the manager and yell at him, but Jay was waiting in the lobby, and really, what’s the point of complaining? They’re not going to tell the crowd to sit down again, and then show us the reel they’d forgotten to screen — and even if they did, it wouldn’t quite be the same, you know? It's not a problem they could fix, so I walked over to Jay and said hey, and tried to switch from mighty pissed to semi-sociable. Not sure I pulled it off.

We ate at some place called Plearn Thai. I hadn’t eaten Thai food since a very brief period when I was a borderline yuppie, 15 or so years ago. The food was as spicy as I’d remembered, and pricier. Hell, the tip was more than I’d usually spend on a meal. It was better than edible, though, and only the second helping of fancy food I’ve had since moving to California three years ago, so my pauper’s papers are still intact.

Jay is… Jay. I like her, but she’s Mary Tyler Moore and I’m Quasimodo. I am socially disabled, normally abnormally withdrawn to the max, and she is bubbles of optimism and smiles and good manners and all that. Glad to meet her and nothing against her, and I’d willingly hang with her again if she wants, but eating two meals together in one day was one meal too many.

At home I checked my movie reference book, and it says that the uncut version of Seven Samurai runs 208 minutes. By my calculations, the movie I saw tonight was about 20 minutes short of that, depending on how long the intermission was. A movie reel runs about ten or eleven minutes, so I think we were shortchanged two reels, and also, screw the UC Theater.

From Pathetic Life #8
Sunday, January 22, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2021: It's absurd, but 26 years later, the UC's destruction of Seven Samurai that night still pisses me off. The theater was operated by Landmark, a chain that was (or maybe still is?) pretty good as chains go, but it always seemed like they sent only their flunk-outs to work in Berkeley.

They shut down the UC Theater in 2001, just as Stephanie & I were leaving California, and the internet tells me that it's now a live music venue. Which seems like a better idea.

Pathetic Life 

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