Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Persistence of Pryvett

Autumn in Windsor, 1982. Book-learning resumed on the university campus and history majors and film students were a-buzz with the viewing of Triumph of the Will, German director Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda documentaries on the 1936 Nazi Nuremberg Rallies. Anticipation was heightened by letters of protest appearing in the campus newspaper, The Lance, from a Jewish group denouncing the screening.

As with all such protestations against film and other art forms, the modest outcry against showing Triumph of the Will ensured every seat in the Lambton Tower auditorium was filled.

Among the audience was Pryvett Rawgers, pompadour in full fall bryl brilliance.

The mood in the auditorium was a mix of amped-up academic anticipation, a strange, silent solemnity and carnival gawkery -- the air charged like an electric fence being urinated upon by a dog.

The man making the presentation, Reg Hart, was renowned for his collection of underground films: racist Warner Bros. cartoons, surrealist works by Salvador Dali, as well as reels of raw propaganda. He was famous among repertory theatres throughout Ontario as much for his exhaustive collection as for his iron-clad contracts -- you hired one of Reg Hart's films, you get its proprietor and his introductions to the films. No negotiation.

"You don't like it," Reg was known to say, "I'll just take my film and go home!"

As repertory theatres disappeared through the 1970s, Reg eventually had audiences of strangers into his house to view his collection.

And on this occasion, the University of Windsor had brought him to town for a couple of days.

As Reg took the podium at the front of the crowded hall, a few latecomers straggled in. One of them was a girl with a half-shaved head; the stubble side decorated with patches of color.

"Hey man," Pryvett's friend muttered, elbowing Pryvett in the ribs, "is that a feminist or a cheetah? I can't tell!" To which Pryvett brayed laughter; the incendiary, suppressed laughter that threatens to break out at churches, during funerals -- wherever and whenever laughter is verboten.

Reg Hart glared into the audience, immediately picking out Pryvett. "You, in the third row!" Reg shouted. "Do you think Nazism is funny?"

"Of course not!" Pryvett said, slowly regaining his composure.

"I don't think you should be here."

"Hey, I paid my money," Pryvett said. "I've been waiting to see this film for a long time!"

"It's my film," Reg spat, "and I'm not going to show it to someone who thinks this is funny."

"Look, I'll move to the back so I won't distract you," Pryvett said, beginning to rise.

"Fuck you, Reg!" someone called out. "You're the fucking Nazi, trying to tell this guy what to do!"

"Yeah," other voices joined in.

Pryvett remained in his seat.

"Why don't you sit down Hitler and just show the goddamned movie?!"

At which point several people jumped to their feet, giving Nazi salutes, shouting, "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!"

Under the cover of the chaos, Pryvett left his seat and retreated further back in the auditorium. He laughed to himself thinking that the girl with the half-shaved head had no idea the commotion had all began with a joke about her peacock scalp.

Reg Hart shouted into his microphone, "If this doesn't stop right now, I'm taking my film and going home!"

The audience quieted and someone said, "Hey, see, the guy left, so you can continue."

Seeing the seat of the offending miscreant in the third row was, indeed, vacated, Reg Hart continued with his lengthy introduction and Triumph of the Will was finally shown.

The following day the headline on the front page of The Lance read: "Ruckus at Nazi Film Screening!" Classmates of Pryvett's asked him, "Was that you?" To which Pryvett replied, "Uh, no, it was some agitators from the Humane Society."

That evening Pryvett returned to the Lambton Tower auditorium for a screening of a Salvador Dali film. This time Pryvett wore a baseball cap over his distinctive pompadour. However, the moment he entered among the crowd, Reg Hart, standing by the podium, scrutinizing the audience, pointed and shouted, "You!"

Caught, Pryvett approached Reg and explained the nature of his laughter the previous evening. In the calmer air of the second evening's screening, he accepted Pryvett's explanation and they agreed to meet for a Löwenbräu at the campus pub after Dali's The Persistence of Memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sprechen Sie Englisch? Woher kommen Sie? Ich weiß nicht. Dieser Gutschein wird von allen öffentlichen Kassen des Stadt- und Landkreises Aachen in Zahlung genommen. Es verliert seine Gültigkeit vier Wochen nach Aufruf durch die öffentlichen Blätter des Stadt- und Landkreises Aachen. Warum kann ich keinen Fallschirm haben? Ich will sofort mit dem Piloten sprechen! Solange Du auf dem Boden liegen kannst, ohne Dich festzuhalten, bist Du noch nicht betrunken. Ich brauche einen Arzt. Wenn ich ihnen meine Telefonnummer gäbe, würden Sie sie wegwerfen oder behalten? Ich habe ein problem. Ich habe mein Geld verloren. Ich muß das britische Konsulat anrufen. Ich möchte mit einer Polizistin sprechen. Es ist zu warm. Schön, daß wir uns endlich persönlich kennenlernen. Darf ich Sie zum Essen einladen? Spricht hier jemand Englisch? I -- ya -- how say -- say -- I like ze story. Is true, yes?

Paul A. Toth