The Projectionist’s Dream by Robert Joyce

the projectionist’s dream

By Robert Joyce


Yes, the projectionist’s dream: thought before, told here. Perhaps now I can recall it utterly and there will be no disappointment after all. Perhaps we shall get nowhere.

In the cinema, more usually in the Church-Hall or Cine-Club than at a commercial cinema, one sometimes sees, cast large on the screen, the image of a hair trapped somewhere, momentarily. Somewhere in the system, that hair. The projectionist’s dream.

There are clues to follow. If, distracted from the film, Providence say or The Shootist or even Come Along Do, one can become transfixed on the hair; perhaps not a hair, a strand of fluff perhaps. But first the clues.

These indicators, I call them clues, perhaps they are not that to the projectionist. Things that keep him awake at night. Awake during the day, needing night for his profession.

The same is true perhaps of the lady in the sweets kiosk. She may be unable to drop off for thinking, wondering about the origin of some foreign body in a treacle-toffee. How would she know it was there, if no complaint was made? Conscientiously she thinks on these matters. It might be a hair that if not for the adhesive qualities of a creme caramel would certainly gain ingress to the projector’s mechanism and display its shadowy self largely on the screen, momentarily bisecting James Stewart, Sir John Gielgood or George Albert Smith.

Some hair or particle floating close by the glass plate set in the front of the projection booth and showing briefly on the screen, more shadowy to be sure, (and we can be sure, to be sure, because of the laws of optical science) than a hair, who knows, from the same balding head, caught behind the lens, in the gate of the projector itself. Less umbra more pen- and subpenumbra.

That same hair languidly descending after its moment’s glory might fall onto a creme caramel, liquorice allsort or sherbet dabbie set in the gaping mouth of a member of the audience. Yawning mouth. Providence. Further than this we need not pursue it.

The projectionist’s dream. The most sharply focused image of a hair will be produced by one touching the emulsion of the cine film as it lies in the gate of the projector.

When the film is moved, as it is intermittently, the hair might go along with it, having adhered to the emulsion for one of the hundred reasons appended at foot.

Or it might be stuck in some fashion to the gate. The course of events described above being reversed, the hair first landing on a toffee on its way down, but by some miracle escaping, stranger things have happened, and coming briefly to the projector might attach itself to the gate by dint of the adhesive quality of some minute speck of toffee clinging to it. It might hang tenaciously by its follicle. There are a hundred reasons.

It could be that it will shortly detach itself, or be detached by the intermittent motion of the film. Our glimpse of it will have been brief and the projectionist not greatly worried.

If not, being awake still on his cot he licks his lips, his throat dry, there is a wrinkle.

Spit on the tip of the index finger, touch it to the tip of the thumb. Bring the moistened finger and thumb to the loop of slack film above the gate, and touch it briefly either side. The projectionist is flushing in the twilight — this should not be done, but it is; often.

On a cot in the room below the lady from the sweets kiosk is asleep dreaming of coconut macaroons, their index price per ton on foreign exchanges, what might that be? Tiny pieces of coconut are wedged between her teeth. The intermittent motion of the breakfast slice of toast moving through her gullet might dislodge these specks. She is not awake though, to speculate. Nor would she.

The bubbles of spittle moving in prescribed fashion in the heat of the projector light, breaking up and re-forming, can be seen in clear focus in full colour on the big screen for a fraction of a second. They pluck the hair from its position and it is moved along as the film is unwound The projectionist is sweating profusely, how unbearable for him.

The hair is now attached to the film and finds its way into the coil. When the film is shown again, if it ever should be, that same hair will be present again as surely as any sequence in the narrative. And it’s done often: all those hairs, all that spit. How sweetly the sweet-booth lady might sleep then, having no particular fondness for the projectionist and no need of his proffered boxes of chocolates.

On the hearth-rug, toddlers spit out their sweeties, roll them around the readicut-rug, pick them up, inspect them, hairy like spiders, then swallow them down. Some children just eat dirt.

The fragmentation of the acetate. Minute pieces of the acetate of each film ever shown on a particular projector accumulate in the corners of the gate.

The projector in the Black Museum at New Scotland Yard. The sweet girl dead, filth accumulated round her gaping throat-wound. The Chief Inspector in collaboration with forensic scientists, Kodak Ltd and Toblerone Ltd, drawing up a list headed ‘Providence 27 Oct. 200 Mars Bars 37 bags Payne’s Poppets. 200 hairs in reels. Identified. NB, check ginger.’ The Projectionist in Pokey waiting for the end, his mouth dry of spittle, not sleeping not dreaming, hands in pockets, his index fingers and thumbs touching together.

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