by Johannes Goransson on Jul.22, 2011
[In keeping with all the youtube montage-homages to Malena that I talked about yesterday, I decided to write an homage/fan fiction/parable to/of/with the film. It also owes something to Mac Wellman’s brilliant version of Antigone (in which “The shriek operator” is a key figure), Ana Mendieta and Hoffman’s/Freud’s uncanny:]
MALENA AND THE SHRIEK OPERATOR
There was a scrawny young man who, being still too young and skinny to perform any other war task than possibly fill in a mass grave, was still living at home in his village, where he helped to operate the local wax museum, which was run by its creator, a blind old man.
One by one the young men of the village were sent off to war, but the young man was still a bit too young and still too scrawny. And the villagers perceived there was maybe something morally wrong about the young man, possibly a birth defect, or, according to an increasingly popular rumor, working for so long in a temple of “sensationalism” and having been so exposed to illegitimate copies of reality had taken its toll on not just his physique but his brain as well. Even the boy’s father treated him as a kind of hopeless case, but because Old Man still paid him a fair amount to help maintain the Wax Museum, the father wouldn’t take him away from this possibly detrimental job.
The boy did a lot of things around the wax museum, adding wax putty to pieces that were falling apart (and there were quite a few of them falling apart at any time), taking tickets, giving guided tours to groups (such as a group of blind veterans who much enjoyed the tour, especially the scene of women at a discoteque that is about to burn down). But most of all he enjoyed his role as “shriek operator,” that is speaking the voice-overs to several scenes. He especially especially liked to do the voice over to Antigone. Describing the battlefields and the mutilated bodies made him feel like he was doing something for his country, even if that something was a form of anti-war protest.
After work he always liked to hang around for a half hour outside because the beautiful woman Malena would then walk home. Malena was a beautiful woman with black hair, dark eyes, an ample pair of tits and a big behind that jiggled beneath her thin dress when she walked through the dusty streets. Having seen her so often, he had even learned to look for the relief of her garter clips, which could be seen through the dress of particularly humid days.
He had never heard Malena speak, in fact few people in the village had ever heard her speak. She worked at the bakery during the day and then she walked home. On her way home all the men of the town would line up and greet her with their repulsive grins. They coveted that woman as much as the boy, but somehow the boy felt more innocent in his longing, somehow the men seemed not to care for Malena’s soul the way he did.
Malena was married to a man in town who had lived in the town his whole life but while away on trip had encountered the beautiful woman and brought her back to his hometown. This was an insult to a lot of the local women. “Aren’t we good enough for him,” they would grouse.
There had been not much trouble when he first brought her back, but then he left for the war, and this made people nervous. Perhaps she would seduce some married man? If her husband were not there to control her, what would she be capable of doing?
The boy’s mind became increasingly engrossed by thoughts about the beautiful woman. One day while serving as the shriek operator, he even began to mumble things he’d like to do to her body, how he’d like to undress her, while he was supposed to give the battle description of Antigone. Luckily the wax museum was largely out of fashion and just a couple of old veterans were at the exhibit at that time, and they did not seem to mind. They laughed and one said, “That Malena has infected the very technology of this city.”
Old Man also noted this event. And that afternoon after the wax museum closed down, he took the boy aside and told him, “You’re becoming a man. You need to be careful not to be too infected by what your eyes perceive. It’s better to watch films in some ways than to look at real people like that.” He then showed the boy a collection of film clips that he had cut out of films before they were allowed to be shown at the Wax Museum. They all depicted women in various poses and in varying states of undress. Some of the worst were of dead girls in the trunks of cars or on the bottom of rivers. The rivers seemed to sparkle but the girls were dead. It was almost as if death had allowed them to wear the natural world.
“The trouble is,” said the old man, “You can’t watch too much of these either.” He smiled sadly, and the boy realized that the Old Man had had to poke his eyes out from an obsessive looking at these pictures years ago, when he was a young man who should have gone out in the world more, married a woman, had children. Instead he had watched forbidden movies and in the end the only way he could have ended the obsession was by gouging his eye out with something sharp. Of course, it was during this time of reclusion the old man had begun to change the movie theater into a wax museum as well, an immense project that must have taken a lot of time. No wonder he never married, thought the boy.
Then one day news from the front came that her husband had been killed in an unfortunate detonation while patrolling a foreign city. His clothes were sent him soaked in blood. The town held a pep fest in his memory on the town square where they held up his clothes like flags. Then they marched in an effigy of the foreign dictator the country was at war with and had the best young athletes wearing soldier outfits come in and topped and attack the effigy with the blood-soaked flags.
Strangely Malena was absent from the festivities, and some of the townspeople started theorizing why that might be. “Perhaps she has a lover,” said one man, and all the rest grew silent for a second, imagining what it would be like to be Malena’s lover.
The boy felt that the nauseating men of the town did not know Malena as she really was. Perhaps she was a heroine like Antigone. She had an inner life that the older men did not care about, a secret life which he alone cared about.
So while the others drank and sang songs about military glory, the boy sneaked over to Malena’s house. He didn’t know what he was going to do, just that he needed to do something. He started climbing the wall and on the wall found a little hole in the wall, through which he looked.
Inside Malena was dancing mechanically wearing only a thin black negligee. The music was a repetitive song without lyrics. When the record player finished, she went over and started it over, but in so doing, one of her breasts fell out of her negligee. The erotic intensity of that brief moment almost caused the young man to pass out. He had to climb down and walk home.
That night he dreamed about Malena in various poses: Malena in her negligee, Malena in various film scenarios (as Egyptian princess, as wealthy aristocrat serenaded by a murderous young man, as an alien riding a motorcycle naked), as Antigone, as a naked woman murdering a bird, as a dead woman in a river who rises out of the river and fastens her garter belts, and numerous other scenarios from the wax museum. Soon he started imagining himself in these scenarios – at first as the romantic partner, but then as part of the landscape (a forest on fire, an empty house with the neon lights glowing through the windows, a museum), and then he dreamed they were both making a movie about landscape paintings, assembling the banned footage on Malena’s naked body. Then the naked body became the outlines on a beach, which he was drawing with a stick. Then the beach became cracked earth. Then that design was transferred to the curtains of a gothic room. Here finally Malena spoke, but it was hard to hear her. He asked her, tell me again. And then he looked down on the bed beside him and it was Malena naked and asleep. And then the curtains – which were also Malena – whispered that he needed to poison the false Malena who lay beside him.
When he woke up he masturbated several times. Over and over. Until it was morning and he had to go wipe himself off to go to work.
That morning there was a huge line to get into the Wax Museum. Word had spread about the new Malena story and everyone wanted to hear what she had to say. Finally she would speak, if only through a shriek operator in a wax museum. Old Man was befuddled. Why have you all come so suddenly. “To hear the Malena piece,” they shouted.
“That was an accident. It should never have happened. It was a mistake. Please go away,” shouted the old man.
“No,” the crow insisted. “We want to see her suffer naked. We want to hear how she sees the world!”
The crowd grew steadily more and more restless the more the old man protested, until finally a fire broke out in the museum. Everybody panicked. The Old Man started to drag out the wax sculptures even as they melted in his hands. But the crowd jeered him. As he dragged out Antigone, the jeering grew worse.
Sensing he had to save the old man, the boy stepped up and announced: “This is Malena and now she sees the battlefields and blown up bridges of our young! Now she tortured naked men in dungeons! Now she smells the smell of gasoline!” He went on for maybe one half hour listing all the things Malena sees. As he shouted the words, he grew increasingly nauseous in the fumes of the fire, and upon finishing up his shriek with Malena’s thoughts about love (“I yearn for men to taken me out of my loneliness!”) he passed out.
He slept a dreamless sleep for more than a week. When he woke up there his parents’ had a somber air about them. When he asked them what the matter was, they didn’t want to say.
“Here, have some water instead,” said the mother, and brought a metal bowl of water to his lips. When he drank it it tasted bitter, and he soon fell back asleep. This time he dreamt nacrid dreams: everything looked yellow, even Malena, even the old man trying to keep together the melting head of the president, even the tumbling buildings.
When he woke up again, he felt better. But he was worried.
“What happened to Old Man?” he shouted
His parents looked at each other. Finally his dead said, “The Old Man is dead, burned in the museum as he tried to save his life works.”
The boy started crying – out of horror, guilt and remembrance.
“In the ruins of the museum, the towns people found this box with your name on it.”
His parents handed him a black box. He assumed this box was the box of the exotic women because it was the same model of black box. But when he opened it, he saw photographs of cities burning to the ground. One after the other. A church gutted by fire. A child incinerated. a village leveled.
“What has happened to Malena,” the boy shouted to his parents.
His parents looked concerned. “Why do you want to know about that whore?” said his mom.
“Tell me or I’ll kill myself!” shrieked the boy.
“She’s begun selling her body,” said his father.
Soon thereafter, the Foreign Army invaded the city. The city had no means of putting up any resistance. But the Foreign Army was not a devastating force, they merely occupied the city and made sure there was no unruly behavior.
However, they soon found Malena and made her their personal concubine, dressing her in the finest garbs and dedicating the new movie theater to her.
But still she did not speak.
This appears to have troubled the heads of the Foreign Army because they soon gathered from the townspeople that the Shriek Operator could channel Malena’s visions and had done so so well that the old movie theater had burned down. Word came that the captains of the Foreign Army wanted to see the boy. However, the trauma of his last performance was still strong within him, like a horrible cancer waiting to blossom. He knew it would kill him.
So that night he fled from the city, travelling on deserted county roads toward the big city, where he would find a way to rebuild the Old Man’s wax museum, and to save Malena with his passion.
[passion is supposed to be italicized.]