One, two, three...
I blame The Red Shoes for the person I’m today. Film crazy, spending more money borrowing films in a week than any person I know. Beauty mad. No child should be allowed to watch The Red Shoes. And I was a child even at twelve until that Saturday afternoon when I first watched The Red Shoes in an apartment on Martin Road in Old Kampala alone in that flat, a fan whirling in the back.
The video lib I borrowed The Red Shoes still exists on Martin Road, the same video lib I was introduced to Jim Morrison and Oliver Stone on Monday evening after school through The Doors, a video lib directly opposite Shell Petrol station facing the white flats in which on the Saturday I watched The Red Shoes I came out of to cross the road and meet my fate with The Red Shoes.
The apartment was Ronnie’s, he was in Entebbe for the day. The idea was she would come over, we would go for a walk and I’d buy the beers we would take back. Two hours after midday I was tired and angry from waiting and stalked out to drink alone. But Singh was going into the lib and I went with him.
I did not feel the afternoon turning into evening, I did not hear the soft honking of evening traffic down below all night, did not remember the warm delicious chapatti’s Ronnie’s mother had made for us to eat, did not call home to tell them I was alright, glued on that brown sofa black in the night entranced by Michael Powell’s film.
If you watch The Red Shoes, Sin City won’t amaze you so much. I remember the terrible red of Moira’s dancing shoes, I remember the manic tap tap of her shoes dancing on even when her body was exhausted beyond all human endurance her spirit dancing on because this is what happens when an obsession possesses you. I remember the chill that went through me as Moira pleaded for a dancing part by right of her talent hers before fools who could never be able to dance like she could sensing somehow at only twelve that this is how the world is run, divided between the powerful and the powerless. I remember a scenic vista from a castle on clear day, sun in the sky, that unlocked memories of Kigezi hills I had been routed from five years earlier and in a remarkable trick of the subconscious forgot the language, forgot the people I knew, forgot I had ever been there at all all rushing back into me that evening in Ronnie’s flat on Saturday night waking to myself to be startled that it was nearly eleven at night. I remember the music, my God that music!
Michael Powell, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, names that would quickly become familiar to Ugandans to stayed up late in the night watching as in the first flush of an orgy of quality the new TV stations that opening up in Uganda carelessly strew their classic movies all day and all night in their schedules with no order.
I did not sleep until after three on Sunday morning committing The Red Shoes to memory. I’m quite sure it is the only time on record a girl didn’t keep a date and was aggrieved the guy did not remember she had not kept the date.
Fame came to Ugandans via the generosity of the Kattos through their Sanyu TV. Or was that Cablesat Television? It must have been Cablesat Television because I remember I watched Fame in black and white. The original 1980 Fame. When we still only owned a black and white TV.
The Red Shoes made me want to dance, I bought a pair of tight blue jeans to wear to dance in and there problems began. Fame made me pause. The Red Shoes was about the beauty of dancing after the training is done, Fame was about the everyday sweat in the dance studio belly empty and hungry waiting for a chance nothing has given you any hope to wait for and surviving, surviving all through that time. Fame was about life, The Red Shoes was about an idea and to see Fame was to be scared because Fame showed you life did not recognise fair and unfair.
I wanted to be like Gene Anthony Ray animal magnetic but I was not sure I wanted to be like him completely though Faulkner a few years later assured me a Keats ode is worth any number of old ladies and Graham Greene reassured me a real artist must have ice in his heart.
Until I met Magoba Brian in his new incarnation as a dancer, I could not believe another profession could contain as much heartbreak and little reward as I was discovering writing to be and as Fame showed regardless of the endless hours of brow scrunched up perfecting practice and talent. Fame was about an aspiring artist’s worst fears and a thorough preparation for the artistic life if you still wanted it after that.
I watched Save The Last Dance because I was a big Julia Stiles fan and I was in furious pursuit of anything Stiles was in after Ten Things I Hate About You. The KC and Jojo song had not turned me onto Julia Stiles, had intrigued me, but had not turned me on. Ten Things I Hate About You had put me on fire for Julia Stiles, funny because I had watched Ten Things as a chore, to have something to talk about with a girl who was always talking about Ten Things I Hate About You.
I stumbled upon Save the Last Dance while I was looking for Ten Things which to tell you the truth I wouldn’t have watched were Julia Stiles not in it. I have owned a copy of Save the Last Dance for three years now and in those three years I have probably watched Dance again four times only yet I would never give away my copy because Stiles turned me onto Lathan (Roy the librarian made the introductions) and Lathan in Mutaasa Kafeero led me to Ten Things I Hate About You. But not before she found a way of worming her way despite all my protestations into my heart.
Lathan is not even a superb actress but she has something all the talent in the world can never pretend to own: charm. When she is acting she has a charming awkwardness, like the shy girl at the back of the class suddenly the centre of attention. I thought it was a one time thing, great acting shining out for one moment, in Disappearing Acts when Wesley Snipes corners her against the fridge and seducing her draws away after he has pulled off her top to briefly ogle her breasts. Standing there being assessed, I have never seen any actress who showed more movingly the terror many women feel the first time they are naked before a man who to her is more than a one night stand. Lathan makes you feel that if Snipes had walked away from her there and said he didn’t feel like it anymore, she might not have died but it would have taken months before she ever allowed herself again to be in the same position with another man but going by character in this movie it would even have been years. But that was before I watched Love and Basketball (best losing virginity scene ever when all the swagger falls away and queenly prancing falters), Brown Sugar, and with Disappearing Acts learned it might be her trademark. I have loved Sanaa since Love and Basketball, loved her more after watching Disppearing Acts over again appreciating her talent. There’s no hypocrisy of impartiality here. Loved Sanaa because she is like someone I knew once.
But it was Julia Stiles who was like someone I was once. I was a kid like that once for a spell who chose not to fit in because to fit in would have been a betrayal of myself and a scared silent minority I knew that the onrush of years makes me look back to not in embarrassment but regretfully that that kid knew a secret I have forgotten. He could not write better but he could write more. Like 'Kat' Stratford one way or another he could get that guitar, he would not go to the University his father wanted him to but to the one that was right for him, take the toad cutting freak to his school prom, unlike Kat smoke because to miss one experience is criminal, love because loving is the most courageous act of all. Ten Things I Hate About You was the way we lived when we were young and Julia Stiles acted Kat like she knew me. This is why I think Save the Last Dance may have been the last great film of her youth until at last another ten years have passed. She had had her whole childhood and early teens to live the roles she acted in Ten Things I Hate About You to Save the Last Dance, it would be too much I suspect to expect her to play a mature woman before she has lived through the experience. I’ll tolerate the fillers in interim because in 10 years time my Stiles cabinet will be bulging with new Stiles treasures.