Thank you Mr Browning

You know that angular building at Federation Square; the one that looks like it fell from post-modern land and mutated its surrounding architecture in order to appear as though it belongs in Melbourne? No not that one. Why would I talk about an information centre? I’m unclearly referring to ACMI.

It’s a sin that I haven’t visited this place sooner. As a writer I felt it was my obligation to begin my pilgrimage to this mecca for screenplay buffs (I also accepted an invitation to come out). The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is simply awesome. I sauntered to the front desk and said: ‘I’m here to see Freaks.’ Reception-dude probably heard that all night and so he told me—stone-faced—to fill out a form and to hand over $23 for a mini pass which lasts a month—excellent value considering the films on offer.

There’s a free exhibition for cheap tourists (the Bat mobile is parked there at the moment) and upstairs is a theatre where all kinds of people were taking a seat. There’s a collective appreciation and enthusiasm you experience at ACMI. I attended the Melbourne Melbourne Cinémathèque thingy where three Todd Browning films were shown: Freaks (1932), West of Zanzibar (1928) and The Unknown (1927).

He may be half the man she thinks he is but boy is she wrong

Like all of the films we saw that night, Freaks was bizarre. The plot was interesting: travelling show woman takes advantage of a guy dwarf for his inheritance. What was really fascinating was the character dynamics demonstrated between the ‘normal’ folk and the ‘freaks’. The end of the film was memorable. The ‘freaks’ conspired together and menacingly creep on the female wrongdoer and punish her. The creeping element was more terrifying, I think, than displaying gratuitous violence. It’s easy to understand how this film endures and is appreciated by a cult following.

Frequent cuts to this frame is hilarious

And then we were treated to a long-winded tale about a magician who tried to get back at the guy who took his girlfriend and busted his legs by following him to Africa to raise the child that the other guy left behind after the lady died so that Dead-Legs could present her 18 years later for the ultimate humiliation. Confused? Good. At 65 minutes, West of Zanzibar dragged on so much that you could guess what was going to happen next. It was a silent film (it was when the audio stuffed up near the end). Regardless, the core narrative was entertaining.

Alonzo: acting without his feet

Finally, The Unknown (another silent film) was arguably the most surreal of the night’s selection. Apparently they still tell this tale in Madrid, according the opening title card. Meet Alonzo, he’s armless. April Fools! He’s not really armless, but if his one love ever found out could she forgive him for living a lie? She-lady is afraid of muscles. Meet the Muscle-Man. He’s strong and he likes She-Lady. To scare Muscle-Man off, Alonzo encourages Muscle-Man to speak to She-Lady. The plan backfires and so Alonzo endures a strange journey which leads to a sad conclusion for our ‘Armless Wonder’. The score was repetitive, unfortunately, but otherwise it didn’t suffer from the same drag as West of Zanzibar.

Overall, fantastic. Sure I could have watched these movies online, but it was that collective experience of seeing movies which makes this evening memorable and enjoyable.

Visit ACMI.


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