Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Budapest, 1995

A while back I wrote about seeing The Life of Brian in Budapest on a TV/VCR rolled out onto a stage (see November 2009 archives) and wanted to write about another film I saw when I was staying in Budapest--John Cassavetes' 1976 drama The Killing of a Chinese Bookie at the Blue Box

I liked watching movies at the Blue Box (recently called the Kultiplex although it might have a name change from that). I don't know how long it had been showing movies but my guess would be not very long. It was a non-descript, boxy building on a mostly residential neighborhood that focused on art films. The theatre was flat and most of the seating was either loose individual fold-up chairs or park benches. Let me repeat that--park benches. I usually chose a bench in case I wanted to lay down as I watched a film. It's hard to top laying down on a park bench inside a movie theatre when watching a movie.

This particular screening is memorable 15 years after it happened because I watched it with this guy named John who I'd just met. John was from Oregon and we met a few days earlier at a launch party for this literary magazine called Trafika. There were lots of pretty Hungarians and expats at the launch and John and I bonded over our shared loathing for the hipster types behind the magazine. It seemed they all went to Harvard, Yale, Columbia and other well-heeled institutions and were letting out their pompousness via microphoned toasts and readings. In 1995 I was a bitter college dropout. John and I mocked these people without mercy even though we just met and agreed to meet a couple of nights later to see a depressing movie at the Blue Box.

We met early and sat in the concrete accentuated lobby (in Hungary, concrete is a common way to decorate a building) at one of the few tables offered. We talked some more about the Trafika launch while reaffirming our distaste for the monied, silver-spoon bluebloods slumming it in the Eastern bloc. John started telling me about how he needed to do laundry and that he was out of clean clothes. He said he'd worn the same clothes a few days now and was only wearing a single sock. Strange thing to mention I thought.

"A single sock?" I asked.
"Where's the other one?"
"Lost, I guess."
"Why are you only wearing one? Why not just wear no socks or two dirty ones?"
"Well, I'm wearing one real sock that's clean and one non-traditional sock."

My interest was definitely piqued by this choice of words concerning John's sock situation. He expanded on the topic further.

"Well, as I said, I've been out of clean clothes and didn't have time to do laundry. I can't stand to go without socks so I had to make do with the only other clean item I have."

John pulled his jeans up to reveal his ankle where I saw he was wearing a pair of white underwear on his foot as a sock! He'd poked his foot through one hole and was using a clothes pin to take up the slack of excess underwear fabric. After much laughter and incredulous questioning from me regarding the thought process of his decision to wear a "tighty whitey" as a sock, we went into the theatre to watch The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Later that night, as I walked back to the small room I rented in a dour, working class, Soviet era complex dominated by grey cement, I thought about John's foot, how we met and how those arrogant Trafika people would never have the gumption or audacity to wear underwear as a sock. It was clearly a class division that separated them from people like John and myself. 


bb said...

I loved the sock story.

Cinerobota said...

Amazing! Big River Man would have done the same thing.