Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“Behind the Blue Curtain” by Steven Millhauser
Card picked: Ace of Diamonds
From: The Barnum Museum (collection)
Review: As a kid, going to the movies was an infrequent enough occurrence that it was a treat. I remember going with my grandpa to summer matinees of children’s fare: Fantasia (in re-release), The Fox and the Hound, The Black Hole, The Last Unicorn. My parents took me to the Star Wars movies and Gremlins. (The Star Trek movies were reserved for their anniversary.) I remember catching a post-orthodontist-appointment showing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with my mom during school hours because school would have been over by the time we crossed town. I saw Benny & Joon with friends on senior skip day. My grandma would often suggest 10pm showings of Patrick Swayze movies. She also had a fondness for Pauly Shore. None of these showings were at a grand movie palace. They were mostly at the Park 4 in Ralston. Flat seating, worn carpet in the lobby, but with four decent sized screens. I never experienced the days of ushers and curtained screens. I never had a taste of a movie palace until I went to college. While the Stuart theater didn’t have a curtain, it did have a glamorous lobby and, shockingly, only one screen. In college, there were 7 movie theaters with 15 first-run screens and 9 second-run screens within walking distance of where I lived. In college, movies were no longer a treat; they were a buffet.
I tell you this because “Behind the Blue Curtain” is about a boy who is allowed to go to a movie alone for the first time. While the entire outing is planned (his father will pick him up after the movie) the boys feels like he’s doing wrong just being the on his own in the darkened environment. His father has told him that movies are a string of stationary images projected in order fast enough that the eye sees these as movement, but the explanation isn’t enough for the boy. After the movie is finished, he is filled with curiosity and restless to truly transgress. He finds his way behind the blue curtain that hides the movie screen when movies aren’t being played.
The story’s dreamy qualities are juxtaposed with solid physical details. There’s a highly visual quality to story. Light, of course, gets a good amount of description in a tale about motion pictures. There is a journey from the bright summer afternoon, into the dark cool theater, and then to a different world of light behind the curtain.
About the Author: I’ve been seeing quite a few Millhauser stories being mentioned around the Deal Me In challenge. The Illusionist is one of my favorite movies, and, when I was trying to track down this collection a few years back to read “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” there didn’t seems to be a lot of Steven Milhauser to be found. I’m glad of the reversal though I’m not yet sure if I’d count him among my favorite short story authors. We’ll have to see, I guess.