Anyone who knows me well will probably know also that I love The Last Picture Show – that bleak, stark b&w Bogdanovitch film set in a dusty tired little Texan nowheresville.
Like matter and anti-matter, things have their reverse somewhere in time and space, and this incident in Calliope illustrates it.
Shell Oil Co. would periodically bring travelling movie shows to little places like ours, mainly propaganda about how wonderful Shell was in helping to build our fair country by providing services for various progressive operations of national importance.
One project I remember involved great tractors with a ball and chain between them, to mow down masses of the only spindly vegetation that could grow naturally in great swathes of the country. Then, using fertilisers sold by Shell, Gardens of Eden could result. Stuff like that.
They also brought cartoons like Woody Woodpecker, a Movietone newsreel or two, and some health films, so we hicks could learn about sanitation and other things that hadn't crossed our minds.
Because we had no movie theatre, they'd set up in the Diggers Arms dance hall, starting when it got dark enough to see the screen. Country people got up early and if Shell were going to get its propaganda in, then the show couldn't go very late.
We loved these free shows and gladly put up with the boring stuff just to see the cartoons, which would be the subject of discussion in the playground for weeks after. No doubt we also absorbed the idea how altruistic Shell was in contributing to the growth of our nation.
People brought pillows and blankets for the littlies, and put them on the floor down at the front.
On the occasion I'm describing now, the Marr family, backwoodspeople even by Calliope standards, turned up for the show. There was a tribe of them that I don't think anyone, maybe not even their parents, could keep an accurate count of. Ma and Pa Marr just had fun year in and out, and kids kept on turning up. Had Ma Marr been in the USSR, she would have been declared a Mother of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin from Stalin himself.
This was their first picture show. First ever movie for the lot of them.
The kids sat on the floor at the front, cross-legged, noses in a line nearly touching the screen until someone told them they'd see it better from slightly further back. They weren't entirely convinced, based on the principle that the closer you get to something like a red-backed spider, the more clearly you could see it – but they obliged. They were also told to stop getting up and down in front of the screen, which was a bit of a disappointment to them as they'd never been able to make shadows with the kerosene lamp at home anywhere near as good as those made by the film projector.
They took seriously a threat from the back of the hall from Blue Savage that he would bite off the next Marr head or hand that made a shadow on the screen. With a couple of rums and several 10 oz. beer chasers under (and above) his belt, Blue Savage and his promises were not to be ignored.
If you think I'm laying it on a bit thick, let me tell you that the first thing that came on the screen – maybe a movietone news – was such a delight that all the Marrs burst into gales of laughter. Regardless of subject matter, they chuckled their way through it, and roared gleefully at anything that moved on that thar screen.
To them, the cartoons were magic. Woody Woodpecker, which was in colour, did amazing things like getting chased by a live circular saw blade. They screamed in fear and delight, and were greatly relieved when Woody's indomitable spirit saved him time and again.
Of course, everyone else in the vill-arge, seasoned Shell free-movie veterans, became highly amused at their antics, and there was much mirth all round. Even the serious bits of the propaganda soundtrack regarding Shell's vital contribution to the nation were compromised. In spite of earnest Shell executives on the screen, no-one could now hear them because of the squeals of glee coming from the Marr camp, plus the general guffaws from everyone else. Only the Shell guy seemed to mind about that, but he was outnumbered. Everyone else was having a rip-roaring time.
The Marr chuckling bonanza lulled slightly until the Health film came on. This one was a colour cartoon about building an earth closet lavatory. What did they think we did – build nests to live in like gorillas, befoul it till it became unliveable, and then move on and make another one?
The movie was at the stage where the
This was altogether too much for the Marrs. They screamed with laughter at the smurfie boy who had been so nearly caught with his pants down for all to see. They rolled round the floor in hysterics and the littlest ones hugged each other at the spectacle. Never in their lives had any of them, I'm sure, seen anything so utterly side-splitting.
It must be said that the laughter was infectious. You know where someone is in hysterics so much that you catch it too? That's what happened. The whole hall was full of people laughing so hard that not even a Blue Savage threat could have brought order to the proceedings. There wasn't much chance of that – he was nearly pissing himself laughing anyway, tears coming from both eyes, which was as near as Blue Savage had ever been seen crying – probably even by his mother.
All were enjoying themselves except for the Shell man, swapping the reels of film over, convinced he had come to a backwater of lunacy so uncouth that its inhabitants probably did need basic toilet training. He still had several pieces of propaganda to run.
He needn't have worried, for here's the funniest thing of all. The Marr kids, every last one of them, had hystericked themselves out. They were used to going to bed with the chooks every night of their lives. By the end of that Health film, not halfway through the proceedings, they'd had enough excitement, and not even they knew it.
They simply sank exhausted from cross-legged on the floor to prone, and fell fast asleep in seconds. There was not another peep out of one of them for the remainder of the show. Not a murmur.