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Mr. Arkadin’s New Clothes

By Rajko Radovic.

There is a plane flying off the coast of Barcelona. The day is clear. Sun in black and white films always looks like benevolent radiation from some other planet. And in that pleasant yet eerie atmosphere the plane hovers above scattered clouds. It is progressing along its unknown itinerary in a reassuringly straight line. Then a voice comes from off screen, and it’s Orson Welles. From that point on the guessing game is over. We know for sure that the plane is in trouble. For the voice thunders from nowhere like it owns the horizon and the manmade device is just another toy in a much bigger contest between destiny and weather. The narrator informs us that the plane is empty, that there is no one on board.

And this is how Orson Welles’ strangled masterpiece Mr. Arkadin(1955) begins – with the empty plane and the known voice. Yet precisely that haunted image from the history of cinema came back to me while recently watching the news from the streets of Egypt. The revolution is televised and it is alive, it seems. It is both. Only it moves now beyond the horizon. We cannot picture what it really means even though we can see moving throngs in real time – gangs of faces, hands in the air – Molotov cocktails in molten twilights. These young rebels and their strong features, above all the burning fire in their eyes, the air of zeal and determination of the youth, are beyond our knowledge. We haven’t rebelled seriously against our governments since 1968 and even that was mild-mannered and hopelessly middleclass in comparison with what’s going on in the streets of Cairo today.

News is bringing us colours. It is making us fidget and fret and we don’t know precisely why. News anchors are doing their utmost to decode, promptly obfuscating, messages from the Third World. The feeling of ineptitude prevails. History cannot be stopped. It is now moving beyond the West, beyond our narrative sense of happy endings, of nerdy crescendo and clear cut plot lines where winners will be known from losers by their rehearsed smiles. Typical was the reaction on the events from the White House. The biggest concern seemed to be whether or not the street revolt and the underground revolution will be hijacked by those who are not on the CIA payroll.

The vision of the empty plane over the coast of Barcelona comes back, and now I think I know why. It’s a metaphor for living ghosts. One can easily picture Hosni Mubarak’s night escape as part of the big picture. The grim face that knew deeper grime still. The limousine and bodyguards. The tense expressions on waiting faces that lead no place but into some new dusk of furtive violence. And the sky above the tarmac is the last refuge of the known scoundrel. Mubarak’s plane may well skirt over the coast of Spain as it speeds on but then, something akin to real horror could be imagined to darken his brow; a sudden realization that no pilot was on the plane while the leader was flying with his head in the clouds.

Rajko Radovic is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Canada.

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