Jay plodded towards the big building on the corner of the busy street. ‘Museum Lichtspiele’ the sign in front announced and it was somewhat of an institution in Munich’s movie-loving circles. It had been high up in Jay’s bucket list as well. A must-do he could finally check off.
He joined a group of people waiting in the small corridor outside of the theatre halls and slumped against the wall. He wondered if everyone waited for the same movie as he did. Carnivalesque it was called. Although he first wanted to see the new Nolan movie, a pop-up had invited, with a tempting discount, to check out this new, experimental film.
Two guys chattered about Bayern Munich and being dumped by their girlfriends. They took an ice cream out of a cooling box and walked to the cashier to pay. A couple of lanterns on the wall illuminated the small corridor. A mix between an old-fashioned theatre and the entrance hall of a gothic mansion, it certainly did not lack in atmosphere. Movie posters in black frames, the paint still dripping from the bottom, hung on the white walls. Black chandeliers, attached to an equally dark ceiling dangled low above the heads. Big doors left and right seemed as if they gave access to a large dining room of an 18th-century castle.
A red stamp under a blue sky
Jay yawned. He glimpsed at his watch and calculated the hours he could sleep if he went home now. “Everyone for the Nolan movie, enter now”, shouted the cashier in front. Jay watched the crowd, one by one, enter a door at the back of the corridor leaving only himself and a sudden silence in the room. “Euh, and for Carnivalesque?”, he stuttered in broken German. The cashier looked up, a hint of surprise on his face, and pointed to a small door. Jay nodded and slipped inside.
“Card please”, a giant man demanded. Jay retrieved his ticket with a large red stamp, still smelling like ink. He paused at the entrance and took a few moments to marvel at the theatre. In the dark, he detected just a few visitors, spread out through the room. Small lamps in old red shades let out just enough light for Jay to navigate through the back of the small theatre to one of the many soft red seats. A blue sky and white cloud decoration on the right-hand wall stood in stark contrast with the left, which showed two peculiar Mona Lisas, each with an upside down smile. Greek pillars served as frames for both wall paintings.
Behind Jay, two imposing nude Apollonian statues held guard, their faces covered in red and blue make-up. In front, a large red curtain hid what Jay presumed was the screen. On both sides, a troll-like creature on a small pillar smirked at him from behind a small shield as the red curtain crept open.
Welcome to Carnivalesque
“Welcome to Carnivalesque”, a shrouded character facing the audience announced, “the place where nothing is as it seems, the rules of the earthly realms do not abide”. He held his head closer to the camera, “…and people never walk out the way they stepped in”. Jay brushed off his moist forehead and removed his sweater. The shrouded figure disappeared but the voice continued: “For hundreds of years, Carnivalesque has brought top entertainment…” One of the people in front seemed to move. Jay squeezed his eyes in the dark when a shadow on the other side also appeared to change form.
The voice continued: “Our crowd is one with us and we are part of the crowd”. A cold feeling crept up Jay’s spine. The voice disappeared into the background. Another person! This time to his left. Jay could have sworn the person had turned around in his seat towards him. Wide-eyed, he wrung his moist hands in his lap when he realised: the voice was gone. He shrivelled in his chair, wishing to be somewhere else. “Well”, a loud and hoarse voice boomed in his ear. In the seat next to him sat the statue, the make-up still in place, smiling a broad and unnatural grin. “I asked if you were ready?”
Down the Rabbit hole
The lights went out. The room was as dark as a moonless night. Jay wriggled in his seat. “This is not normal, not normal!”, his mind screamed. He squeezed the chair, his muscles fully tense. All strength disappeared from his legs, leaving him numb and helpless in the seat when a jolt kicked him out of his paralysis. Jay could barely withhold a cry when the screen lighted up, towering above him like a menacing giant, embracing his front row seat.
Shoes tapped on a wooden floor. On the screen, the statue entered, walking in from the side. His neat black and grey costume and shiny black shoes would have been an eye-catcher on any ballroom event, were it not for the marble white appearance and bright red-blue make up.
“Esteemed guest”, he orated, “I have come here before you to present the most exquisite magical trick you have ever laid eyes upon. Generations to come will speak in loving terms on the feat which you will see tonight”. He beckoned to something offscreen. “For that, I first invite my lovely assistant Cedrik.”
Out of the murky background, a black bearded man in a short fitting green dress and high red heels paraded onto the screen, throwing kisses at the crowd of one. She stopped and posed next to a large box. “As you can see”, the presenter said while Cedrik glided around the case, showing each side of both himself and the box, “this coffer is not attached to any wires or fake doors… This is all real!”.
A beard in a tight dress
The bearded man opened the lid of the coffer, put one leg inside and winked at Jay. He crawled into the chest and slammed the lid shut. “And now, I will cut my beautiful assistant in half”, the presenter declared. From his waistcoat, he produced a hefty saw shimmering in the spotlight. The rumbling sound of drums rose as the statue placed the blade on the box.
“Aaaaaah”. A piercing cry shook Jay out of his frozen state of fear. Blood squirted in the presenter’s face as he struggled to keep the continuing flow of liquid away from his mouth. Quickly, as if trying to hide the failure from the audience, the presenter stepped in front of the box and pushed it away, off-screen. “Just a minor hindrance!”, he cheered, “nothing to worry about. We will, however, need a new assistant. Is there by any chance a bearded woman in the room?”
Out of the Rabbit hole... or not
Jay had enough. He wanted out, away from this nightmare. A tickling sensation, like an ant walking over his chin, let him grab into a handful of thick fur. On his chest rested a long black beard which covered the cleavage of a short fitting green dress, barely containing his body.
He looked up and screamed, only to have the sound remain stuck in his throat. He stared at another version of himself, still sitting in the crowd, gawking up at the screen of which he was now part. Next to him, the presenter smirked, saw in hand. Jay didn’t utter a word, he ran. As fast as his short dress allowed him, he bolted to a white abyss, luring at the side of the screen. “Wait!”, he heard someone shout desperately, “where are you going, we need you!” Then all went dark.
“Hello”, a voice squawked in his ear, “the movie is over. Time to go”. Confused, Jay blinked at his surroundings. The cinema room was empty and bright with light. He cleaned off some dried saliva on his chin and with a sudden realisation inspected his clothes and face. No beard, no dress. “Ok, ok”, Jay mumbled. Stiff-legged, he stumbled out of the building onto the street.
In the cinema room, the proprietor continued his cleaning and picked up a piece of paper with a blood red stamp on it. “Carnivalesque?”, he mumbled, “what’s that?”. He shrugged, threw the paper in the garbage and closed the door.