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Old Time Movie Going in Jérémie

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2003 8:02 pm

Old Time Movie Going in Jérémie
by Jean-Marie Florestal

Your November 12, 1998 piece on movie-going in Haiti in the 60's stirred a lot of childhood memories in me that I thought lost before. As you eloquently wrote, movie played such a role in our upbringing. I considered thinking about some of my childhood movie-going memories as opening old wounds due to the rawness of the emotions experienced in my efforts to see "Le Bossu", which met only with partial success.

Those memories:
  • Impatience to Reach the TheaterWhile growing up in Jeremie, in the 60's, going to the movies was the most exciting experience I had. For starters, I could not afford it more than once or twice a month, though we all reveled in the experience. The movie theater in Jeremie, Cine Fox, was about 50 yards
    away from the main church, Eglise St. Louis. The theater was about one mile away from home. Naturally, I had to walk to the movies. It was such an exhilarating experience that I never could wait to walk the last 50 yards. I ran them with my heart pounding and the expectations pleasantly painful. Did the lack of frequency of going to the movies explain that? Who knows...
  • Love of my pets vs Going to the movies Very often, I had to earn my way to the movies. Besides the usual pets we had at home - cats and dogs - my father gave us pigeons and chickens and the occasional "cochons d'inde" (hamsters) that we raised in our backyard. I usually took care of them before and after school and during the weekends. Often, after Sunday church, I noticed that my mother was cooking chicken for the noon meal. That chicken smell was always greeted with suspicion. I would quickly change to day clothes - shed my "Freres de L'Instruction Chretienne" F.I.C. white clothes and blue tie churc
    h uniform - and round up my chicken to do their inventory. Without fault, one of them would be missing. I would then spend the next half an hour crying until my mother promised me the highly coveted 1 Gourde - 20 cents U.S. - which would help to dry my tears and forget the loss of one of my pets.
  • Le BossuJean Marais was my favorite actor. Among other things, my first name, Jean-Marie, was so close to his full name that I always identified with him. Needless to say, when "Le Bossu" came to town I could not wait to get a 1 gourde to go and see it. After listening to countless reports of the movie by friends more fortunate than me I finally got to go. While the exact dates are now eluding my memory, Cine Fox was showing the movie at the same time that the invasion by the so-called rebels, Nono Numa, Guy Drouin and company took place in the southwestern part of Haiti. This was the effort to overthrow the "Papa Doc" Duvalier regime that ended up with their public execution.
    In the theater, at 7:30 P.M., just half an hour after "Le Bossu" started, I heard from outside the sounds of a siren indicating that the town was under immediate curfew. The theater stopped the movie and evacuated right away before I saw the remaining two thirds of the movie.

    The following day, without a lot of publicity, Cine Fox announced that they were showing the movie at 4:00 p.m. free of charge for those people who could not finish watching it the previous night. I missed the announcement and did not go. I could never find afterwards another gourde to go see it the remaining four times the theater showed it again. I still feel that childhood pain of such a missed opportunity.
  • Sissi l'imperatriceLike most of my friends back then, Romy Schneider was my idol. Her striking beauty and popularity were mesmerizing. She also taught me by her life that beauty and wealth are no guarantee of happiness. Anyway, in Jeremie we had our revised version of the "Sissi" sce
    ne that you mentioned which was the subject of loud heckling in the movies. The heckling continued for days and weeks in my neighborhood of Rochasse, long after the theater stopped showing "Sissi l'imperatrice". Not only we repeated that the main character addressed Romy as "Ma Sissi," we also added that he continued by saying "Ma Divine Sissi." Needless to say, we could not utter these words in front of our parents.
  • Miscellaneous"Ben Hur" was the subject of conversation in Jeremie for months. [/*:m]
We sometimes experienced movies outside of the commercial theater(s). Père Jacques, a French priest who was the principal of the private high school in town, used to show for free, on the soccer field behind the high school, silent movies of Charlie Chaplin, Charlot and Pocitron (sp?). Those were movies in open skies, where the lack of street lights in the neighborhood was enough to provide the necessary darkness for the showing of movies "en
plein air," always on a moonless night.

I thank you for allowing me to relive such a wonderful part of my childhood.

Copyright © 1998 Jean-Marie Florestal - Windows on Haiti

Posted: Sun Dec 05, 2004 7:42 pm
I hope that Jean-Marie will continue to entertain us with such stories.