A Night With The Stooges

We'd been there a few minutes when I realized that the guy over at the right was already drunk, and dangerously close to exposing himself. The announcer up front was saying. "Now we're going to show you..."

"I'll show you my cock," the drunk was yelling, "Shove it up your ass!" The woman near the front looked at her children and hoped that the next Three Stooges movie would come on soon.

Going to the Science Center for a movie on a Friday night is no big deal. The sure-thing pictures are there usually: one of the slicker film societies is raking it in with flashy commercial showings--they lower the screen dramatically before it starts and announce next week's feature over mysterious loud-speakers while a don't smoke don't drink don't eat sign materializes up front. Or a lowly House film society that's been doggedly cranking out respectable and sparsely attended movies all year will try to bail itself out an shuck their principles by showing a bald-faced universal drawing card like Love Storyor The Graduate. Everything is Order--the cop on the watch, the way people file in to A,B,C and D. You might marvel at what Mailer would have called the "nursery school" architecture, and blink in awe at the number of faceless forms hunched over desks in the Science Library on Friday night, but everything is extraterrestially humming, scientific, in control. Especially it you're like me and never go in the Science complex except for an exam, there's nothing you can do about that huge pasted-together hangar ejecting doctors and engineers that you will never see and never know and only feel a bit uneasily might get you sometime later on.

After a half hour and another Stoogies flick I desperately wanted order. Assistant professor Paul Cantor (the Myths of Creation guy) was trying to speak and the area around the podium was littered with beer cans: halfway through every sentence deep voices would bellow "Shut up!" or "You suck!"

The mood was already very ugly. I nursed a quart of beer and a smoke in the back row with my friend and an 8-year-old who knew every line of every Stooges movie (I swear it) and looked around for a cop, or Derek cop, or something.

The movie plan was not too much different last Friday night except that the Stooge-a-than was to be a bit grander and a variety of gimmicks was planned. Ten Stooges shorts ("all Curly!" the posters boasted, and it seemed clear that this was designed to attract the true aficionados who wouldn't hear of stooping to Shemp, or Curly Joe, or the unmentionable Just Plain Joe, who eternally smudged the dynasty of the Third Stooge by daring to turn Curly's inimitable mannerism into a parody of fagdom), plays a lecture by Cantor and, what promised to be the show of all shows--a talk by Professor Martin Kilson. And a fifty dollar essay contest on "Why I Like the Stooges," the entries to be read aloud between films. Finally a live phone hook-up with the last surviving original Stooge, Moe, from his nest in an Old Actor's Home in Southern Cal. This last emerged as a taped interview with Officer Joe Bolton (who has brought the Stooges to New York audiences for twenty year, which no one could hear, of course.

Moe had been too sick to come to the phone, "Shut up and show the goddamn movie!" they yelled, perhaps in frustration at Moe's illness. It seemed paradoxical considering that they'd obviously showed up for the carnival of it all, and a mere screening would have been no more than a mellow and healthily rowdy blast. The Stooges all alone couldn't have aroused anything but good nature.

The Stooges are for kids, and whether you liked them or not you're liable to look back at them after fifteen years and see that shapes that fleshed out much of your consciousness when a glimmer of the world first stirred. The Stooges are pure slapstick--they pound each other and never draw blood, they communicate with a cuff and a twist of the ear, they love each other as they fight, like Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. Getting up from the TV floors when you're five years old and trying to bash your sister with tiny hands is no killer instinct. It just made a vulnerable kid feel assertive and not so vulnerable anymore. The Stooges hurt each other like five-year-olds do.

A lively scene, and funny at first, from the back row. Nothing too ominous until I noticed that there were virtually no women there. And dashing behind in the darkness a little dervish preppie-looking kid speeding round corners like Underdog then jumping into wild blissful Snoopy-leaps. Must have been drugs.

Nice and cartoonish (presumably we're still vulnerable, and went to the Thon to feel five again), but something about it was threatening, the way masked figures are at a roc concert where violence and ugliness are very near--painted faces leering as if to say that this gathering is a drug that will alter things so that you won't know who you are or who your friends are or what the world is.

Some guy got up to read his essay and lasted two minutes. The noise got louder and louder and he stood there lashed to the prow in the storm, blinking up into the lights. The beer cans began to fly again, raining in, just missing. He ended up in the corner standing confused, his big moment gone. "Show the fucking movie!" Soon after Curly was on the screen floundering in a tub while a fish flapped in his lap. Eighty minds clicked--half a dozen bodies stood up and hooted, shaking their fists in jeering excitement Sex!

This was Lowell Lee overrun by a backlash mob: Emerson Hall seized and reversed. Professors who think they are boring get a rush from mentioning something about New Haven and feeling the cool Harvard his from the audience. But here it was no giggling serpent noise but a monstrous barrage of "Fuck You!" One announcer never got near the mike without a voice yelling "Shut up you fuckin' preppie!" The announcer went to public school and the shouting beero was a preppie.

They peaked about 11 p.m. News came that Kilson had, well, been delayed...and the drunken cycles wound down. Everybody left and the Science Center hall was quiet, swamped in beer and strewn with bottles and spotted with tiny black chars. I two days later was Monday.