BOOKS

Celebrating cinemagic

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES OR, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS By Robert Coover

LAWRENCE O'TOOLE April 13 1987
BOOKS

Celebrating cinemagic

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES OR, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS By Robert Coover

LAWRENCE O'TOOLE April 13 1987

Celebrating cinemagic

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES OR, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS By Robert Coover

(General Publishing, 187 pages, $27.95)

Some film-makers are alchemists, able to turn prose into box-office gold. In A Night at the Movies Or, You Must Remember This, author Robert Coover has reversed the transformation. Coover not only draws inspiration from the film classics—Casablanca, High Noon and Top Hat; he has even arranged his dazzling work of short fiction in the manner of an old-time movie program, opening with coming attractions and including three features, a cartoon and an intermission. Like Coover’s earlier collection, Pricksongs and Descants—versions of mythic tales from Mary and Joseph to Hansel and Gretel— A Night at the Movies is more than mere parody. With swashbuckling wordplay and malevolent wit, Coover celebrates “the miracle of artifice” that makes movies magical.

The result is itself a work of magic. Coover gives the theme of good overcoming evil a surprising twist in “Shootout at Gentry’s Junction,” when a lone town sheriff confronts a Mexican bandit who snarls, “You wanna die like peegs!” Another story, “You Must Remember This,” turns Casablanca’s tearful farewell between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman into a scene of graphic sex, of “love in all its clammy mystery, the squishy rub of truth.” But the same piece also retells the film’s darker emotional story of infidelity and lost love.

Movies are not what they used to be, Coover suggests, largely because audiences have changed. Making his point, he creates a world out of control, where fond movie memories become images in a surreal and disturbing kaleidoscope. In “The Phantom of the Movie Palace,” a senile projectionist, living in a defunct movie palace with only his celluloid memories, accidentally mixes scenes from a cops-androbbers movie with a domestic comedy, then screens them. The result: riotous scenes of madness, where “the police chief, ducking a flipped pancake, gets his hand stuck in the garbage disposal.” Dizzying, humorous and poignant, A Night at the Movies will make it difficult for readers to break for popcorn.

LAWRENCE O'TOOLE