08 Oct 2013

My favourite place in Joburg is an old dark room with a sticky floor

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Column written for The Times newspaper – October 9, 2013

KingBy Gareth Crocker

After my publicist informed me of this assignment, I was tempted to do the predictable author thing and write about a heavenly glade or an idyllic valley nestled between the rocky bosoms of some enchanting mountain range. Where rabbits hop and deer frolic and the ground is thick with moss and clichés.

Instead, I thought I’d rather tell the truth.

You see, my favourite place in Joburg is neither bursting with sunshine, nor blessed with babbling brooks. It’s dark and often sticky underfoot. It can be freezing and, depending on when you visit, it’s not cheap either. It has scared the pants off me in the past and once sent me home in tears.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This must be my mother-in-law’s house, but you’re wrong.

My favourite place is an old cinema. And not just any old cinema. Cinema number 7 in the basement of the Rosebank Mall. But before we stop to consider why this particular cinema, I’d like to explain why I’ve chosen a movie house at all.

Firstly, I have a deep and inherent love for story. And the films that play in this old basement complex are seldom the mass-market commercial leviathans designed to empty out both your pocket and your mind. Nor are they two-hour long adverts for an upcoming computer game or range of toys.

Instead, these are films which, for the most part, care more about story than they do about rampant commercial success. And that makes all the difference.

Now, once again, I know what you’re thinking. This is, quote, ‘Art House’ cinema and is all about groups of drugged out transsexuals doing yoga around a bowl of jelly while listening to folk music. And smoking each other’s hair.

Well, yes, sometimes these sorts of oddball films do sneak into the line-up. But, if this is not your cup of tea, fortunately you can use your remarkable powers of sight to first read what a film is about prior to buying a ticket for it.

Over the years some of the films I’ve seen in this basement have astounded me with their quality. Many of them are subtitled. Which, lucky for me, is no match for my ability to read large and slow-moving words on a screen. One such film changed my life as an author. It made me realise just how important it is to always strive for at least a modicum of greatness in one’s story.

While I couldn’t swear to it, the film in question might have been an Argentinian (or possibly Spanish) production that probably cost as much to make as the title sequence for any Summer blockbuster.

In short, the story was about a husband who takes revenge on his wife’s killer. The detective on the case believes the killer has been dead for more than two decades but, when he visits the husband 25 years later to discuss the case for a book he’s writing, he unwittingly discovers the killer locked up in a small building on the man’s farm.

At the crucial moment, we have the killer holding onto the bars of the homemade jail, the husband standing beside him and the detective teetering, open-mouthed, in the doorway.

The killer looks imploringly at the detective and, instead of rejoicing at the fact that he has finally been found after 25 years, points to his captor. ‘Please,’ he whispers. ‘Tell him … tell him to talk to me.’

And that’s when you realise that the husband has kept his wife’s killer alive for 25 years and has never said a word to him. I think the film won an Oscar. If it didn’t, it should have.

Cinemas, at their worst, are an escape from one’s daily drudgery. Even on an average day they have the power to delight and transport us.

And sometimes, like in cinema 7 that day, they have the power to lift us off our chairs.


Gareth Crocker’s debut novel, Finding Jack, was published in New York to international acclaim. It was translated into several languages and featured in eight volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions with combined sales of more than a million copies. In 2012 Penguin Books published his adventure novel, Journey from Darkness, followed by the kidnap thriller, Never Let Go, in 2013. Gareth’s latest novel, King, is due out in October.


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