15 July, 2010

Arthouse à l'Improviste

Every so often, in the midst of the humdrum expectedness, a remark or situation will pop up that's sufficiently out of place within the context of prison, to delight me. Perched on a stool outside my door, the other night, I must have looked interested in conversation despite the book in my hands. Maybe it was the fact that most of the wing's residents were holed up in their cells, watching movies, and I was among the six who weren't. Whatever the reason, my neighbor Jesse, a young transplant from suburbia, passed me on the way back from the ice machine and asked the obvious: "Not watching any of the new channels?"

The prison doesn't have a digital cable subscription, but that doesn't stop our provider from giving its customers the occasional teaser — you know, just to let us know what we're missing. Holiday weekends in particular mean those inmates with digital TVs sometimes get to enjoy a couple days of premium content — Starz, HBO, Cinemax — before we're back to basic cable. I'm not one who owns a television with a digital tuner, so I only get grapevine hearsay about such programming.

"No," I reminded him. "I've got one of the old TVs."

"Oh man, that's right. My cellie and I have been watching this IFC since yesterday." He grinned. "We hardly slept. You'd really like it, I think — independent films, some really weird stuff."

Before this, I wouldn't have guessed Jesse for a film buff, but then and there we fell into a discussion, started in on the outr√© madness of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet "hip-hopera," the various factors making Being John Malkovich both commercially palatable and subtly brilliant, the "tangent universe" of Donnie Darko — not your typical convict conversation. He welcomed me to pull my stool into his doorway and join the penitentiary picture show.

So I did. Just in time for the beginning of The Usual Suspects, too. Afterwards was a funny little black-and-white short with David Arquette, called Nosebleed, that made the three of us laugh. Bags of popcorn were microwaved, cans of Pepsi were proffered, and, for a marvelous couple of hours, I completely forgot where I was.

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