Monday, April 5

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Movies

The kids at the center love television. When Demetra and I arrived near nine months ago, the last thing we did nights was kick the kids out of the TV room. Fridays were lame telenovelas. Sundays were lame Japanese soap operas. Most every other night was professional wrestling, whatever NTV had the license for in no particular order. I saw Hulk Hogan fight the Undertaker one night and John Cena throw Randy Orton off a cage the next. Sometime past midnight once, driven from my room by mild diarrhea induced by whatever I had that week, the kids were watching a recording of some Man-U game.

It was so frustrating that, after six months, we finally ordered a welder put a solid steel plate in front of the screen. Then we threw a solid steel lock on that. We bought a DVD player around the same time to lessen the blow. That may have been the only thing standing between the directors and revolution.

Now I have the one key, and the kids are allowed to only watch movies Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sometimes Friday nights when I feel generous and at peace with the world. It's taken a few months, but I've finally trained them to that schedule. Before, I couldn't get work done with a new kid knocking at the door every fifteen minutes to ask, "Movie, Chris?" It took them a while to figure out what "After lunch" meant. Even now, they will run me down wherever I am eating to ask "Movie, Chris?" They don't understand "After my lunch" yet.

When I finish and go for the lock, they start jumping up and down and shouting. The others, attracted by their call, come running in from the soccer pitch and from the top of the hill, also shouting "Movie," thereby bringing in those even further out. Their first choice? Schwarzenegger's Commando. Second choice? Anything with Chuck Norris. Third choice? Anything with Jackie Chan. It doesn't matter that I haven't provided them with any of these. First three requests every bloody time. I've managed to distill this down to movies with extended action scenes and tried to lead them toward better fare on this scale. Forget movies with Bourne-style editing and cuts between handheld cameras every 0.4 seconds. It might take a decent-sized screen and the ability to distinguish between two white men in dark clothing fighting in twilight conditions to enjoy those thoroughly. Freaking Revenge of the Sith was more popular than the original Star Wars. Other hits with them have included any of The Matrix trilogy and Blade. Yeah, I know they're R, but I justify it by not having to listen to them chant for something different.

They absolutely hate cartoons. If I leave the room with one on, they'll switch to anything else. They wouldn't even give The Incredibles or Toy Story a fair shake and trust my recommendation. The only one to survive in its entirety so far is the better-than--it-had-any-right-to-be TMNT. I don't know what they would have thought of Lion King. That scratched about the point the baby giraffe raises its head to the rising sun.

Sometimes the kids show up with their own DVD's off the street and ask to watch those instead. In this way they have introduced me to dubbing in Kiswahili. It's one of the most horrific things I have ever experienced, but it draws me in like a black hole of suck. On most every conceivable standard of value, these movies are terrible. The video quality suggest that they were recorded from tapes and now drop frames until they run about ten a second. The movie themselves are the most generic action films possible. They don't bother dubbing the good stuff. No Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight here. Not even The Transporter or XXX. But if it's a Hong Kong action flick with no recognizable actors and poor lighting and worse fight choreography, they're all over it.

Then there's the dubbing itself. It's not the neat job done for movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where the soundtrack and effects are preserved. No, the Kenyans just cut it all out and paste in their own voices. I think only once actor does it all. He doesn't bother changing his voice between characters. Spitting into the microphone is the only notice someone new is talking. The only change between a man and woman on screen is that he kicks it into a falsetto. I think he gets paid by the word. There's no other reason for them to talk that fast or that often. Even when someone is just looking out a window, contemplating the body just thrown out of it and mouth firmly shut, the hyper-caffeinated narrator doesn't shut up. The words just spew from his mouth. Probably would have added some quips and one-liners for the climax of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

All this considered, there are no people better to watch a movie with than the kids. Once they stop shoving each other off the benches and a hierarchy of seating is established, they get into it. They yell when the villains succeed. They cry when someone dies. They cheer when the leads kiss for the very first time. One girl literally ran from the room when the agents send the bug in through Neo's belly button. It's like being back on the U of M's showboat, except there, those responses had to be encouraged in the program and by the actors.

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