Conversations at a Funeral

Our neighbour, Mr Austen, used to work for MGM, Metro Goldwyn Meyer, in South Africa. In the 70’s my father arranged that he brought films home on the weekend and a projector, and we would show it for the neighbourhood and extended family.

Eventually my father bought a Bell & Howell 16mm projector with Cinemascope with a formal projector stand. We then helped him hang a large roll down screen under the pelmets of the curtains in the playroom, which much later would become the TV room. Sometimes on hot summer evenings we would point the projector out from the glass sliding doors and show the movie on a big screen tied against the fence and above the lemon trees. The screen would billow in the breeze like a great spinnaker, pure white, before the days of commercial advertising.

We would wait in anticipation for Mr Austen to make the delivery. He always brought a “short”, I suppose what we call a series on TV, and then a full feature film. Those were the days of classics, like Ben Hur, the real Bond movies, war movies like the Green Beret, Kelly’s Heroes and Dirty Harry.  Even The secret of Santa Vittoria, which we watched recently on DVD.

Although my father liked a practical joke, he never joked about death. He had a reverential respect, not dissimilar to the Zulus, for the dead. He was also particular about the detail of ritual and superstition created around the Orthodoxy he practised.

So he was upset the night Mr Austen brought home Funeral in Berlin. It was not correct to play on funerals according to my father. But he got even more angry when Uncle Peter walked in, master of practical Jokes:

Gia sou Pete.  Silipitiria (sympathies). Who’s the black armband for?” asked my father. Remember, the ancestors were very important. “ Zoi se mas (life to us).”

Uncle Peter was a master actor.  I remember the detail of him walking respectfully through the French doors to where we were all sitting on the veranda before we moved in to watch the movie. He put on a sad face, drooped his eyes willingly and appeared to almost cry. “What do you mean, you invited me to A Funeral in Berlin, so I was just being respectful.” He slapped my father on the back and roared with laughter

We all cracked up, and he kept repeating it. At interval after the short and before the full feature he dominated the kitchen scene with laughter, while my father was a bit subdued.

Uncle Peter’s humour always added life. He was a master raconteur.

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