Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Confession



Jess Franco and "intercourse" at the drive-in? You'd better believe it!

The Sandy Drive-in, Melbourne's independent drive-in, on Tulip St., Sandringham, opened in '62 and closed in '84. As an independent, it ran its own race, and was notable for its titillating double features.

Pairing "Succubus" with Richard C. Sarafian's atmospheric thriller, "Fragment of Fear", was a clever idea. Both films had a breezy, subversive vibe. Although "Succubus" was made in '69, its release in Australia was delayed until 1971. The film is one of Jess's best -- if you like Jess, that is; he does leave many people cold; but if you can get into the man's surreal brand of psychedelic, sensual horror, you won't be disappointed.

As a youngster, the ad smacked me in the eyeballs. I didn't need to be convinced that "Succubus" was right up my alley -- even if I was only 9 (!). The word "intercourse" sent me running to the oversized World Book dictionary that my parents kept on their wooden wall unit in the lounge room (which doubled as a mini-wine cellar ). I opened the book and flipped to the i's. I found the word and read its definition out loud a dozen times. It took a while for its true meaning to sink in (if you'll pardon the pun). Although this was the first time I'd ever heard the word, it wouldn't be the last.

Unfortunately, I was still ten years away from being allowed into an R-rated movie, but my mind was turning R-rated fast thanks to ad mats like these. I'd learned what "intercourse" was, thanks to "Uncle Jess" Franco -- now I just had to do the follow-up.

I found my father in the garden and my plan began with this: "Dad, where's Sandringham?"

He was hosing the shrubs, so he couldn't hear me so well.

"What?"

"Do you know where Sandringham is?"

"It's at the beach."

"Uhuh."

I needed more information than that.

"Dad?"

"What is it?"

"Would it take very long to ride to Sandringham?"

He panned his hose away from me so he could hear better.

"What, from here?"

I nodded.

"You wouldn't ride to Sandringham."

I nodded again.

"But what if you didn't have a car? Would you ride there then?"

My father shrugged.

"You're not thinking of riding there, are you?"

I shrugged, too.

"It's a long way."

I nodded in agreement, but added: "But it's good exercise."

Now he nodded, too.

"Have you told your mother you're thinking of doing this?"

I nodded.

"What did she say?"

"Nothing." I made it sound like she had no objection.

It was true -- kinda. I'd mentioned to my mother that I intended to ride to Sandringham without even knowing how far it was. She had looked at me and said exactly nothing. Then she'd sprayed water on a shirt she was ironing.

"Dad, how long would it take to ride there?"

He thought for a moment.

"I don't know. Three or four hours."

Three or three hours?! Was that all?! I was prepared to ride for twelve hours to see vampires and "sexual intercourse"(as the dictionary further defined it), even if my viewing was going to be through a cyclone fence while perched on my bike seat. All I had to do was come up with a great reason to disappear for eight or nine hours.

The first issue was dinner and time frames. Our family always ate at six-thirty. If dinner wasn't on the table at six-thirty, my father would look at my mother and say: "You can't complain about the service -- there isn't any!" Then he'd laugh, but she wouldn't. If it was going to take me three to four hours to reach the Sandy drive-in on my bike, I wouldn't get there until ten o' clock if I left at six. Showtime was eight-thirty. I needed to come up with a whopper to pull this one off. I'd have to skip dinner and hit the road by five-thirty, at least.

Both my parents were churchgoers. Mum's preference for services was Sunday mornings, but dad preferred Saturday nights. He also preferred a different church, The Holy Redeemer, where the parish priest raced through the service and was done -- sermon and all -- in half an hour. Clearly, this priest disliked church as much as my dad did and almost as much as I did.

My father only attended services to set an example for us and keep in my mum's good books. My plan was to stay in her good books, too, and see some "intercourse" at the same time.

"Can I ride up to church tonight?" I asked my mother at three o' clock that afternoon.

"What church?"

"Your church."

My mother looked pleased.

"You want to go up there on your own?"

"Uhuh."

See, I knew my dad wouldn't be there -- he'd be at the church where Father Speedy Gonzales held sway. My mother, who preferred Sundays, wouldn't be there, either, so nobody would be know that I wasn't there. It was a great plan.

"What about your bike? What are you going to do with your bike?"

It was a legitimate question from my mother's point of view. From my point of view it was irrelevant; I wasn't going to be leaving my bike anywhere.

Still, a lot of bikes were getting stolen from the church lately. I guess "Thou Shalt Not Steal" didn't apply within church grounds.

"I'll chain it up," I said.

"No. Leave it at Jolly's."

Shit!

The Jolly's were friends of the family. Nice, friendly people with kids. They lived thirty seconds from the church, which was next to my school. For some stupid reason, my school didn't allow kids to ride their bikes. I got around that rule by leaving my bike at the Jolly's. I'd park it there for the day and pick it up when school was out.

Now my mother was asking me to leave my bike at the Jolly's. That killed my plan because the Jolly's would know if my bike had or hadn't been there.

I combed my brain for solutions. "There's a place at the church that nobody knows about where you can leave your bike and still see it from inside," I said. "I can leave it there instead."

"Where's that?" My mother wasn't buying that one sight unseen.

"Against the window."

She looked confused and tried visualizing where I was talking about. She knew the church grounds well.

"Which window? You're not leaning your bike against one of the stained glass windows. What if you break it?"

Jesus, this was getting difficult.

"It's not right against the window," I explained. "It's actually against the bricks near the window."

She sighed. I guess she had lots other things to think about like dinner and vacuuming. That's why she said: "Alright. But if anything happens to that bike, you're not getting another one."

"Uhuh."

I spent the rest of the afternoon in my bedroom leafing through roadmaps and scribbling down directions to the Sandy Drive-in. I didn't know any of the streets. We lived in the East. The Sandy was in the South. It was like another country to me. My concept of life outside Mount Waverley was referenced by train stations only. Sandringham wasn't even on our line.

At four-thirty sharp I announced that I was leaving for church.

"WHAT? ALREADY?"

My mother was cooking dinner and she glared at me.

"You don't need to leave this early. The service doesn't start until seven-thirty."

"I want to get a good seat."

"A GOOD SEAT?!?! You'll be sitting there on your own for hours."

I didn't factor in this kind of opposition to my plan.

"But I might want to say a prayer and go to Confession first."

My mother visibly softened. She calmed down and squinted at me, as if seeing a small halo beginning to form above my head. Perhaps she thought, in that fleeting moment, that I was salvageable after all.

"Really? You're going to go to Confession?"

I nodded. "I haven't been for a while."

My mum nodded, encouraging me.

"You still don't need to leave this early. You haven't even eaten yet."

"Can I eat when I get back?"

She stirred her casserole. I inhaled the steam.

"Alright."

I started walking out.

"So you're going now?"

"Yep."

My mother crossed the kitchen and opened her purse.

She handed me a dollar bill.

"Can you get me a carton of milk on your way back?"

"Yep." I took the money and left.

Knowing that my mother would be looking out the window to see which I went, I went the way she expected, then circled the block. Then I headed for the Sandy Drive-in. I had four hours to get there.

Although the first part of my plan had gone off without a hitch, the second part was more problematic.

"Succubus" would finish around ten-thirty, maybe ten. That meant I wouldn't get home until one o' clock, at least. By then, my parents would have discovered my plan and would probably be calling the police.

I considered involving my brother in the plan and paying him for his subterfuge, but he'd turned very annoying lately and was reporting everything I did back to my mother, especially the bad stuff. The little pint-sized supergrass was taking pleasure in busting my schemes wide open and threatening me with exposure. It was his way of scoring points with my mother and wielding some power over me. In better times, he could have pretended I'd called and informed my parents that I had a flat tyre and would be home late. There were no cell phones, so they'd have no way of getting back in touch with me. It would have worked. But not right now. No, I'd have to call them around eight-thirty, when church got out. The problem was, that was also showtime (!)

The first hour of my ride to the Sandy Drive-in was pretty straightforward. I took the same road for ten miles. The traffic was heavy, so I rode on the footpath (sidewalk). When I came to the first major turn, I took it and headed south towards the beach. This road was known as Warrigal Rd. According to the maps, if I stayed on it, it would put me in the area where I needed to be. Then it was just a case of taking some smaller streets to Tulip St. and the drive-in.

Somewhere between that last thought and fate, something terrible happened. At a huge, six-way intersection, where Warrigal Rd. met the Nepean Highway, a famous Melbourne thoroughfare, I took a wrong turn. I knew something was wrong fifteen minutes later because I didn't recognize any of the street names I'd written down. I was a ten year old in another country, and I was approaching a state of high panic. Should I turn back? Where was "back"? Should I cut down one of these unfamiliar streets and hope it hits a familiar one? I didn't know what to do. I didn't dare ask anybody for directions because my entire mission was built on lies. Even worse -- lies involving God!

Even today, I don't know what I did. It's still a blur.

All I know is I didn't see any "intercourse" at the Sandy and I didn't have to make that phone call to my parents at eight-thirty about having a flat tyre.

It was a hollow victory when I arrived home at nine o' clock and handed my mum the carton of milk she'd asked me to get.

"You remembered. Good boy," she said. "How was church?"

"Alright," I lied.

"Who heard your Confession?"

"Father Curly."

My pants were definitely on fire.

My mum didn't ask me any more questions.

She gave me a hug and began re-heating dinner.

She was proud that her son had gone to church on his own, taken Confession, and remembered to bring back the milk.

I felt like a shocking fraud, and I'd given myself a real reason for Confession this time.

Even worse, I felt like a failure, because I'd gotten lost on my way to the Sandy Drive-in. I obsessed over the Sandy for a couple of years until I finally convinced my father to take me to see 'Conquest Of The Planet of the Apes' there. It was a great venue with a party atmosphere. Still, it didn't erase the pain of coming so close to seeing "intercourse" and vampires by the bay.

*****

Information about the Sandy Drive-in and other Australian drive-ins can be found on David Kilderry's amazing drive-in site:

http://www.drive-insdownunder.com.au/default.htm

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