The Observer set off for our first film in the Little Rock Film Festival on Friday afternoon at Riverdale 10, feeling pretty erudite and cool with that pass hanging around our neck. As it turned out, we were in a mob of the cool, standing in two lines stretching into the theater’s parking lot waiting to get in. Now we know people here like film, enough to stand in a line on hot asphalt just about the time, on other Fridays, they’d be unwinding with their first Cosmopolitan somewhere.
We were there for “Killer of Sheep,” a 1977 black-and-white film about hopelessness in the Watts neighborhood in L.A., whose screening here was one of the first it’s had. In it, the kids hang out in dusty lots and throw rocks and fight and boys and girls square off. The grown-ups hang out, fight, the men and women square off, and, in the case of the hero, herd sheep into slaughterhouse chutes from which they cannot escape. It’s a grim little student film shot angularly a la “Citizen Kane” with amateurs and music from Paul Roberson, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Dinah Washington and Rachmaninoff to drive its points home. It made us wonder, how much has changed?
As it happened, that was the subject the following morning, when The Observer and colleague caught up with some of the Little Rock Nine at the NAACP convention. They were in town for the release of the commemorative coin that honors them for standing up to the ugly face of racism — on adults and teen-agers and teachers cowed by the vocal segs — that they found at Central High 50 years ago. Only their bobby-socked feet and legs show on the coin; theirs and the legs of a federalized National Guardsman, his weapon at his side.
The colleague, who graduated from Hall High three years ago, met Gloria Ray Karlmark, who, like most of the Nine, did not return to Arkansas after high school but became a patent lawyer in Europe. He was a little awestruck at meeting one of the Nine but not speechless, and so he answered her questions about the lingering racism she was hearing about at Central High, and the segregation in advanced classes. He told her about peer pressure not to take advanced classes, about the stigma of being a “nerd.” (He was a nerd, he told her. “I was too,” she said.)
Karlmark sat in real disbelief. “Why?” she asked, over and over again. People threw rocks at her 50 years ago. She expected more from today.
How many mimes are enough, The Observer has been asking ourselves, an inquiry prompted by our discovery on Saturday morning that two mimes are now working the Farmers Market. This seems quite a lot for a venue this size in a town like Little Rock, hardly the mime capital of the world. But The Observer remembers a few years back, when brigades of belly-dancers writhed at every public event in Central Arkansas. Perhaps mummery is the new belly-dancing.
Of the competitors in the mime game, the one with the longest tenure is a Michael Jackson look-alike who sets up near the western end of the market. Lately, another silent artiste has been doing his robotic moves at the eastern end.
We’d expect that the second mime has reduced the income of the first, two now splitting what used to belong to one. The Observer imagines one of them pursuing the other, both in slow motion, through the produce. Mime after mime, as it were. We thought of asking one or both “How’s business?” but decided that would be inappropriate.
Some commercial enterprises — restaurants, car dealerships — are said to prosper by having competitors nearby, the idea being that the proximate establishments draw more potential customers to the area than would come there otherwise. Mimes might be like that too.
A third mime, or a fourth, would seriously exceed demand, we expect. But the patrons of the Farmers Market need to keep at least one of the mimes in business. A mime adds flavor to the Market, just as the occasional musicians do. And whatever happened to the dog-adoption people? We always enjoyed seeing the pooches, always dropped a contribution into the box. We wouldn’t even object to a belly-dancer, as long as it wasn’t too early in the morning.