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Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006 - 1:43 a.m.

For an unknown number of years after the fall of the Shah, a blind man was appointed as the Chief Film Censor of Iran. Perhaps the regime did not think much of film, or perhaps they thought of the film projector lighting up a story in a cinema as almost sacrilegious - an aberrant parallel to the way God lights up the earth.

The Censor was a cleric who took his work seriously, turning up at his office everyday, and never with a cane. He watched the films alone in a small room at the Ministry of Culture as he smoked his 'Bahman' cigarettes, and he personally made all the final cuts. The love scenes with their dramatized grunts were obvious, but the Censor could even tell when two characters in a film were looking at each other silently with meaning. He expertly excised those scenes as well. One Iranian director was inspired by this to shoot an entire film with the camera's lens cap on. The hour of running black forced the audience to, like the Chief Censor, re-experience film as an aural medium. Directors appealed against his cuts, the seconds and minutes of lost narratives (mostly burned in a bin behind the Ministry with other confiscated pornography), but he always prevailed.

It was said that he had two brothers, who separately trod on land-mines at different times during the Iran-Iraq war. It was said that he had a wife who had abandoned the Shia faith and was living in Morocco with the heathens. But he does not tell anyone these things, which form the incompleteness in his life.

And on the day that he retired, many years after the first encroachment of darkness on his retina, the old man sat on his bed staring out the window. He was not looking at the snow-capped Alborz mountains in the distance, even though he knew they were there. He had known those mountains that ringed Tehran since he was a child growing up under the rule of the Shah. Being so old he had no more use for images, or memories; there were no paintings or photographs in his apartment.

But one thing he wanted, more than the return of his sight, was to know his own work. He wanted to have coffee with the Chinese child emperor from Bertolucci's 'Last Emperor' (60 minutes cut), or the female Iranian football fans from Jafar Panahi's 'Offside' (banned). But he would have only wanted to meet the part of the character who was missing from the final film; he was interested purely in the absent, fractioned seconds. If only someone had rescued the burnt shards of celluloid from the fire, and made a film enjoining all the frames he had cut. All the satire of the Iranian theocracy produced by Iranian film-makers, the artificial and fantastical love scenes of European cinema, the dancing scenes of Hindi films that confused the people's morals.

Below him in Tehran's traffic-jammed streets, Iranians were walking to work, street children were selling mangoes from car to car, and a truck smuggling cigarettes from Turkey was letting out a blast of its horn, and we leave an old man sitting on his bed, staring out the window, wishing he could see his vanished, blinded body of work.


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