November 9, 2014
“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” There is film history and then there is my film history. In many ways film aesthetic finished when talkies came upon the scene. When 8mm projectors came upon the casual consumer, where they can screen their home movies, some companies sold 8mm silent comedy shorts as well as vintage cartoons - I think Betty Boop and an early version of Mickey Mouse. I have a strong memory of watching these films projected on the blank white wall in our house. The noise came from one source, and that was the projector. Sometimes the projector was faulty and caused the film to burn, which was at the same time, horrifying and fantastic to watch. Watching Marie Dressler’s face as she burns on my parent’s wall, was in a sense my first version of an actual death. No, she didn’t die, but her representation, what was projected, clearly died. It was perhaps the first time that I experienced death.
I was always aware of death while watching films before 1928, because more likely these people that I’m watching are more likely dead. I always believed in ghosts, but not the way that they are around to haunt us, or even aware of our existence. I think of them as being a negative or maybe positive imprint on our memory, therefore they exist in our world as an image. There is nothing more real than a location - and even if that location has been altered, there is something so important about the essence of “place” that one can’t erase its history. Film I think is the practical working theory, where you go into a theater and watch a spectacle of death being played out in front of one’s eyes. To listen, one needs to be aware of what they’re watching. When I see film footage of someone I know, and they are now dead, it doesn’t bring their presence back to me. It makes me realize that they are truly dead. Whenever I see a photograph or a work on film, it is dead to me. The past is death. But the memory of the past is alive. The difference is small, yet quite significant.
“I always say that I don’t want to be sentimental, that the ‘films’ shouldn’t be sentimental, and yet, I am conscious of my sentimentality.” I often acknowledged that Mabel Normand was the first person in cinema to actually throw a custard pie in someone’s face - I believe the first victim of the pie in the face is Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. That I used to watch as well, on my parent’s wall. I never experienced a pie in the face, but it used to make me laugh. Now, I feel a sense of tragedy, because that fleeting moment was one of happiness. Both Fatty and Mabel had a sad ending in their lives, and the film they left was a memory of a moment’s blissfulness. On the other hand, “excessive suffering brings with it a kind of dull insensibility and stupor.” I need to let the past go, so I can live. Yet, there seems a need to preserve a past experience. “I wish I could press snowflakes in a book like flowers.”