Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Country - '12

So I’ve just been home in October for the first time in years.  It was only wanting to see the family that brought me.   The old haunted/must return to the Valley feelings dissipated after completing and showing October Country.  It’s like I finally sealed the Valley within me with the help of Mike and that film.  In fact upon my return October Country played in Portland.  I thought it would be strange to see everyone as they were years back after being with them just days ago.  While the movie played though their  current existence was eclipsed by the present tense of the film. I didn’t once think of how they look or have progressed  (or not) since the filming took place.  In fact the movie hit me in the gut like it used to while we were editing. At times it hurt and pulled love and laughter out of me almost as much when the events were happening in front of my eyes.  The only concession my mind made to the time difference between life and film was wondering what reaction the family would have if they watched it now. 

For now everyone is getting by despite evictions and poor health and other typical troubles. My parents are working too hard but seem calm and satisfied for once.  Donna was deathly sick  and has gone through  another round  of hell with violent men but  her  ferocious bitch-wit its intact and she  seems to have come through the fire once again.  Desi is a constant  and miraculous blend of  cynicism and potential but I worry that the regional curse of apathy will catch up with her. Chris is in Pennsylvania with a new family. Daneal and I have had a falling out but she’s now a waitress at Denny’s in a far off town and doing well (after going off the deep end once again.)    Denise rarely leaves the house but has ghosts running in circles round her so she says she’s not lonely.  As usual, I’m not convinced that the unfulfilled semi-existence of a ghost can cure loneliness. But then she’s made a life of it hasn’t she. The whole Valley has.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

(in) visible CAMDEN FILM FEST / ALEX - film/photo (not) made (not) taken


Before sunrise this morning my low ceilinged room was snug with the presence of Alex and the breathy hum of a fan. I drifted off thinking of him slipping coins in blossoms on our walk home - his thick fingers delicately inserting the dull metal – the flowers bending on their stems as if resisting, then gripping the coin, then bobbing and nodding "yes" on their stalks.  I woke just now with the cabin of the plane curving next to my head.  It's dark  too and full of motor drones.   For a moment I forgot an entire day had happened and it seemed I'd slept while the bedroom lifted and transformed.  Somewhere  though Alex slipped out of  this flying chamber. Boston glitters below me; miles back home sunlight glows on his skin. 


In her workshop Mary Lampson deconstructed her edit of a scene in Harlan County USA. She explained that she hinged a crucial emotional shift (playful to violent) on a shot of a cop turning his head, looking directly at the audience, then looking away.   It’s a brilliant edit. I almost pity the guy. Who knows what that hard glance meant at the time but it has become a pivotal point in labor history. The very first time I saw this scene I saw my father in the face of that cop.  Dedicated young policeman that he was, I was sure he would have fought against the strikers. I was young then and trying to be dedicated to simple ideals of justice myself. I remember the cruel, absolute, naïve anger I felt towards him, towards my entire family history for never struggling in the manner dictated by my newly awakened political alignments. Now in answer to that youthful viewer the cop/my father turns his head and his eye delivers the message “what a dumbass you were.”

Hanging with Mary afterward I wanted to thank her for that edit (and I should have) but I was enjoying laughing and bitching too much to shift our peer-to-peer present tense into personal  history. All evening though I thought of other faces from the film – faces in quiet moments, in humorous and tender moments – all those glances that been shaped to say as much as any of the movie’s union speeches or the cries of its grieving mothers. I thought of the way Mike had filmed my mother and my father.  How his eye caught their soft love and their hard love and the struggles written on their brows.  I thought of Mary Weiss from Off Label ­­–her face brittle but not breaking as she described her son’s suicide.  I thought of other faces from other films and the faces of filmmakers and peers as well.  My perfect film would be only long takes of faces, still and wordless but conveying the enormous battles between institutions and people; the quiet battles between individuals and the ghosts that life brings upon them; and finaly the knowledge that everything from fighting ferociously to simply fending off despair is heroic.  Thank you Camden, and Mary Lampson, and especially Mike Palmieri for the film I will never make and will makes constantly whenever I look around.

Film Festival Parties – or Monster’s Ball – or things that go click and paste to timeline in the night.

The festival parties here take place in large rented houses, mansions even.  It's mazing how the stately nature and personal history of these houses is lost to their generic, tourist friendly decor and the soullessness of rooms left empty most of the year.  Tonight's party is an inverse haunting – the warm, physical living invade the dead body of the house, filling it with memories and histories of the horrors, heartbreaks, and triumphs they gather in their films or see while working in this business. At a documentary film party you will always here these words spoken intimately and with gusto: genocide, oppression, murder, torture, rape, refuge, exploitation, trauma, fraud, violence, powerlessness, struggle … There is no doubting the political commitment of the people gathered in this room but sometimes I’m sure that we make movies to have some control over the horror film that life can be.  I love being in the presence of these wonderful ghouls all the more for that.


When I photograph Alex (or anyone I really care for) it's almost as if I fall into the early ideas of spirit photography – those theories of spirit radiations that  also form images on photo emulsion. The image I want of Alex is not made by light striking the sensor but rather from the wave of emotion that shimmers up whenever I see him – a bright wide wave that is speckled with particles of worry that hang like dust in the sun.  This is the subtle light that all lovers emit. Their eyes become photo sensitive plates that capture it from the air.  Putting this into a photo is another matter. When I see these pictures they glow with what passes between us but Alex’s beauty is a radiant thing in itself and the special light I see might only register to my eyes.

These are images of Alex. These are not images of his way of laughing simply because he has received knowledge or put his perceptions to work; nor of his generous but ironic enthusiasm for the stories that get told  beneath make-up and booze at the drag club where he works; nor of the cooling of his body when the bedroom sweat dries and the gentleness returns.  I want these very impossible things to be visible in of every image I take of him. I want this of all my images of past lovers, of family, of the world. There are many ways to to take good photographs but  for me  it only happens – if it happens at all – when you want the impossible from them.